Random Thoughts on Mid-Ohio

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After such a chaotic start to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, you had to wonder if it was going to be one of those days. There were two caution periods in the first seven laps. The box score shows that Lap Three ran green, but I think the second caution came out before Lap Three was complete.

At the start, Ryan Hunter-Reay had to check up in Turn Five. Teammate James Hinchcliffe ran into the back of him, causing both to spin. Hunter-Reay hit the tire barrier very hard, as Felix Rosenqvist was tagged from behind by Romain Grosjean. All three cars pitted under yellow. Hunter-Reay and Rosenqvist had to have minor repairs done and lost two laps in the process. Hinchcliffe got a fresh set of tires and went on his way, en route to a seventeenth-place finish after starting ninth.

As the field restarted, Scott Dixon and Will Power swapped positions for a couple of turns before Dixon passed Power, who was on the slower black primary tires. In the process, Dixon clipped Power’s right front wheel – sending him into a spin. Most of the field was able to avoid Power, except for Ed Jones. Obscured by tire smoke, Jones could not see where Power was and chose the wrong path. The resulting contact ended the day for both drivers. By the time the race restarted on Lap Seven, there were already five cars pretty much out of contention.

Did I mention that during all of this, Josef Newgarden had taken control at the front of the field? When the race restarted on Lap Seven, Newgarden took off and didn’t look back…until there were about five laps to go, that is. That’s when Marcus Ericsson made things very interesting on the two-time champion.

In the end, it was Newgarden earning Team Penske’s first win of the season, and his nineteenth career victory overall. If you had told me in March that Team Penske would not win their first race until Race Ten in July; I would have said you were crazy. After ten races, we have now had eight different winners among six different teams.

Marcus Ericsson finished less than a second behind Newgarden for a well-earned second-place. Alex Palou was able to extend his championship lead in points over Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon – his closest pursuers – by finishing third. Scott Dixon finished fourth, but finished behind two of his teammates. Alexander Rossi finished a respectable fifth.

Although Newgarden led the entire race, only giving up the lead on pit stop shuffles, you would think Sunday’s race was a snoozer. It wasn’t.

Newgarden led seventy-three of eighty laps, but there was tons of action going on behind him. Nineteen of the twenty-six cars that started the race finished on the lead lap, but there was a lot of movement between them. Some fought hard to move up, while others slid back – sometimes for unexplained reasons.

When I think of Mid-Ohio, my mind doesn’t usually conjure up images of exciting racing. I would be lying if I said I was on the edge of my seat throughout the telecast, but it was an entertaining race that featured some excellent racing behind the leaders.

Congratulations to Team Penske, Tim Cindric and Josef Newgarden for finally ending the questions about their drought before it entered into double-digits. Now that the pressure is off, don’t be surprised if they reel off several more wins in the final six races. Newgarden is now sixty-nine points behind Alex Palou. That’s a tall order to have only six races remaining, but all it takes is for one bad race for Palou, while Newgarden wins. Then all bets are off.

TV Coverage: With only four voices, it seemed to be a minimalist approach by NBC. Paul Tracy was busy once again with the SRX racing series on Saturday, so it was Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell in the booth. Kevin Lee and Kelli Stavast were the two pit reporters. Of the current crop of pit reporters, this was my favorite pairing if they are going to only go with two of them. I still wish that NBC would somehow find a way to get Jon Beekhuis back on pit lane. His presence brings a lot to the broadcast.

Townsend Bell was a little toned down this weekend, and that’s a good thing. He still overused the word “super”, but he limited “elbows out” to only one use that I heard.

Car Control: When Romain Grosjean tried to pass Sébastien Bourdais on Lap Ten, Bourdais blocked and forced Grosjean to try and pass on the outside. Grosjean went way too wide and both of his rear wheels off in the dirt. Most drivers would have lost the car at that point, but Grosjean stuck with it. He exhibited the type of car control we would see from Juan Montoya in his prime.

Race after race, Grosjean continues to impress me. Yesterday he started eighteenth, but worked his way through the field with moves like that and finished a very respectable seventh.

Just the Latest: It was fitting that Team Penske won this past weekend. Saturday marked the fiftieth anniversary of Team Penske’s first-ever IndyCar win – a Mark Donohue victory at Pocono. The following May, Donohue would win Penske’s first of eighteen Indianapolis 500s. Josef Newgarden is just the latest driver to win an IndyCar race for Team Penske. Chances are, he is just the latest. He won’t be the last.

Harvey’s Misfires: Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) won this year’s Indianapolis 500, as Helio Castroneves captured his fourth Indianapolis win in a very exciting race. That practically coincides with the shift in fortunes for Jack Harvey. Through the first four races, Jack Harvey was on pace for a decent season. He finished eleventh in the season-opener at Barber, before barely missing the podium at St. Petersburg with a fourth place finish. He finished seventh in the first Texas race, along with a skirmish with Graham Rahal on the backstretch. Afterwards, Harvey went on an unsolicited tirade about how he nor his team were getting the respect within the paddock they both deserved.

The next day, his race ended early when a wheel bearing caught fire – which was certainly not his fault. Since then, however, Harvey has entered into a stretch where he seems to qualify well, but fades down the stretch.

Since Texas; Harvey finished twenty-third in the GMR Grand Prix, a very quiet eighteenth in the Indianapolis 500, where he was clearly outshined by his teammate. Harvey finished sixteenth and nineteenth respectively in the double-header at Belle Isle. At Road America, Harvey started third – only to fade again late in the race and finish a forgettable seventeenth. Yesterday, Harvey started twenty-third before finishing nineteenth, after an ill-advised three-stop strategy that few teams tried.

This is not all Harvey’s fault, as the team has their share of blame with botched race strategies and missed setups. After the Indianapolis 500, Harvey was the forgotten man as Helio stole the spotlight he always craves.

We are about to enter into an interesting point in the season, as far as MSR goes. Helio Castroneves is set to rejoin the team for the streets of Nashville in next month’s Music City Grand Prix. Helio will be Harvey’s teammate for five of the final six races of the season. If Helio excels, while Harvey continues to have mediocre results – it won’t be good for Harvey. He has driven for this team in all of their developmental stages since 2017. He landed on the podium at the IndyCar Grand Prix in a ten-race part-time effort in 2019. His first fulltime season with the team in 2020 was unremarkable, as Harvey finished fifteenth. It was assumed the team and driver were still finding their way in their first year being fulltime.

Much was expected of Harvey this season. Much like his individual races, he got off to a good start this season, but has faded down the stretch. Helio Castroneves clearly outperformed Harvey in the one race when they were teammates – both in qualifying and the race. Harvey needs to flip the scales on Helio in the five races they are teammates for the remainder of the season. If he doesn’t, MSR may have some difficult decisions before the 2022 season.

The Crowd: If you recall, last Wednesday I went off on a rant as to why Mid-Ohio and IndyCar had no business scheduling yesterday’s race on the Fourth of July. I predicted that the crowd would be sparse. It appears I am about as good at predicting crowd size as I am race winners.

A reader tweeted to me on Friday that he had just arrived at Mid-Ohio and there appeared to be more campers there since the mid-nineties. He asked how I like my crow – fried or pie. My response? Sautéed. I can admit when I’m wrong. Clearly, the overhead shots on Sunday showed a very full facility.

Drive of the Day:  There are many drivers who had good drives, despite starting further back in the pack. Romain Grosjean started eighteenth and left Mid-Ohio with a seventh place finish. Pato O’Ward overcame a poor qualifying effort on Saturday when the speed just wasn’t there. O’Ward started twentieth, but salvaged points for an eighth place finish. But I think that Santino Ferrucci made the most out of what he had as a part-time driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, by starting twenty-second and finishing ninth. Tip of the hat goes to all of Rahal Letterman Lanigan, as all three of their drivers finished in the Top-Ten. Graham Rahal started eighth and finished sixth. Ferrucci finished ninth, while Takuma Sato started nineteenth and finished tenth. It was not a bad day at all, compared to where they lined up on the grid.

All in All: This was a good race for Mid-Ohio. I’ve seen more than my share of duds there, and Sunday’s race was not a dud. There was a lot of good clean passing – just not up front. In the end, Marcus Ericsson made things very interesting for Josef Newgarden, but Newgarden held on to give his own championship hopes a boost and a long-awaited victory for the team.

Now the NTT IndyCar Series heads into what they have been calling the summer break. Racing doesn’t need summer breaks, and this extended pause is only because Toronto was cancelled after being scheduled to run this coming weekend. Even with Toronto on the schedule, there were still three consecutive off-weekends for the series, presumably due to the Olympics. With the cancellation, we are now headed into a four-weekend stretch with no IndyCar races. The next race will not run until August 8 – over a month from now.

That race is the heavily anticipated Music City Grand Prix right here in my home town of Nashville, TN. Over the next month, you will be hearing a lot about that race; here and practically every other racing outlet. It’s good that we have that race to look forward to as the series goes dormant for four weekends.

I hope everyone that is off today (Monday) has a safe and happy holiday.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Mid-Ohio”

  1. Yannick Says:

    With the good performances by the part-time entries of Helio Castroneves and Santino Ferruci, the fight for the final few Leaders Circle spots will be very interesting this year.
    Please keep us updated on that as well: it’s like Bump Day for the championship.

    I hope the 2nd Meyer-Shank entry and the 3rd Rahal/Letterman/Langigan entry can earn a spot because of the strong performances they have shown so far this season.

    The upcoming break of 4 weeks between races is a bit much for a sport that wants to be in the public eye before the start of the Football season. My uneducated guess is that IndyCar scheduled this year like that because at the time of scheduling, they left an opening for potential replacement dates, which are luckily not needed now with the overall health situation having improved greatly since then.

    It will be interesting to find out how IndyCar intends to fill these open dates for the upcoming season.

  2. Having attended the MO weekend and camped all 4 days I can attest the spectator crowd was “super” big. What I found interesting is the crowd was in no hurry to leave . In years past you would see lines of cars to get out even before the main event was over . There was a Robby Gordon truck “ race” after IndyCar but not enough of a draw to keep folks glued to their seats . I think the very early start time and finish time had a lot to do with folks being in no hurry to leave .

    As far as the race I have not watched the NBC broadcast yet , but sitting in the Carrousel turn it didn’t appear to be a very exciting race. JoNeu had everyone covered however Ericsson did add some drama at the end . This might be a race you have to see on TV to appreciate.

  3. MAURICE E. KESSLER Says:

    I thought of you as the drone scanned the crowd.. It looked like both Mid Ohio & Road of America had good to great crowds. Nice to be wrong sometimes & man enough to own it ! Respect !

  4. Oliver W Says:

    Can somebody please explain how Palou went from two places I think behind Dixon to about four seconds in front after the last stop. Dixon did not seem to have a slow stop. No mention on commentary which surprised me considering it is the Cjampionship leader and existing Champion.

  5. Brent Blaine Says:

    Great crowds at both Mid Ohio and Road America for NASCAR! The family value of camping 🏕 at the event combined with COVID burnout May put an end to the “holiday weekend” curse.

    Best crowd I have seen at Mid Ohio since the CART days of the 90’s and Can Am days of the 70’s!

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Glad to see Newgarden avoid the snakebite this week. If the switch is flipped like it was last year when he won at Gateway, he will be a factor in the championship. With 19 career victories now, Newgarden ties Sam Hornish as the winningest American in the history of Indycar’s current sanctioning body.

    Jack Harvey appears to be very hard on tires, as he regularly fades from good/great qualifying performances. He has some bum luck on pit road too, but he really seems to give up a lot of time on in-laps regularly.

    Looking forward to the race in Nashville. Since there is no biathlon in the Summer Olympics, it’s going to be a long month of waiting.

    • I didnt understand the logic of pitting Harvey at around 18th lap when all the leaders went on to pit aroung 29th or 30th lap and seemed to get stuck behind and never made progress

  7. I keep saying that they should have standing starts on street and Road courses, every year they have atleast two to three of these races that end up in Yellow right after the start. This is so, because there is too much anticipation to go green what with three parade laps or what not and the field gets aligned too close at the beginning and it carries on through many turns through most of the course in the 1st lap. What happened to Colton after the two botched pit stops? he still was at 7th with two laps to go and then all of a sudden I saw his name go down the order and he ended up at 14th and no one even bothered to address the front row starter’s status at the end of the race. And as usual NBC carried the race, with a lot more promotion about Nascar’s Road america race and didnt seem to have enough time at the end to cover the post race interviews and proceedings. Again their coverage seems to be watered down and seems to be in a hurry to show Nascar coverage with more promotions of the nascar race and to cut over right away to the pre race nascar proceedings.

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