Rookie Josef Newgarden kept a cool head Friday as the IZOD IndyCar Series turned up the temperature at Iowa Speedway with a new qualifying format that featured heat races to decide starting positions instead of the typical two-lap average qualifying format.
Newgarden, in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, drove safely through two practice sessions and a qualifying heat race to earn the 12th starting position in the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal will serve 10-spot starting grid penalties for unapproved engine changes, moving Newgarden up to the 10th starting position.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however.
Driving in the first of three heat races, Newgarden started second and fell back one position quickly before regaining his starting spot and challenging Graham Rahal for the lead.
“I got a good run on Graham (Rahal) early on,” Newgarden said. “He wanted to go low when he saw I had a run on him. That was fine, so I chose the outside. The next thing I knew, when we got in the corner he was going straight up the race track in front of me.”
Thanks to quick thinking and reaction, Newgarden made it out of the corner.
“I thought we were going to hit the wall, and I don’t know how we didn’t,” Newgarden said. “Luckily we didn’t tear up any race cars.”
Newgarden went on to finish the 30-lap heat race in second, learning a lesson along the way.
“You’re always learning new things about your competitors and how you can race people in instances like that,” he said. “That will be valuable information for tomorrow during the race.”
After his heat race, Newgarden identified that one of the most interesting story lines to follow during the Iowa Corn Indy 250 could be tire wear and management.
“This heat race was only half distance compared to a race stint for us on a set of tires,” he said. “We need to figure out how the car and tires will handle on the next half of the stint tomorrow. The tires wore off pretty quickly today.”
Dario Franchitti will start on pole for the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Franchitti won the third heat race which included eight drivers with the fastest lap times from the second practice session of the day.
Franchitti will lead Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Briscoe to the green flag.
The Iowa Corn Indy 250 will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network, formerly known as Versus. The qualifying heat races will precede the race broadcast, starting at 8 p.m. ET. The green flag will drop on the race at 10 p.m. ET.