Iowa Speedway saw a change in the qualification format tonight with IZOD IndyCar drivers participating in a three heat race format rather than the traditional single-car qualification process. The new format benefited Lotus HVM driver Simona de Silvestro as her pass of Simon Pagenaud netted her two spots on the starting grid instead of just one.
It was a bit confusing, but in the end worked out well for the #78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy car. Here's a breakdown of how it worked... Teams were split into three groups based on their performance in today's second practice session. Race one consisted of the cars that finished the practice session in an even-numbered spot starting with the 10th-quickest practice time. Race two consisted of the cars that finished the practice session in an odd-numbered spot starting with the 9th-quickest practice time. The third and final race consisted of the top-eight finishers in the practice session. The third race determined the starting position of the first eight starters with the cars in race one filling the even-numbered spots from 10th down and the cars in race two filling the odd-numbered spots from 9th down.
By finishing one spot ahead of Pagenaud, De Silvestro made the jump to 23rd on the grid with the slowest car from the group one qualifiers, Takuma Sato, starting 24th. E.J. Viso had an unauthorized engine change and incurred a 10-spot penalty which moved him back behind Sato, moving both De Silvestro and Sato up one spot to 22nd and 23rd respectively.
Team owner Keith Wiggins spoke about the new format. "Well, it was an interesting format," he said. "Let's hope that the fans appreciated it. For us, we picked up a couple of spots so we'll take that and obviously focus on the main race tomorrow."
De Silvestro was pleased with the results. "Today was a big learning curve," she said. "We've never been here with this car; we didn't test here, so we just threw some things at it this morning and it was alright; we worked through it. We learned a lot in the first session, improved it in the second session and I think even in the third session we went a bit quicker, so those are really good things. If we keep progressing like this it really shows that we're a pretty strong team and can improve every session out there."
Shane Seneviratne, team manager, agreed with Wiggins about the heat race qualifying. "Interesting format," he said. "I think it worked out better for us. We gained a couple of positions so it looks like we'll be starting 23rd. Simona did a good job. She gave us a good indication for the race. We just need to take advantage of it and set up a good race car.
What does De Silvestro think about the team's chances tomorrow? "I think we have a good car," she said. "We're hoping that tomorrow some people will fall off a little bit like in Milwaukee and that's going to play in our favor. You know if we have a solid car for a full stint, so we'll see. We're just working at it, progressing. I don't think we'll be able to make real passes at real speed, but if people are going to struggle that's where our chance is going to come. We're really going to be ready when that chance comes."
The Iowa Corn Indy 250 airs tomorrow night under the lights on NBC Sports at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 p.m. local time.