NEWTON, Iowa — For the most part, IndyCar drivers enjoy racing at Iowa Speedway.
That doesn’t mean today’s race is going to be easy.
The temperatures expected to reach the low 90s by the time the green flag drops. It’s also the last of five straight races without a break, and few tracks in the IndyCar Series are as physically demanding as Iowa’s steep-banked, .875-mile oval.
Though Iowa’s “bullring” setup is great for the fans, it’s easy to see why many drivers think the smallest oval on the IndyCar circuit is also the most draining one this season.
“It’s probably the toughest (track), especially after five weeks. It is what it is. That’s why we prepare ourselves for that,” Tony Kanaan said. “Myself physically, I tried to be ready because I knew it was going to be a long stretch. But you can tell. Everybody’s getting tired.”
Iowa isn’t exact the ideal place for a weary race team.
It’s so small that drivers are turning four times about every 17 seconds — at speeds of up to 185 mph. That, combined with some of the steepest banking in IndyCar and the lack of a true straightaway, puts tremendous physical pressure on the drivers.
Brad Goldberg, an engineer for the No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing car driven by Charlie Kimball, said that at Iowa the G-force is roughly five times a driver’s body weight laterally and twice that vertically at its peak.
Even though the banking at Texas is steeper than at Iowa, at least that 1.5-mile oval offers a pair of straightaways that give drivers a chance to catch their breath.
“If you’re a 200-pound guy, you’d basically have 400 pounds you’re trying to squat and 1,000 pounds you’re trying to hold yourself up against. If you can imagine trying to do that at the same time in a weight room, that’s what they feel twice a lap,” Goldberg said.
The cold winters and hot summers have also added character to the track since its first IndyCar race in 2007, with a significant bump in the second turn and warping in the final one.
Those imperfections can make a driver momentarily lose and then regain control as though they’re driving in a snowstorm 500 times in a 250-lap race.
Of course, snow is the last thing drivers will need to worry about on a weekend when the track temperature will likely hit 120 degrees.
Such oppressive heat can cause dehydration, which can lead to a lack of focus on a track that demands constant concentration.
Still, focus can be elusive for teams that haven’t had a real break since the end of April — by far the longest such stretch of the year.
“It’s not so much as just drivers, but the poor guys working on the car. They don’t have days off,” Goldberg said. “When we’re back at the shop, we’re not just sitting by the pool drinking margaritas.”
But even with all the challenges Iowa presents, most drivers say that Iowa is among the more fun tracks they’ll visit all year.
Iowa is reminiscent of the popular short tracks that dot the Midwest, and along with Milwaukee is the only oval of a mile or less left on the series.
“It’s a fun place to race,” Graham Rahal said. “It is a great place to go. You can get two lanes developed here. It makes it enjoyable, puts on a good show.”