Mid-Ohio Preview

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I have never been to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington, OH. But from what I hear, I think I would like it. If you haven’t figured it out by now – I tend to like relics from an older and simpler time. While Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a showplace with its large grandstands and unique pagoda, it is the history of the place that grabs me. I also feel the same way about (the old) Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field. Although I’ve driven by Fenway Park, I’ve never been in it – but I would tend to lump it with the others; quaint and rich with tradition, but not much emphasis on modern amenities. This is how I imagine Mid-Ohio…minus the history of these great ball parks .

The IZOD IndyCar Series rolls into Mid-Ohio this weekend for what will be a fun weekend for the local fans, while lending a little more uncertainty to the rest of us that will be watching the race on Versus. Last year’s race was a comedy of errors for many teams that allowed Scott Dixon to practically coast to a win, as he won by thirty seconds over second place Ryan Briscoe. For a while, it looked as if Justin Wilson might give Dale Coyne his second win in as many months, but the Coyne team showed their true colors and ran Wilson out of fuel just before his second pit stop. Dixon cruised for the past forty-nine laps on his way to victory.

A thirty second lead does not make for an exciting race. It wasn’t that Dixon did anything great; he just didn’t do anything wrong, while everyone else did. CART put on some good races at Mid-Ohio in the eighties and nineties. Here’s hoping the IZOD IndyCar Series can replicate that this weekend.

What we can be sure of is that any race fan in attendance will have a great weekend – not because of the great show they’ll be treated to, but because they will know what they are looking for. From what I understand, fans that regularly attend races at Mid-Ohio are some of the most knowledgeable race fans in the country. They are also fans of the antiquated facilities at Mid-Ohio.

The track itself is not that old, having opened in 1962. I mean…I was alive then, and I’m certainly not old (yeah, right). The CART series first ran at Mid-Ohio in 1980 with Johnny Rutherford winning the inaugural event, then after a two year sabbatical – CART/Champ Car had a run at Mid-Ohio from 1983 to 2003. Then the IZOD IndyCar Series began racing there in 2007, with Scott Dixon winning in 2007 and 2009 and Ryan Briscoe winning in 2008.

At this time last season, it seemed like the points leader changed with every race. There has been no such drama this season. Will Power set the bar high by winning the first two races of 2010. It has been pretty much his championship to lose from the beginning. He cannot clinch the championship this weekend, but another win would realistically sew things up, if they’re not sewn up already.

The only question for Power at this point is whether he continues to go for wins or plays it safe and tries to gather points. Based on the events at the end of the Edmonton race, I’d bet on him going for wins. History has shown that once a driver changes his mindset and gets a little conservative to collect points – bad things start happening. I look for Power to go for the kill this weekend.

Helio Castroneves has some fence mending to do from two weeks ago. He was fined $60,000 for not observing a drive-through penalty and for grabbing two officials after the race. I have not heard anything about how his actions were received at Team Penske. I would be curious to know, since it also involved a teammate. Helio could either come out of the gate on fire this weekend or be very subdued and cautious. It will be interesting to see how his practice times look today. That will give us an indication of Helio’s mindset. I’m still concerned about the future of one of the two other Penske drivers who are not driving the Verizon car. If major sponsorship is not found for the other two cars, I still think it is highly possible for The Captain to scale back to a two-car team. Who would be left when the music stops? Ryan and Helio both need strong closes for the season.

I’ll be keeping an eye on AJ Foyt’s team this weekend. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a very good run in that car last year and finished fourth, despite some rather poor pit stops by his crew. Vitor Meira has been very sporadic in the ABC Supply Car this season. The car has been dreadfully slow at some tracks, while fast at others. Unfortunately, for those few times when the car has been quick – Vitor has passed cars on the track only to lose those positions in the pits.

One prediction I’ll make is that the Andretti Autosport team will make a strong comeback at Mid-Ohio. After a strong showing early on, this team has wilted in the summer heat. Hunter-Reay has been fairly consistent and he and Tony Kanaan have both produced wins – but there have been some very forgettable runs for the Andretti team this year. All four drivers have had good moments at this track, except when Marco Andretti ended up on his hat as a result of Danica Patrick running so slow at the start.

So with all of my pseudo-expert analysis over who should win and who needs to do well – who is going to win the race on Sunday? Why, it will be Nashville’s own (on loan from Scotland) Dario Franchitti. He finished third last year, and it is one of the few tracks that he has raced in both series (CART & IRL) where he has never won. I expect him to close a little ground to Will Power this weekend. Power will have a strong finish, as he did in 2008 when he finished fourth for KV Racing Technologies – he didn’t race at Mid-Ohio last year – but he won’t win. That will be reserved for Dario. We’ll see.

George Phillips

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19 Responses to “Mid-Ohio Preview”

  1. RHR.

  2. Savage Henry Says:

    Remember the pick that Milka put on Justin Wilson last year that enabled Dixon to pass him? The bad pit stop obviously buried Wilson’s chances but with pretty much nowhere to pass on this track Dixon’s assist by Milka probably gave him the race.

    I just watched that on the race highlights from last year and now I’m mad all over again.

  3. “…I’m still concerned about the future of one of the two other Penske drivers who are not driving the Verizon car…”

    I know I have probably brought this up before George, but what do you think of the idea that both Helio and Ryan might be dropped with Penske taking on a brand new driver?

    As for the race, I’m not a huge fan of Mid-Ohio. It’s OK to drive on a sim, but it’s not the most exciting to watch, but I’m thinking Wilson, Dixon and Hunter-Reay will be pushing again, with Franchitti being strangely silent.

    Sso, I think it’ll be
    1) Hunter-Reay
    2) Power
    3) Wilson or Dixon
    4) Dixon or Wilson

  4. “…I’m still concerned about the future of one of the two other Penske drivers who are not driving the Verizon car…”

    If you take Tim Cindric at his word, Penske will run three cars next season. He stated this on ‘Wind Tunnel’ last Sunday night, and he said that Penske is happy with the three current drivers. Not such postive news for Sam Hornish, Jr. on the Ncar side, however. Tim said that things are still up in the air for Sam at Penske, even though they’d like to keep him – no sponsorship as yet for 2011.

    • I got the impression he said they’d “like to” run three cars on WT, and that it was applied to both series. Definitely he said there’s no deal solidly in place for Sam on the Cup side, and they have nothing other than Verizon on one car in the IICS.

      If Will wins the championship and RP has to cut down to two cars…I’d say it’s a toss-up between Helio and Ryan as to ‘who to keep’…Helio with 3 “500” wins and a long, loyal history, but Ryan for sure having the promise of more years and still (on paper, at least) coming into his own as a driver in terms of the wins. If Ryan had a bit more consistency in “oomph” in his results, my hunch would be he’d get the nod. Helio has somewhat spent quite a bit of himself and used up a lot of his “latitude” as far as no championships and the dramatics that have followed him, or spun off of him. But he’s a fan friendly, sponsor friendly guy…moreso than Ryan on camera. That’s a hard call.

      If Roger DID ditch one (or both) of them, who would he put in a second car? NO to Danica. Completly unlikely to TK. VERY LIKELY to Justin Wilson, imo.

      Problem for both Helio and Ryan is that Will is just killing ‘em both, and I don’t see Roger dumping him…not for a long, long time – if ever.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I pick Rahal to win every race, even when he’s not in a car.

    RHR and Kanaan will threaten if the Andretti team figures out qualifying.

  6. ZZZZZZZ……. The challenge this weekend will be staying awake… although, I’m interested in how they enforce this rule since there’s not really two lines around most of the track… why can’t we race decent road courses?? (Road Altanta, Sebring, Road America, Cleveland, Miller, Mosport? VIR?)

  7. Having spent a bundle of time at Mid-Ohio between 1999 and 2005, I can tell you that if you liked Barber, then you’d love Mid-Ohio. The grounds (outside of the hike to the Keyhole) are extremely compact (especially in comparison to someplace like Road America), which makes being able to see the race from multiple viewpoints a snap. The food, while not at the level of Road America or Indy, is quite good as well. As for the racing, the Big Cars almost never put on a good show there (though I’ll always have my memories of watching the Penske and Ganassi cars squatting and putting down the power coming out of Turn 1 in practice in 1999…just awesome), but ALMS and the undercard races (Lights, World Challenge, Star Mazda, F2000 or whatever else is running) usually put on a very good show.

    As for this weekend, it’s Will Power, all the time. Fastest in every session, pole by 0.25, leads every lap but one, wins by 5-6 seconds (because he’ll back off and spare the field a 45 second beating). I know, I know, real controversial take there, but the guy’s just on another planet.

  8. 1. Simona
    2. JR Hildebrand
    3. J. Wilson
    4. RHR

    and then I wake up and see…
    1. Penske
    2. Ganassi
    3. Penske
    4. Penske

    Looking forward to the race although I hate the two week droughts between all the races.

  9. Briscoe!

  10. George… you live right next door to Mid Ohio & you have never been to this track :?: The Gearhead Bucket List MUST include Mid Ohio (watching + driving it). Our midwest Laguna Seca :!:

    • Oilpressure Says:

      I wouldn’t say that Nashville, TN is “right next door” to Lexington, OH. It’s about a 7-8 hour drive. Road Atlanta is half the distance and I’ve never been there – driven by it though.

      • :oops: my bad George… TN & KY look so thin to me on the map they seem like quick states to drive through. Your 7 hour drive is like my 7 hour drive to Road America. Sometimes a tough drive, but you don’t have to drive through CHICAGO :)

        Oh man… no Road Atlanta either? Forgot that on my 1st “bucket list”. Go to the Petite LeMans… a 10 hour/ 1000 mile race makes your road trip worth it :!: :)

  11. I’ll be there for the first time. My second race Indycar race ever (Long Beach this year)–I look for a Hunter-Reay win and don’t sleep on Rahal (I swear I thought this before practice 1)

  12. I’m thinking Helio punts Power and Sato picks up the first win for KV. That’d be something, eh?

  13. Well George… looks like you were right on the money with your prediction! Congrats to Dario… and Tags. And Simona. And Baguette. And JR :-). Too bad for Sato, he was running great. Duno again displayed her lack of awareness, nearly crashing Helio, Will and Danica. And a shame for Graham, he was on course for a top-12 finish…

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