Mid-Ohio Preview

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The NTT IndyCar Series makes its annual stop in Lexington, Ohio this weekend for the Honda 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. This track has a long and storied past with Indy car racing. CART first ran at Mid-Ohio in 1980, with Johnny Rutherford winning in Jim Hall’s Chaparral. But CART did not return again until 1983 when Teo Fabi, who was driving for Gerry Forsythe, won the same year he won the pole at the Indianapolis as a rookie. For the next twenty years, CART raced at Mid-Ohio, with their last race there in 2003 when Paul Tracy won, also driving for Gerry Forsythe.

The track went on an open-wheel hiatus for a few years until the IndyCar Series struck a deal to begin racing there in 2007. Scott Dixon won that race and it would serve as a preview of what was to come for the next few years. Between 2007 and 2014, Scott Dixon won at Mid-Ohio a total of five times. In that same period, Dixon’s owner, Chip Ganassi won seven of eight races in that period. Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball won the other two. The only non-Ganassi driver to win in that period was Ryan Briscoe, who was driving for Team Penske in 2008.

Since Dixon and Ganssi won in 2014, the wealth has been spread a little bit among other teams. Ohio native Graham Rahal won for his father’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team in 2015, which was a very popular victory among the locals. Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden won the next two races driving for Team Penske; while Alexander Rossi won last year for Andretti Autosport. Except for Rahal’s 2015 win, no team outside of the “Big Three” has won at Mid-Ohio since IndyCar resumed running there in 2007.

I’ll be honest, Mid-Ohio has never been my favorite race. It seems like it is hard to pass there and it has a history of being somewhat of a parade. For the last few years, it has gotten more exciting for whatever reason – but most of CART’s races and the first several IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio were yawners a lot of the time.

That may be part of the reason that I’ve never been to Mid-Ohio. That and the fact that camping seems to be a way of life at Mid-Ohio may have been enough to keep me away. I enjoyed camping as a kid, but I also enjoyed cruising around town at night stirring up trouble. I have outgrown both. If I never camp again in my lifetime, it’ll suit me just fine.

But I do want to go to Mid-Ohio sometime. I’ve heard that it has a rustic charm similar to Road America, but on a smaller scale. Camping is big at Road America, but there are ample hotels in quaint little towns across central Wisconsin. From what I can tell, hotels near Mid-Ohio are pretty scarce. My goal is to eventually attend all of the tracks on the IndyCar schedule. But our budget and lack of vacation time makes that goal fairly lofty. Last year, we decided to check Sonoma off the list. A couple of months after we paid for our plane tickets and hotel reservations, it was announced that IndyCar was replacing Sonoma with Laguna Seca. Oh well.

Earlier this week, I wrote about one interesting piece of Mid-Ohio IndyCar trivia – that even though five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon had won at Mid-Ohio five times, none of those Mid-Ohio wins ever led to a championship. At least I found that to be interesting.

If you listened to Trackside the other night they both said that this is a race that Scott Dixon has got to have if he wants to stay in the championship battle. He is currently ninety-eight points out. If he doesn’t at least earn a podium and have those in front of him have mediocre weekends, I think the battle will be narrowed down to the Top-Three of Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud – ironically the winners of the last three IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio, but not in that order.

Last week at Iowa, Newgarden padded his lead over all three of his pursuers. Rossi went from being only four points back, to being twenty-nine points down to Newgarden heading into the weekend. Pagenaud is now fifty-eight points back. If Newgarden can win like he did two years ago at Mid-Ohio, he could make his rivals really start feeling the pressure.

Max Chilton returns to the cockpit of the Carlin No. 59 car that Conor Daly had a good performance in at Iowa. But there is an odd twist to the other car. I may be wrong, but I am almost certain that Charlie Kimball was scheduled to return to the other Carlin car for this weekend. Before the season, I thought I saw Mid-Ohio on his list of selected races and thinking that it made sense since he won there back in 2013 for his lone IndyCar win. However, the entry list has no sign of Kimball, but instead lists RC Enerson in the No. 31 Lucas Oil Racing School entry. This will be Enerson’s fourth career IndyCar start, and his first since he ran three races for Dale Coyne in 2016. The first of those starts was at Mid-Ohio, when Enerson finished nineteenth.

Practice One at Mid-Ohio gets underway later today at 11:20 am EDT on NBC Sports Gold. Practice Two will get going at 3:15 pm EDT, and will also be shown live on NBC Sports Gold. Practice Three will be Saturday at 10:30 am EDT on NBC Sports Gold, with qualifying shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 pm EDT Saturday afternoon. NBC Sports Gold will have the Sunday morning warm-up at noon EDT.

The race will be shown live on Big NBC (over the air network) at 4:00 pm. The engines will fire almost as soon as they start the NBC broadcast, and the green flag is scheduled to fly at 4:06 EDT. They will be coming out of the Tour de France coverage and there is a chance it could end early, so you might want to tune in a few minutes early.

So who will win at Mid-Ohio this weekend? Although he could still use the cushion, it won’t be Newgarden. He has been consistent this season, but not spectacular two races in a row. I think he comes back to earth after his dominating performance at Iowa this past Saturday night (Sunday morning) and has a so-so day at Mid-Ohio. I think Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud will both slightly close the gap on Newgarden, but they won’t win either. I think order is restored to the universe this weekend and Scott Dixon will win his sixth race at Mid-Ohio, and his first since 2014. He’s due and he needs it to stay in the hunt.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Mid-Ohio Preview”

  1. If you like Road America you’d like Mid-Ohio. You kinda don’t even feel like you’re at a race track, more like being on a farm that happens to have some loud cars driving around. It’s really beautiful. It is a paradox though, it looks great on tv and it’s fun as hell to drive around but the racing is not always very exciting.

    If you were to ever rethink your camping situation, Mid-Ohio is a good place to do it. I’ve camped there three times and it is just fantastic. The campground just outside the Keyhole turn is packed with race fans having a grand old time. There’s elaborate camping setups, karaoke, bars, kiddie pools, golf carts decorated in all manners of racing gear, and so many happy people just having the time of their lives. There’s also something magical about being able to roam the track grounds during the evening and night. Memories of camping there on IndyCar weekend are some of my most favorite racing memories.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    This could be a strong track for the RLL cars, but outside of that it is hard to see a car outside the top 4 in points contending for a win. Maybe Power or RHR if they find their confidence and some luck.

  3. ” I enjoyed camping as a kid, but I also enjoyed cruising around town at night stirring up trouble.”
    that enjoyment is still there waiting for your bucket list.

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