IndyCar parc ferme rules force setup compromises at Iowa

IndyCar’s parc ferme rules between qualifying and for Iowa Speedway’s double-header will force teams and drivers to make a major compromise between setups for qualifying and the races.

Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet

This weekend sees IndyCar’s return to Iowa Speedway for the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend after a one-year hiatus, and the 0.894-mile oval in Newton, IA. is unique on the schedule for hosting the series’ only double-header event.

Qualifying will be held on Saturday morning and, as per all oval events bar the Indy 500, each car’s qualifying run will consist of two consecutive flying laps. However, like oval double-headers since 2020, the first lap determines grid order for Race 1 and the second lap determines grid order for Race 2.

With qualifying projected to end at 10.45am local time on Saturday, and the first race – the 250 – set to begin just past 3.00pm, the cars are placed under parc ferme conditions in the intervening period. Rule states that “During this impound period, three crew members will be allowed access to the car” to carry out a strictly regulated set of adjustments and maintenance issues.

The adjustments include altering front wing and front wing endplate angles, adjusting tire pressures, removing or adding helicopter tape to bodywork seams, and installing aeroscreen topside duct(s) and filter.

However, with what Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly describes as a “substantial” difference in pace between qualifying speed on fresh tires, and a lap on tires toward the end of a race stint, it’s exceedingly difficult to determine the best gearing for the cars.

“The pace dropoff is substantial, from like a qualifying sim to let's say 40, 45 laps in,” said Daly, 2020 Iowa polesitter, when asked if he would be focusing on qualifying speed. “I would much prefer qualifying up front, and that's certainly what we're going to go for.

“But you're also dealing with a parc ferme situation. You've got to be ready for both qualifying and the race at the same time, and that's kind of unique to this event. It's why our engineers are asking, ‘Hey, do you think for qualifying do we run this gear here, this gear here? But will that be OK for the race?’ Because you don't want to miss on either side, so what do you settle for and what do you slightly compromise to make sure that both of them are good?”

One race engineer told that “you’ve gotta play the long game,” and pointed out too that ride height was a major consideration. “You’ve got to set your ride height to keep from crashing into the ground during qualifying, while knowing that race conditions will be wildly different.”

Following Saturday’s race, teams are allowed to make any changes they wish to their cars for Sunday’s Hy-Vee Salute to Farmers 300.

“Yes, Race 2 is a free-for-all,” said another engineer, “but there isn’t practice before that one, so you go into the race blind as to whether your changes are actually an improvement. And Saturday is going to be super-hot [96degF] and Sunday much less so [83]."

Said engineer also described the track as bumpier than it was two years ago, and Daly observed, “It never feels great except for maybe like those two qualifying laps that you do, and so you just try to make it feel less worse.

“So that ends up being the challenge all day long, because when you're 45 laps in and you're sliding around, you want to be sliding around less than the other people. That's kind of the goal.”

Daly expanded on the theme when asked to explain why short ovals suit his style.

“I honestly don't know really because if you would have asked me in 2016, I would have said they're my worst,” he admitted. “I think it's just a matter of experience, it's a matter of getting comfortable with the limits of the car, efficiently using the downforce that the car produces and just throwing it in there.

“It's just a matter of being super, super committed at Iowa, certainly in qualifying, because it's so fast that physically it's literally pulling at your face and your entire body. You've just kind of got to get through it and know that the car is going to catch you when you get to the center, even if you're hopping over all the bumps that there are on the track… I think I've just learned to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Conor Daly, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

Conor Daly, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Gregg Feistman / Motorsport Images

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