Random Thoughts on Mid-Ohio

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They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It seems that some saw two classic races from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend, while others came away from their televisions thinking how much of their weekend they gave up to watch the NTT IndyCar Series put on a pair of snoozers. Like most of these things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Perhaps I entered the weekend with low expectations, but I found the entire weekend of racing from Lexington, Ohio fairly interesting. Of course, that takes a practice session and two qualifying sessions into account also. It helps that it rained here in Nashville for most of the weekend. I had seen the forecast and mowed my yard Friday evening after work. That left me free for the rest of the weekend and the forecast was correct. It started raining in Nashville before lunch and it didn’t let up for the rest of the weekend. That meant I didn’t feel guilty sitting inside, glued to the television.

Practice in mid-morning on Saturday was uneventful, other than Pato O’ Ward going into the tire barrier fairly early in the session and damaging his car. Just a couple of hours later, was qualifying for Race One. Will Power won the pole, which was not surprising. Scott Dixon qualified seventeenth, which was very surprising. Other qualifying surprises for Race One were Conor Daly starting fourth, Takuma Sato starting eighteenth and Alex Palou twentieth.

There weren’t a whole lot of surprises in Saturday’s race either. Will Power won from the pole and led throughout, with the exception of pit stop shuffles. Scott Dixon battled from starting seventeenth, but settled for a tenth place finish. Once again, Jack Harvey qualified well and this time got a good result. He started fifth and finished seventh.

It was also not a big surprise that Marco Andretti had a decent qualifying run and held his own for a while before eventually dropping like a stone. After starting eleventh, Marco finished dead-last on Saturday.

The highlight for Saturday was when Rinus VeeKay passed Colton Herta and Dalton Kellett in the same corner with eighteen laps to go. It was a thing of beauty to watch and probably gives us all a glimpse of what we can expect from the Dutchman in the coming years.

There was lots of passing just behind the leaders, but no passes for the lead as Will Power looked like the Will Power of six or seven years ago in dominating Saturday’s race. He was error-free in a race that had no cautions.

Sunday morning’s TV viewing started even earlier than Saturday’s, with Qualifying for Race Two. It took about thirty minutes for it to get underway, as the rain showers just before qualifying had prevented the medical helicopter from being able to land. IndyCar wisely will not run laps without a helicopter on the premises. When qualifying finally got underway, it was still very wet. All of the drivers in Group One went out on rain tires. Second-year driver Santino Ferrucci schooled the veterans on how to drive in the wet at Mid-Ohio. He ended the session in P1 and not even threatened by anyone else in that group. But his hopes for winning the pole were dashed when Colton Herta turned a quicker lap in the short time they were on-track. Will Power brought out a red-flag as he took his Verizon Chevy four-wheeling in the mud. Jack Harvey also did significant damage to his AutoNation Honda when he backed it into the tire barrier.

Marco Andretti tried to make things interesting by being the only driver to try the red-alternate slicks in qualifying. Had Pato O’Ward not caused a red-flag just as he went out, he may could have benefited from the move. Instead, he started Race Two seventh on the grid.

The story of Race Two was who was starting in the back – Will Power was starting seventeenth, Jack Harvey rolled off nineteenth and Pato O’Ward sat twentieth on the grid. Once the race started, it didn’t take long for things to get sorted out. Just after the green flag flew, Ferrucci got off in the grass and tried desperately to rejoin the field without giving up much track position. He tried too hard as he hip-checked his teammate Alex Palou who had started fourth. Palou was sent straight into Felix Rosenqvist, who started fifth. Palou and Rosenqvist were done on Sunday, just after a couple of turns. Ferrucci continued, but was penalized for avoidable contact and was ordered to re-start from the back of the field. Ferrucci ended the day with a fourteenth place finish.

Scott Dixon had a good qualifying run Sunday morning and started third. But on Lap 21, Dixon made an uncharacteristic mistake and spun in the exit of Turn One, just after dropping his wheel off into the grass. He avoided contact and was fortunate to keep his engine running, but he still had to allow the entire field to go by before he could rejoin the race. He did a good job to salvage his second tenth-place finish in as many days. Fortunately for Dixon, any of the six times he has won at Mid-Ohio, he never went on to win the championship that year. His previous five championships were all after failing to win at Mid-Ohio earlier that season.

Like the day before, the pole-sitter only gave up the lead on pit stop shuffles. Colton Herta finally gave Andretti Autosport its first win of the season as he dominated much like Power did the day before, albeit by a much more narrow margin. On Saturday, Power led Penske teammate Josef Newgarden across the line. On Sunday; Herta, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay made it a sweep of the podium for Andretti Autosport – the first time the team had accomplished that feat since 2005 at St. Petersburg.

Was this edge of your seat competition? No, but Mid-Ohio rarely is. Was this a weekend of sloppy racing, since the teams didn’t have confirmation this race would even happen until a week earlier? No – but there were surprises in both days of qualifying; especially Sunday, when the track was still drenched.

Unlike many I heard from after Sunday’s race, I actually enjoyed the race weekend from my den. Had the local weather been better, I might have felt guilty that I was allowing a sunny weekend get away from me. But as rainy as it was Saturday and Sunday, getting to watch sporadic IndyCar practice qualifying and racing throughout both days was rather enjoyable.

Given the circumstances of cancellations and rescheduled races all throughout this crazy season, I appreciate any chance I get to watch shiny race cars run around a track. Therefore, I was very pleased with both races this weekend. Then again, I had placed the bar pretty low going into it.

TV Coverage: I don’t really know why, but the first broadcast of each day on NBC Gold started off with the announcer’s microphones not working. You could hear the intro music and the dulcet tones of the double-turbocharged V6 engines, but no voices. To be honest, I found it enjoyable for a few minutes. It was more like actually being there. But by the time the problem was fixed, I was ready for some commentary.

On Sunday’s qualifying broadcast, the column on the far left side showing the ever-changing qualifying order was not there during Group One. You just had to take their word for it that Santino Ferrucci was clocking off laps much faster than everyone else. By the time Group Two went out, they fixed the problem.

I know the theme for this year is to have fewer people travel, but I wish Kevin Lee had been there – adding a third pit reporter. Kelli Stavast does a good job, and I am more impressed with James Hinchcliffe with every race. I just wish they would carry three pit reporters to races than two. Hopefully this will change in 2021.

Lose the Mask: This will anger some, I’m sure. I’m not making any type of political statement here, just a practical one – but I have always thought it looked (and sounded) stupid for the pit reporters to be wearing masks. I would even be in favor of dropping the masks of the drivers being interviewed. They are still effectively socially distancing with the use of the boom mike. It is unnerving when all you can see are a driver’s eyes. Add to the distraction of the drivers constantly pulling the masks back up as it repeatedly drops below their nose. Worst of all is that the driver sounds like they are talking into a pillow throughout the entire interview.

But even if they have to be masked during a driver interview; do the pit-reporters have to wear the masks while they are on camera all alone or just doing commentary during the race? The muffled voices I hear over my television sound very similar to going through a late-night drive-thru at Burger King. A couple of times this weekend, I almost expected to hear Kelli Stavast ask if I wanted fries with that.

The booth people don’t wear masks while they are socially distancing on-air, so why do the pit reporters have to? My questions about this hit a new level this weekend, when I noticed that most of the NFL sideline reporters (including on NBC on Thursday night) were not wearing masks.

Before this weekend, I figured this was all about satisfying the optics as pit reporters sounded muffled while being masked up all season long. But everyone seems to praise how the NFL has handled the virus this summer, and their TV talent is mostly unmasked and they are a lot more visible than the IndyCar reporters.

I did see one change this weekend. I noticed that each race winner was allowed to be photographed with the trophy, while unmasked. And that was after the state of Ohio mandated that everyone must wear a mask at all times this weekend. I pray that this is mostly behind us by the time the 2021 NTT IndyCar season starts.

Another Unpopular Stance: If you didn’t like the comment above, you probably won’t like this one either. First of all, I think the front-line workers during this pandemic deserve as much praise as they are getting – and more. But just because someone is saving lives in hospitals, does not mean they should be chosen to sing the National Anthem. God bless the young woman who was the front-line worker that performed it before Saturday’s race – but she was just plain awful. It was painful to listen to.

I was not overly impressed with The Singing Surgeons, who performed it at last month’s Indianapolis 500. Let’s let the healthcare workers do what they do best. Let’s not embarrass them and dishonor their efforts by asking them to do something they aren’t capable of doing.

I know, some will say that I don’t have the guts to do what she did and I should just shut up. I disagree.

In The Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood uttered the famous line “…a man needs to know his limitations”. I am not capable of being a healthcare worker, and I know not to try to be one. I also know I couldn’t sing the National Anthem before a sporting event. If asked, I would politely decline. There are a lot of qualified professional, semi-professional and amateur singers in every market. Let’s utilize their talents, rather than putting good people in a position to embarrass themselves. End of rant.

Did I Miss Something? At the start of Sunday’s race, Santino Ferrucci went off into the grass and came back onto the track in an overly aggressive fashion, taking out teammate Alex Palou and Felix Rosenqvist. Ferrucci was subsequently penalized for avoidable contact and was sent to the back of the field.

Maybe I’m missing something, but every replay angle I saw made it seem as though Colton Herta moved way over to the left and pushed Ferrucci off into the grass, thereby causing the entire accident. I’m not saying they made contact, because I don’t think they did – but was Ferrucci supposed to stand his ground as Herta moved into him? Had he done that, there would have been a bigger pileup as multiple contenders would have been involved.

I don’t really have a dog in this hunt. I’m not a huge fan of Ferrucci, and I don’t dislike Herta. So, I’m pretty neutral on both drivers. I never once heard those in the booth suggest that Herta might have been the culprit. They pointed their collective fingers at Ferrucci and apparently Race Control did also – because they assessed the penalty solely on Ferrucci. But it sure seemed like the driver that was initiating avoidable contact was Herta. Ferrucci just appeared to be avoiding contact with Herta and he got burned. If I’m wrong on this, please set me straight.

It’s About Time: Much was made of Andretti Autosport sweeping the podium on Sunday, but I think more should just be made of them earning a second podium for the season on Saturday and then finally winning their first race of the season with just three races to go.

Going into the weekend, Alexander Rossi owned the only podium of the season for Andretti Autosport. He finally got another one Saturday by finishing third. On Sunday, Herta won, Rossi finished second and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third. Did their luck finally change or has Michael Andretti’s team finally come up with a winning formula to be competitive in the remaining races? I guess we’ll find out in three weeks ayt the Harvest Grand Prix on the IMS road course.

It’s About Time II: Will Power won Saturday’s race, giving him his first win since Portland last season. Now every driver at Team Penske has at least one win on the season. It appeared that the wheels were starting to come off for Power and I was even questioning his future at Team Penske. It was good to see him get a win and silence people like me.

Is There a Gag Order? During Sunday’s qualifying, it was mentioned by Paul Tracy that with the wet track, the aero screen would get its first real test with drivers encountering spray. You could tell with the heavy rooster tails flying up that many drivers were getting a full taste of life with a wet aero screen.

Oddly enough, it was never mentioned again. I’ve long suspected that drivers were told to not publicly voice any complaints about the aero screen. I’m guessing that drivers are instructed to keep complaints in-house and directed only to those that can actually fix a problem; and not give bad publicity about it to fans who already have mixed emotions on the whole concept. In the coming days, I’d like to hear at least a few drivers share what they experienced driving in the wet with the aero screen.

Drive of the Weekend: It would be easy to give this award to Alexander Rossi. After all, he finished on the podium twice – the only driver this weekend to do that. But since he has already gotten the accolades for this feat, I’m going to give it to a driver that had a horrendous double-header weekend at Gateway, but rebounded to have a very quiet but solid weekend, just missing both podiums. Graham Rahal finished fourth in both races, after qualifying eighth and twelfth respectively. He didn’t make either podium, but he gets my nod for drive of the weekend.

All in All: While neither race took my breath away, I didn’t expect them to. Not that I was hoping for anything bad to happen to Scott Dixon, I’d still like to see the championship go down to the last race. If Scott Dixon had swept both races, that wasn’t going to happen. As it stands now, Josef Newgarden only trails Dixon by seventy-two points – even though Newgarden was relatively quiet on Sunday, finishing eighth. O’Ward is still mathematically alive, trailing by 118 points, but a lot of bad things would have to happen to Newgarden and Dixon before he could win the championship. For all practical purposes, this is now a two-man race.

We now have a three-week break before the series resumes for the double-header Harvest Grand Prix on the IMS road course October 2-3, which is actually a Friday/Saturday double-header. The Friday afternoon race will be carried on USA Network, and I don’t expect it to set a ratings record. But IndyCar fans will be paying attention, because that will probably be where this championship will be won or lost. I also still have this sneaking feeling that the season may end there. I’m still not convinced that St. Petersburg will run on Oct 25. I have no one whispering that to me, but it’s more of a gut feeling. If that is so, that will put even more added importance on the Harvest Grand Prix. Stay tuned.

George Phillips

17 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Mid-Ohio”

  1. Nice post George, thanks. One thing…. I stand to be corrected but :-

    “In The Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood uttered the famous line “…a man needs to know his limitations”.

    I think this was from Magnum Force. I’ll get my coat….

  2. Worst part of the weekend for me was the booth continually trying to hype up the dead points race. It isn’t happening guys. Also the constant Dixon love, we ALL KNOW that Dixon is the best driver in the field, Diffey was nauseating talking about how he never makes mistakes, we can remember every mistake ever because he doesn’t make them. Blah, get off it guys.

    The booth annoys me with their overdoing it on certain tops each weekend. Whether it be noting the aeroscreen saving multiple lives each race or the dead points race or Dixon’s overstated good driving, we get it guys.

    • Mute button

    • billytheskink Says:

      I’ll give the booth a pass on hyping the points race… tight points races -> engaged viewers -> better ratings -> the booth’s continued employment… or so conventional wisdom goes.

      The veneration of Dixon is a little tiresome, I would agree, especially when he is credited with something dubious. For instance, the incident at the start of race two drew Townsend Bell to praise Dixon for his skill in avoiding it… when he was simply lucky Ferrucci missed him by inches reentering the track and arguably made his own contribution to the incident by making an ambitious move on Herta and Ferrucci just before that may have encouraged Herta to run wider than he otherwise would have.

  3. I agree with you about St. Pete, as do a couple of other people i spoke with this weekend. Just hoping fans are allowed at IMS in October.

  4. After his victory Power was going to have an ICE BATH? I had to Google that one. Holy shrinkage!

  5. Nice article George. Total agreement on anthem singers and Herta causing the first lap incident. He should have been penalized, he ran Ferucci off the track.

  6. Here’s where I get myself into trouble.

    It seems to me that European trained racers feel they have a right to run anyone off the track when the attacker is only1/2 way alongside them attempting a pass. Like Herta did and Rossi does and Ericsson is famous for (in GP2).

    American trained racers don’t do that.

    Are the penalties imposed directly related to the racecraft training of the stewards?

  7. billytheskink Says:

    While I did not particularly care for Herta’s move at the start of race 2, I would argue that Race Control established on Saturday that they were comfortable with that kind of driving. Even Scott Dixon, who very much did not desperately need a top result, pushed the boundaries of the track, and the #21 car, in an attempt to keep VeeKay behind him in Saturday’s race.

    I have seem some folks argue that Ferrucci’s incident-causing reentry on to the track may not have been a case of deliberate foolishness so much as an unfortunate product of Ferrucci attempting to get his car back under control on some very wet grass. I’d suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle there. At least there is season-long precedent for his penalty, deserved or not, just ask Will Power about that.

  8. the fans at Mid Ohio The hills around the course are filled with race fans out enjoying the racing and their lives

  9. Oliver Wells Says:

    Agree. Lose the masks.

  10. Oliver Wells Says:

    Also, sorry as he is popular but surely even Marco can see times up. Become a new team entrant maybe as it his chassis but time to stop the driving.

  11. Talón de Brea Says:

    A sure sign of your impact on your readership: By “the rockets’ red glare” in Saturday’s anthem, I was already thinking “George is going to have something to say about this.”

  12. Davy Hamilton mentioned on radio during practice Saturday that this was originally the Portland race date, and correctly speculated that the race would not have happened because of the fires. I live on the north end of the Olympic peninsula and we haven’t seen the sun, or been able to breathe for days.
    Herta admitted that he intentionally pushed Ferrucci off the track.
    I am among those who do not believe the St. Pete race will happen.

  13. Herta had ownership of the corner and was free to take whatever line he wanted through the turn. The onus was on Ferrucci to back off or force the issue and end up in the grass, he chose the latter option.

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