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Fifth Gear: Iowa Speedway Private Test

Fifth Gear: Iowa Speedway Private Test

Iowa Speedway is back on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule this season after a one-year hiatus, so 19 drivers took advantage of a private test on Monday, June 20 at the .875-mile oval to prepare for the HyVeeDeals.com 250 presented by DoorDash on Saturday 23rd July and the Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300 presented by Google on Sunday 24th July.

Official times and speeds have not been released, but here are five takeaways based on media reports and social media traffic from the test:

Penske remains dominant in Iowa

Team Penske has ruled the NTT INDYCAR SERIES races in Iowa since 2017, with wins in four of the five races in that span.

It doesn’t look like that trend will change next month, based on Test Monday.

Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske were the fastest three of the 19 drivers who lapped in the morning and afternoon sessions. Newgarden led in the morning session while McLaughlin was the best in the afternoon with a time just two tenths of a second slower than Newgarden’s overall best.

Penske swept the Iowa doubleheader with Simon Pagenaud and Newgarden the last time the series raced there, in 2020, with the car’s current specs, including the aeroscreen. So don’t be surprised to see a rerun from July 23-24.

Afternoon delight

Testing was split into morning and afternoon sessions in Iowa Monday. Both races of the July 23-24 doubleheader will be green-flagged in the afternoon, so a glimpse of the afternoon’s results could provide a clearer crystal ball about who will be quick when points are at stake.

McLaughlin was fastest in his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet, despite this being his first track experience. After McLaughlin, Power’s No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and Takuma Sato’s No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda drafted by Dale Coyne Racing with RWR. Newgarden was fifth in the afternoon session, less than two tenths behind McLaughlin.

Afternoon temperatures slipped just past 90 degrees, conditions that could repeat themselves next month. So, morning or afternoon, Penske will be hard to beat in Iowa.

Lundgaard learns fast

It was no surprise to see Sato with the leading Penske trio in the afternoon portion of the test. After all, he’s a two-time Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner, and his “no attack, no chance” style squeezes a lot of speed on ovals.

But rookie Christian Lundgaard probably raised some eyebrows by finishing fourth in his number 30 Fleet Cost & Care Honda from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing during the afternoon session. Lundgaard was the fastest rookie in the afternoon by almost two tenths of a second.

A strong performance from Lundgaard in the Iowa races could raise spirits and expectations at RLL, which has a best seventh-place finish (twice) from Graham Rahal this season. There always seems to be one rookie every season who quickly joins oval racing, and RLL is hoping this year’s model is Lundgaard.

Ericsson Hangs Tough

Marcus Ericsson has used a two-point win in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and steady finishes elsewhere to build a 27-point lead in this season’s Astor Challenge Cup race.

Part of his success story is his strong performance on ovals. Ericsson came to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES from ovalless Formula 1, but he was the best driver in the two lap races this season. He finished third behind Newgarden and McLaughlin in the XPEL 375 on March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway and won the Indy.

Ericsson was seventh fastest overall in Monday afternoon’s Iowa test, when conditions were likely most similar to what drivers will experience in the July 23-24 doubleheader. He was about three-tenths of a second behind McLaughlin’s leading pace, so there’s work to be done.

But Ericsson was fastest of the four Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the afternoon session, so it looks like he’s in good shape for more oval success next month.

overtime

Iowa Speedway is a classic arena, just seven-eighths of a mile. A full lap in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car only takes about 18.5 seconds, so it’s not uncommon to see large lap numbers during track testing.

But even by those standards, drivers and teams worked at a brisk pace on Monday, with three-digit lap counts all over the board.

Power was the busiest driver, completing 282 laps. The two races will last 250 and 300 laps respectively.

All three Team Penske drivers completed more than 200 laps on Monday, dialing in the settings. Power is second in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship, 27 points behind leader Ericsson. Newgarden is third, 32 points ahead.

But Newgarden is the driver of the moment in the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, with three wins this season. No other driver has more than one.

Newgarden also has three career wins in the INDYCAR SERIES in Iowa, along with Ryan Hunter-Reay for the most series wins on the track. It’s safe to say the entire field will have its collective eye on the rising Joe New in Iowa.

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