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.