Random Thoughts on Mid-Ohio

geothumbnail
First of all, I hope everyone will, is or did enjoy your Independence Day celebration – depending on what time you are reading this. Given that today is a holiday, it may be Tuesday before you are reading this. The weather worked out nicely for us. It was not great on Sunday, making it easier to sit inside and watch the IndyCar race; but Monday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and hot temps. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Of course, a lot of fireworks were fired off early on Sunday at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. There was more rubbin’ and contact than you might get in a NASCAR race. The fact that so few drivers ended up in the wall speaks to how talented these drivers are.

We’ll call this race The Great Equalizer. With so many championship front-runners having poor qualifying efforts on Saturday, you expected the points race to tighten up on Sunday. It did.

Will Power remains second in points, but closed the gap on points-leader Marcus Ericsson to twenty points. Josef Newgarden lost two points to Ericsson, but given how qualifying went for both Newgarden and Ericsson – I think both sides are happy. Scott Dixon slightly closed the gap to Ericsson, but not by much.

Perhaps the biggest loser on the day was Pato O’Ward; who started the day on the pole, but electrical gremlins finally ended his day on Lap 52. The result was a twenty-fourth place finish in the race, a loss of twenty points to points leader Ericsson in the championship and dropping from fourth to fifth in points. I’m not sure who had a more frustrating day – O’ Ward, who went out past the midway point after leading twenty-eight laps; or teammate Felix Rosenqvist, who dropped out on Lap Eight with mysterious engine issues, after a great start to the race.

Of course, the biggest winner was the man who won the race – Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin. He moved up two places in the championship, but more importantly – he turned his season back around. After a hot start in the first two races, where he finished first and second; McLaughlin cooled off to the point where you wondered if the hot start was an aberration. In four of the next five races after his second-place finish at Texas; McLaughlin finished fourteenth, twentieth, twenty-ninth and nineteenth. Only a sixth-place finish at Barber salvaged that five-race stretch. But he finished seventh at Road America and won his second career IndyCar race yesterday at Mid-Ohio.

McLaughlin’s win yesterday was no fluke. He qualified on the front-row and took the lead on Lap 29, after the first round of pit-stops. The only time he relinquished the lead after that was when Colton Herta inexplicably failed to understand the directive to pit on Lap 53, before the caution came out for Tatiana Calderón’s disabled car. From that point on, it was fairly smooth sailing for McLaughlin.

I can’t say the same for most of the drivers in the field. It was a crazy race with lots of banging back and forth between drivers not much further back in the field. As I said earlier, it’s almost miraculous that very few cars had their day ended due to all the contact going on.

Even though the points race tightened up slightly, if you were one of the front-runners who had a bad qualifying session, like Marcus Ericsson, Josef Newgarden or Will Power; you were breathing a little easier on Sunday night that no damage was done to your championship contender status. If you were a member of Andretti Autosport, well that’s another matter.

TV Coverage: If you’re ever looking for a perfect example of how less is more, you needn’t look any further than the NBC pit reporters for Sunday’s race. Now that Marty Snider has moved on to cover NASCAR on NBC, the pit reporting throughout the weekend was actually improved. Kevin Lee and Dillon Welch did just fine as the only two pit reporters for the weekend; mainly because they seemed more interested in bringing viewers facts rather than impressing viewers with their bombastic personalities and ego. I watched some of the NASCAR race from Road America later on, and realized how much I did not miss Marty Snider from the IndyCar broadcast.

I thought the three personalities in the booth did just fine, but Hinchcliffe’s tendency to protect fellow Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco surfaced again when Townsend Bell accidentally called him “Devin”. Almost instinctively, Hinchcliffe corrected Bell on the air, by immediately blurting out “Devlin”. One almost wonders if there is some blood relation, as eager as Hinchcliffe always is to rush to DeFrancesco’s defense.

I really like the nose-cam that NBC uses to give viewers a similar angle to what the driver actually sees. It really emphasizes the speed and the closing rate that a driver deals with. But I wish that NBC would not use that camera during commercials utilizing the side-by-side box. When the window is that small, you can’t really make out anything except for the track directly in front of the driver. During the side-by side commercials, I really wish NBC would use shots to show what’s going on in the race. The nose-cam is fairly useless in those times.

On a positive note, kudos to NBC for the excellent pre-race segment on Robert Wickens. It was even more meaningful, when it was necessary to update it with the second win by Wickens in eight days, with the birth of his son conveniently sandwiched in between the two wins.

Bad Blood? During one of the re-starts, before Jack Harvey got his lap back – I noticed that he was overly aggressively racing the two Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) cars of Helio Castroneves and then Simon Pagenaud. They were both running in or near the Top-Ten, while Harvey was a lap down. He did not seem to be racing any other drivers with near the aggression that he was racing the two MSR cars.

Is there bad blood between Harvey and the team that gave him his start, before he bolted for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; in a move that is now looking like the worst offseason move for both parties, in the last few years?

Chevy Woes: Chevy is not just a supplier to the NTT IndyCar Series; they are a partner. Because of the fact that they provided excessively large sums of marketing and advertising dollars to the series, we will not hear any broadcasters, teams or drivers criticize Chevy (or Honda, for that matter) or even hint that their product failed, like they did in the nineties.

I am no mechanic, nor am I capable of doing a post-mortem on an engine. But I’ve been following this sport for a long time, and when Felix Rosenqvist pulled to the side on Lap Eight, after a trail of smoke appeared from his engine – it had all of the signs of a blown engine. It looked even more suspicious when smoke started billowing from the cowling as he was climbing out. The NBC announcers tried to act like it was a mystery or an issue with the electronics, but you know they knew it was simply an engine that had let go. But in this day of partnerships, no one is going to publicly acknowledge that the problem was in the engine.

It does appear that teammate Pato O’Ward actually did suffer electronic issues that put an end to his day; but Callum Ilott and Tatiana Calderón departed the race about the same time O’Ward did with no real explanation as to what had happened. What is the common denominator between all four of these drivers? They all drove cars powered by Chevy. Unless the root cause of their problems is determined to be something other than the engine, we will probably never know what happened to all four drivers.

Andretti Woes: In his post-race interview, Alexander Rossi calmly dismissed his on-track skirmishes with his Andretti Autosport teammate, Romain Grosjean, as nothing more than racing incidents. After the race broadcast, Christopher DeHarde of Frontstretch shot a video of Grosjean twice calling Rossi ”an idiot”.

Late in the race, Rossi tangled with another teammate, when he and Devlin DeFrancesco got together with DeFrancesco winding up off-track as Rossi continued. Colton Herta was not immune to the teammate thrashing, as Grosjean punted Herta late in the race. It made for great television, but I don’t think Michael Andretti saw the humor in it. Reportedly, he had a not-to-pleasant meeting with his four drivers shortly after the race.

But the Andretti problems on Sunday went beyond teammates crashing into each other. Colton Herta was running among the leaders when Tatiana Calderón pulled her disabled car over to the side. Most teams knew a yellow was imminent and they called their drivers in as soon as they could. That is, all but Colton Herta. It seems that his father and race strategist, Bryan Herta, was trying to use code words to tell his son he needed to pit. When the confusing message was not understood, Herta drove by the pit entrance stranding him as the last car to pit and forcing him to the back of the field.

Herta, the driver, was understandably upset. If this happened as it appeared on television, this one was clearly on Herta, the father. As Townsend Bell said on the air – (paraphrasing) “Sometimes you can just get a little too cute and you end up outsmarting yourself” Unless another explanation comes out this week, it appears that’s exactly what happened in this case and it was inexcusable.

Playing with the Yellows: On at least two occasions yesterday; it seemed like Race Control purposely delayed bringing out the yellow flag, until everyone had the chance to enter the pits. The thinking was that they did not want a caution to ruin someone’s race.

Seriously?

I’m old enough that I have enough of a problem with closing the pits until the pace car gathers up the field. But to not throw a caution until everyone has had an opportunity to pit is absurd! When did they start this? I remember a few years ago in Detroit when Helio Castroneves was leading late in the race, but an ill-timed caution relegated him to a fifteenth-place finish simply because the yellow came out one lap before he planned to pit.

Scott Dixon was visibly upset about the calls yesterday to delay the yellow. He had strategized about coming in early, in case a yellow went against him. Had the yellow been brought out when a disabled car first pulled off to the side (as is usually the case), he would have inherited the lead. When asked if Race Control should just bring out the yellow as soon as it happens, he wisely said that he doesn’t care when they do it, just so long as they are consistent (or something to that effect).

Consistency would be nice, but I think Race Control is playing with fire by trying to decide which car is in a precarious position and which is not. When Kyle Kirkwood crashed on Lap 28, Race Control waited until Lap 31 to bring out the caution. Was there a local yellow thrown? If not, even though drivers were aware Kirkwood’s wounded car was parked in Turn Nine – they still have to race at speed until the yellow comes out. Kirkwood lost control of his car in that spot. Who’s to say that another driver wouldn’t lose control in the same spot at speed? Kirkwood would be a sitting duck. He avoided injury with his own contact. Would he be as lucky if another car plowed into him?

Race Control should either utilize more local yellows or throw a full-course caution as soon as the accident happens or the car pulls to the side and stops. Ill-timed cautions are a part of racing. It throws a wild-card into the mix and can bring about unexpected results. When it affects your driver the wrong way, it’s upsetting. But when the yellows fall the way of your driver, you feel like you just found a twenty dollar bill under your couch. By holding a caution until everyone has had a chance to enter the pits, Race Control is essentially toying with the results, and taking away strategy and tactics; which makes things kind of static and boring.

So, Which is It? Throughout the post-race interviews, I heard three different pronunciations of the last name Palou. When Alex Palou was being interviewed, I heard his last name pronounced by Kevin Lee, as I have been pronouncing it for the past three seasons – Pa-LOWE.

In Victory Lane, Scott McLaughlin pronounced it as Pa-LOO. Then, in a late post-race interview, David Malukas called him Alex Pa-LOW (rhyming with cow). Of course, after over twenty years – drivers and media still mispronounce Helio. So I guess expecting everyone to get on the same page with how to pronounce Palou is expecting way too much.

Drive of the Day: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more clear-cut example of who deserved yesterday Drive of the Day. That is, until I Heard Dillon Welch interview Will Power by leading off with “…who perhaps had the Drive of the Day”. Perhap? Who else even came close?

Will Power started twenty-first and spun on the first lap trying to pass Takuma Sato in a rather ambitious move. He did not stall the car, but the yellow did not come out. By the time he gathered the car up, he was chasing the back of the field. He was in last place and a far distance to the next car, until Felix Rosenqvist brought out the first caution on Lap Eight.

From that point, it was game-on for Power. He carved his way through the field like a skilled surgeon and was the beneficiary of several yellows that fell his way. With twenty laps to go, Power was up to third and threatening, but his tires were done by the end of the race – yet he still ended up on the podium after coming from twenty-seventh at one time, on a course where passing is difficult. If you can present a better argument for Drive of the Day, please enlighten me.

All in All: This was a better race than we usually get at Mid-Ohio. Sometimes, this track can produce some processional duds – but not on Sunday. It was a sloppy race with a lot of attrition and contact. With six cautions, it was hard to develop any rhythm to the race. But you don’t always have to have smooth rhythm in a race to be entertained.

All six of the yellows never really affected Scott McLaughlin. With Pato O’Ward dropping out, he likely would have been in position to win even had there been no cautions. He had a fast car and he drove a heads-up race. In the end, even Alex Palou had nothing for him.

So congratulations to Scott McLaughlin on his second win of the season, and to Team Penske for winning six of the first nine races of the season. Last year at this time, Team Penske picked up only their first win of the season at Mid-Ohio. That’s quite a turnaround!

After a week off this weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series goes north of the border to the Honda Indy Toronto – a race that has been a victim of the pandemic for the past two seasons. That race kicks off a span of five races in a four week period, with the double-header at Iowa and four straight racing weekends. It’s about to get really interesting.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Mid-Ohio”

  1. Agree with you on so many points. I also do not miss Marty, I noticed the different ways Palou was pronounced and was not happy with how the yellow was delayed. I said out loud that George will be writing about Hinch correcting Townsend about messing up Devlin’s name. I did enjoy watching the race. Happy 4th to you and Susan.

  2. Patrick Says:

    Simona’s crew botched 2 pit stops and cost her a lot of track position. She was turning much faster lap times than Jimmie Johnson but never could catch up to him because of the setbacks. She held off an angry Rossi for about 5 laps. Probably could have finished 15th with decent pit work. She is improving but unfortunately only has 1 race left. There was no major sponsor on the car which doesn’t seem promising for the future.

  3. S0CSeven Says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t call out Rossi for what he really is …

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    Any truth to the rumor that the 2023 Race has been retitled Mid-Ohio Bumper Cars?

    Consistency with Yellows?

    How about consistency with bumper cars?

    Have not heard of anyone at this time being penalized for same?

  5. Bruce Waine Says:

    Say what you may, but Will Power displayed a demonstration for all other drivers yesterday.

    How does a driver with an engine equivalent to all other Chevy powered cars start a race last and finish third within 80 laps ?

  6. Bruce Waine Says:

    A glance at the NTT INDYCAR Broadcast for the upcoming Honda Indy Toronto Race shows that the race will not be broadcast on the regular NBC network.

    Perhaps only on pay per view media.

    No reasons yet given for doing $o.

    • billytheskink Says:

      Toronto’s broadcast being exclusive to Peacock was announced with the rest of the TV schedule back before the season. The TV contract announced late last year originally had two races slated to be exclusive to Peacock, actually, though this season we are only getting one.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    One of the big fairness issues with the delayed yellows is that actually offer an advantage to the last cars pitting, who don’t have to lose time on an out lap with cold tires when the yellow waves right after they leave the pits. This was definite benefit to McLaughlin yesterday, though it may not have mattered ultimately.

    I do believe I heard Townsend Bell note that Power and McLaughlin might need to be concerned late in the race since 4 Chevrolet-powered cars from 3 different teams were out of the race with mechanical issues.

  8. I don’t understand the disdain for Marty Snider. I’ve always seen him as an engaging and enthusiastic pit reporter, and he has acclimated to IndyCar very well. Maybe our perspectives are miles apart, since I was a regular NASCAR fan in the 2000s and have been quite used to Marty, while you probably see him as just a yahoo from the land of tintops.

  9. Shyam Cherupalla Says:

    The key to not having cars go out of order and yellow flag lotteries is to equalize with open pits which somehow Indycar seems to be so against, with safety being an excuse. Another thing they could easily implement is a Yellow mode on cars like pit speed limiter, as soon as yellow is thrown the drivers would have to go to a yellow mode with some speed restriction which then will enable racecontrol to keep the pits open or atleast go the Virtual safety car route. They dont seem to want tochange any of these things to bring parity to racing which just pisses me of everytime this happens. Another thing that annoys me is the back of the field is scrambling so much during the rolling start that they are not even in position before it goes green setting them up to fall back right of the bat. Why cant they go to standing starts with Road and street courses is beyond me. This also dictates drivers needing diverse skills to do standing and rolling starts (in oval), fand for a series that touts needing diverse skills to deal with diverse set of tracks, again, they are very shy to changing things to make racing exciting

    • OliverW Says:

      Absolutely agree. No closed pits and standing starts apart from the ovals. Present starts and closed pits make INDYCAR races quite often a joke. Look at long beach starts !!

Leave a Reply to ikissedthebricks Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: