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IRL: Floods, fuel and fast racing in Iowa

Chaos, controversy and calamity – the IndyCar series is facing them all as it travels to the Iowa Speedway this weekend for the Iowa Corn Indy 250.

This year’s race is only the second held by the IRL on one of the newest circuits in the country, a seven-eighths of a mile paved oval that features high speeds and low lap times.


Last year’s event saw Dario Franchitti lead home a field depleted by spectacular crashes as cars struggled in heavy traffic on tyres chosen for weather that was expected to be considerably warmer than it turned out to be.

Of course, the weather is the big story in Iowa at the moment, with dreadful flooding leaving great swathes of the state, including the supposedly unfloodable city of Cedar Rapids, under water.

The race, on high ground near an airport, will go ahead as planned despite the destruction. Veteran IndyCar commentator Jack Arute likened it to a smaller version of the return of the New Orleans Saints football team to its post-Hurricane Katrina home city – a sign that normal life can continue in the face of disaster.

And the IRL is joining in the relief effort – the league and teams are combining efforts to make a donation of $60,000 to the Iowa chapter of the American Red Cross.

“It was only appropriate that we help anyway we can the people of Iowa who have been through so much in recent weeks,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and racing operations for the Indy Racing League.

Iowa is also the event where most attention is paid to the increasing use of biofuels to power racing cars – a move that many branches of the sport, from IndyCar to A1GP, view as a major environmental step forward. The race sponsor is Iowa’s corn industry, and it’s also the home circuit for the ethanol-sponsored car of Rahal-Letterman’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

He said: “The folks there are pretty passionate about their racing – when we show up in town we’re a pretty big show and everybody comes out for it. Not only that, a lot of people are supporting the ethanol movement and coming out to see the ethanol Indy car.”

But the green fuel is far from uncontroversial – earlier this month the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation accused the US of damaging world food supplies with its subsidies for corn ethanol, while some environmental groups believe the switch to biofuels could actually damage the environment.

In the middle of all this, there’s going to be a race – and, if the inaugural running last year is anything to go by, it’s going to be fast paced, full of incident and capable of springing a shock result.


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