Mid-Ohio Preview

After two weekends off for sort of a mid-season break, the NTT IndyCar Series kicks off the second half of the season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. When the series left Road America almost three weeks ago, they had just completed their fifth consecutive on-track weekend with only two off weekends since mid-April. I think teams, drivers and even fans were ready for a break.

Now that we’ve had two weekends in a row with no IndyCar racing, I think we are all ready to see cars back on track. Enjoy it, because the series takes another break next weekend. But enjoy that break because after next weekend, because the next four weekends after that break will be filled with five races that will go a long way in determining one of the closer championship battles in recent memory.

One of the more prominent storylines going into Mid-Ohio does not involve one of the front-running teams. Instead, it involves a team usually placed at the far end of pit-lane; AJ Foyt Enterprises. Last weekend, a rumor started circulating that the No. 11 car of Tatiana Calderón would be parked immediately for the remainder of the season and that the famous No. 14 of Kyle Kirkwood would run with no sponsorship due to lack of payment from ROKiT – the team’s sponsor for the past two years, and the backer of Calderón.

Quite honestly, after seeing their not-so-attractive matte black livery for the past two seasons; I’m still not just real clear on what ROKiT does exactly. The description underneath their logo is sort of all over the place. Phones, drinks and e bikes are sort of an odd combination for a company to be involved in. In all honesty, I’m so old and out of touch – I had to google e bikes to see what they were.

If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t it ROKiT that defaulted on payments to Williams in Formula One, the year season that Claire Williams had to sell her father’s team?

Apparently, there was some truth to the rumors last week, but according to Larry Foyt – ROKiT has now caught up on their payments and the two ROKiT cars will be on the grid this weekend, in full livery. Going beyond Mid-Ohio sounds a little more cloudy. Reading between the lines in a press release, it sounds like it is quite possible that Mid-Ohio could be the swan song for Tatiana Calderón this season. It also sounds like they are prepared to run the No.14 with blank side-pods for the remainder of the season, as Larry Foyt went out of his way to point out that running the No. 14 "is not solely dependent on the ROKiT funding". Stay tuned on this one.

Back at the front of the grid, there is a very interesting points battle going on. Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson is the current points leader, but Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden run second and third respectively. Newgarden is only five points behind Power, but Power trails Ericsson by twenty-seven points. That sounds like a lot, but one DNF by Ericsson can change everything. Had the Indianapolis 500 not been a double-points race, I’m guessing Power would be the points leader – but that’s a discussion for another day.

Thirteen points behind Newgarden is Pato O’Ward in fourth place. The 2021 champion, Alex Palou, is currently in fifth – just two points behind O’Ward and forty-seven points behind his teammate Ericsson. Six-time champion, Scott Dixon, is a little further back in sixth place, but he needs to have a strong second half of the season to be a realistic contender for the championship.

I have never been to Mid-Ohio. Friends keep telling me that if I like Road America, I would like Mid-Ohio. But none of those people have ever told me that Mid-Ohio is better than Road America – just similar. From television, it does not seem near as scenic as Road America, and I don’t believe it has near the elevation changes as the much longer track to the northwest.

One thing I like about Road America is that even though it appears to be quaint and historic, they do an excellent job of improving and modernizing the place, while maintaining the traditional look and feel. Most people I know who go to Mid-Ohio regularly, just describe it as old and run down. I’ve read where some say that a major overhaul may bring Mid-Ohio into the 80s. I’m not sure it’s that bad, but I’ve never been. One of these days, we will go.

One thing that would entice me to go, would be to move it off of the Fourth of July weekend. Mid-Ohio was always a staple in August, even going back to the CART days. Yes, technically the first time CART ran there in 1980 – it ran on July 13. But almost all of the races since 1983 were run in either September or August. The last time this race was run in August was 2015, when Graham Rahal won at what is essentially his home track.

Since 2015, the race has been creeping earlier and earlier into July (except for when the original July date in 2020 was rescheduled for COVID). Last year, the race was run on July 4, but that was presented as a one-time workaround for the Olympics. This year it runs on July 3. Why? Running over the Fourth was given as the reason Watkins Glen didn’t work. If it didn’t work at The Glen, why would it work at Mid-Ohio?

The opening IndyCar practice for this weekend will be today at 3:30 pm EDT and will be shown live on Peacock. Practice Two takes place Saturday morning at 9:30 EDT, live on Peacock. IndyCar qualifying begins Saturday afternoon at 2:45 EDT and shown exclusively on Peacock. The Sunday morning warm-up takes place at 9:45 am EDT and can be viewed on Peacock. The race broadcast begins at 12:30 pm EDT and shown live on Big NBC as well as Peacock.

Mid-Ohio used to be the playground for Chip Ganassi Racing. Since the revival of this event in 2007, a Ganassi driver has won this race eight times – including six in a row between 2009 and 2014. Most of Ganassi’s wins at Mid-Ohio came at the hand of Scott Dixon, who has won at Mid-Ohio six times – the most recent coming in 2019.

More recently, the winning has been more evenly spread out at the 2.258 mile natural terrain road course in Lexington, Ohio. Since 2014, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has won once, Chip Ganassi racing once, Andretti Autosport twice and Team Penske four times, including last year. It was last year at Mid-Ohio when Team Penske won their first race of the season, with Josef Newgarden as the driver. This season, they have won five of the eight races run thus far and two of their three drivers sit second and third in the championship. Newgarden alone has won three races, including IndyCar’s last race three weeks ago at Road America. The smart money should probably be on Newgarden to repeat this weekend at Mid-Ohio.

But I’m not normally accused of being smart – especially when it comes to predicting race winners.

Marcus Ericsson will drive his usual solid, but unspectacular race that will most likely keep him in the points lead heading to Toronto, but he won’t win. Colton Herta will probably qualify on the front row, but will find a way to waste a good starting spot. Who do I think will win at Mid-Ohio? I’m going way out on a limb and pick the driver with more IndyCar wins at that track than any other driver in history – Scott Dixon. We’ll see.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Mid-Ohio Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Dixon needs to find a win somewhere if he is going to make a move for the championship. Mid-Ohio may well be his best bet.

    I’ll be curious to see if Rossi’s momentum carries over. If Newgarden keeps things rolling… the rest of the grid will be on notice.

  2. Mark Wick Says:

    I wonder if Kirkwood will get some money from Andretti to keep him in the 14 for the rest of the season. Getting experience in the rest of the races will help him next season.

  3. Pleas move MidOhio back to August. I have been the last 2 years on the 4th but may wife sure doesn’t like it. She’s not a race fan on any way shape or form.

  4. Last year was an odd one as fans were kind of held hostage in their Mid-O tickets with a use it or lose it from the Covid year. Imagine my surprise when they were happy with the turn-out and decided to keep it on the 4th of July weekend, I would imagine they won’t be as pleased this year.

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