Persistent rain forced the postponement of Firestone Indy Lights practice at Iowa Speedway on Friday, delaying the start of the series' first weekend under lights at the circuit.
Steady rain began falling about 3pm Central Time, causing the 45-minute session to be moved to just after eight o'clock on Saturday morning and creating a full day of activity at the speedway. The Indy Lights drivers will have two practice sessions, qualifying and the Miller Lite 100, which runs under lights for the first time, while the IndyCar Series will have two practice sessions and PEAK Performance Pole Qualifying.
The Indy Lights drivers return to action after missing three weekends since Mario Romancini won at Milwaukee, becoming the fifth driver to win in the season's first six races. While, technically, Iowa is another short oval - 0.875 mile as compared to one mile at Milwaukee - it races like a superspeedway, and the third-ever 'after dark' Lights race looks set to be another close-run thing.
Panther Racing drivers have been strong at the Iowa track for the past two seasons, with Dillon Battistini winning last June with a late-race pass of Arie Luyendyk Jr and Hideki Mutoh posting a third place finish in 2007. Battistini's '08 team-mate, Brent Sherman, finished fourth in the most recent race held there. The results - and the data collected through two years of racing at the facility - should benefit current Panther drivers Pippa Mann and Martin Plowman, the former having recorded a season-high ninth place at Milwaukee.
"Milwaukee was my first short-track experience, and that turned out pretty well with a top-ten finish, so I'm confident going into Iowa that we will have a good weekend," Mann said, "Panther raced exceptionally well there, winning the race last season with one car and finishing in fourth position with the other, and having a good base set-up helps a lot when you go to a track that you've never raced before. I'm looking forward, going into this race, to bringing the car home with a good result and helping us build our points in the championship."
Mann is currently 17th in the standings, with Plowman 15th after a series of strong runs that ended in frustration, and a mix of road/street circuits and 1.5-mile ovals ahead of them. JR Hildebrand, driving the #26 ARPRO car for AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing, is the championship frontrunner, with team-mate Sebastian Saavedra ten points behind, and Romancini a further seven off the pace.
"We've had a few weeks off to get prepared for Iowa," said Saavedra, "We'll work even harder to get as many points as possible, since I think the points we get around this time of the season are most important for the championship."