Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio

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It took nine tries, but Dario Franchitti finally won a race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, OH. He raced there six times in CART and yesterday was his third try in the IZOD IndyCar Series. There were no on-track passes for the lead – all of those were accomplished in the pits. As it turns out, Franchitti’s pit crew did the best job of getting their driver out when it counted. Second place finisher, Will Power, made things interesting at the end – as he stayed with Franchitti in the final laps, but could not muster up a pass.

It was not the most thrilling of races, but I’ve seen worse. The pit strategy employed by Alex Tagliani made things interesting. The fact that he could stay out front for thirty laps showed one of two things – either he can run with the big boys or there are no passing opportunities at Mid-Ohio. I suspect it was a combination of both. Whatever the case, it was good to see Tags and his FAZZT Racing Team back in the spotlight. For the first third of the season, they opened eyes throughout the paddock, but things fell a little silent in the second third. Hopefully, they can finish strong, now that we are officially in the final third of the season.

I was unsure of the mindset of the Team Penske drivers coming into Mid-Ohio, for different reasons. Helio Castroneves had been a source of controversy from his meltdown in Edmonton two weeks ago. He was fined $60,000 and placed on probation for the remainder of the season. I didn’t know if he would come out on fire or if he would be tenuous. Although he admitted afterward that he didn’t push the issue near the end of the race because of his probation – he seemed to be pretty comfortable on-track. I was also unsure if Will Power was content with his large lead and would be willing to just collect points for the next few races. Although he didn’t win, he certainly drove like a man in search of a championship.

Ryan Briscoe still leads Helio Castroneves in the points, but he is the driver that needs to pick up the pace in the Penske stable. Other than his lone win at Texas, it has been a forgettable season for Briscoe. Brain-fades continue to haunt Ryan, like they did in qualifying on Saturday. Lack of concentration and a string of sixth-place finishes will not wear well with The Captain for long. I really like Ryan Briscoe. I hope he can put together a strong close to the season, for his own sake.

I enjoyed the race overall. I didn’t have my sights set high, so I wasn’t disappointed. Like Barber, Mid-Ohio doesn’t offer many passing opportunities. I knew that going into both races. But the different strategies and the on-track miscues made for a moderately entertaining race, even if there were no on-track passes for the lead.

TV Coverage: I thought Versus did their usual good job. The pre-race show was a little shorter, but that isn’t a bad thing. Their one flub was when they showed Graham Rahal in the gravel pit just as they were cutting away to a commercial break that did not feature the IndyCar Non-Stop box. As we sat through a series of bad local commercials, we were left to wonder which Newman/Haas car we saw stranded and did this lead to another full-course caution. When they finally returned, we found out that it was Rahal, but he had managed to get out of the gravel trap on his own – thereby keeping the race running under green.

Jack Arute’s electronic pit toy is pointless and distracting. It is hard to see the screen and it is distracting to watch him touch all of the buttons on the screen. Just use a telestrator to prove your point and stop trying to show off the big electronic gimmick.

Although it has been popular with many fans, I’ve grown weary of Jack’s use of props this season. It peaked when he hooked a bowling ball to his head at Texas. This weekend, it looked like he left home without his planned prop as he used a glorified Firestone card-table to demonstrate how shocks keep the wheels on the pavement. It came off as very lame.

Bob Jenkins could have been given the Todd Harris over-hype award as he read a promo for a mid-season review to be hosted by Lindy Thackston next week. He described this season as "…one of the most competitive seasons in history”. Really?

Tightening Up: Will Power lost nine points to Dario Franchitti this weekend. He still holds a forty-one point lead with five races to go, but four of those five races are contested on ovals – not Power’s strong suit. In two weeks, the IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Sonoma – a track where last year; Dario Franchitti dominated en route to a win, while Will Power broke his back and was lost for the rest of the season. This will be Power’s last chance to utilize his road course talents before heading into the final stretch of four ovals.

This season began with Will Power winning two road courses before the season entered a stretch of four ovals. Power won none of those ovals and in fact, lost the points lead at one point in that stretch. Now he has won two more road courses, if he can still run second on some of the ovals, he should be in good shape. But if a Milka Duno or a Mario Moraes inadvertently puts him into the fence at Kentucky or Chicago, he might be in trouble.

As Jack Arute pointed out in the post-race show; not only is he being hunted by the Target cars, but by his own teammates as well. Things could suddenly get interesting in these last five races if Power doesn’t win at Sonoma. Just as everyone, myself included, had all but handed the 2010 championship to Will Power – there may be some drama and suspense left in the season.

Simona still impressive: I continue to be impressed with rookie driver Simona de Silvestro, both in and out of the car. Earlier she would have some good runs, only to see them end with either a miscue or some bad luck. In two of the last three races, she has had career-best finishes of ninth and eighth, respectively. What’s even more impressive than her being a rookie; is that she is running with one of the more under-funded teams out there. After her car burned beyond recognition at Texas, her HVM Racing team has been forced to use her backup car, which is an older Dallara and much heavier than most of those she is racing against. To run up front, as she did all day, shows the talent that she possesses. I hope that she can get with a more established team next year. Her demeanor out of the cockpit is also an asset. She has proven that she belongs.

An August To Remember: Hats off to Chip Ganassi. In the first eight days of August, he has already won two IZOD IndyCar races, two NASCAR Cup races and a Grand-Am race. One of the two NASCAR races just happened to be the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the site of his Indianapolis 500 conquest in May. Throw in his Daytona 500 win in February and it has been a pretty rich year for the Chipster – and a very fruitful August.

Probation Watch: There were two drivers on probation in yesterday’s race – Helio Castroneves and Milka Duno. Helio did nothing on Sunday to warrant further sanctions, but what about Milka? Her lack of concentration and ability to hold a consistent line cost Dario Franchitti valuable time as he was slowed up by her, and she almost took out Will Power as he was trying to overtake her and had a close call with Danica Patrick. She also spun (again) with no one else around her. Brian Barnhart has shown that he doesn’t mind pulling the trigger. I know that CITGO is mostly carrying two cars at Dale Coyne Racing, but how far can this go? She is either going to affect the points race at some point, or worse…much worse. I think she needs to be parked before the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to the ovals in September.

All in all: It was an OK race, but it wasn’t breathtaking. I like Mid-Ohio much better than Sonoma – the next track on the schedule. It’s nothing but a narrow dustbowl. But breathtaking is what I’m looking forward to after Sonoma, when the ovals return. Two of those four have been breathtaking in the past – Kentucky and Chicago. I can put up with this stretch of road/street courses, now that they are almost over and we can finish up on the ovals. It’ll be interesting to see how the points shuffle then.

George Phillips

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20 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio”

  1. “The pit strategy employed by Alex Tagliani made things interesting. The fact that he could stay out front for thirty laps showed one of two things – either he can run with the big boys or there are no passing opportunities at Mid-Ohio.”

    I’m actually leaning a little to the former here – his pace during that stint was excellent and while Franchitti may have stuck behind Kanaan, but I think Tags may have had just enough to keep out in front.

    “I’ve grown weary of Jack’s use of props this season. It peaked when he hooked a bowling ball to his head at Texas.”

    Thanks George – you just gave me a good laugh on a grey Monday morning. :)

    “Helio did nothing on Sunday to warrant further sanctions, but what about Milka?”

    Not sure if it was in the broadcast, but Milka also gave Danica a rather larger thump in the sidepod as Patrick put a lap on her.
    Pretty solid George. I agree it wasn’t spectacular, but better than I expected.

    • Actually the phrase “he can run with the big boys” kinda bugs me. If we’re talking about big TEAMS, then yeah, it’s appropriate. If we’re talking about drivers, then it sounds a bit condescending. Alex isn’t a kid, a rookie, or a slacker in his history of being competitive. Maybe I’m majoring on a minor here. George is obviously very knowledgable and is aware of the history, so I’ll presume it’s the better of the two.

      • Oilpressure Says:

        Mike:

        I was referring to Tagliani’s fledgling FAZZT Racing Team. Obviously, Tagliani has won races in CART/Champ car and has a well documented history of being an excellent driver. Being a co-owner of a brand-new team is a different story, which made it all the more compelling watching his run out front for thirty laps. Sorry for the confusion, but I can see how you might take it the way you did. – GP

  2. While we await the release of next year’s schedule, allow me to beat on a couple of dead horses. First, as a recovering oval guy, I’ve been converted to the point that I think the idea of half-ovals and half-twisties with sub-trophies for each category and an overall championship is an excellent idea for the future of the series. I think it fills a niche in motorsports and makes the series different from either N-car or 1-car. But I really think they need to look at the design of each twisty, road or street, and encourage the facilities to make the necessary infrastructure improvements (widening or changing corners or whatever the heck it is they do) to allow for more competition and overtaking. If they won’t, then they should be off the schedule for the next year (Barber.) The twisties are just too important to the series to allow for “it was okay for a road course.”

    Secondly, I hate how the last third of the schedule, to paraphrase Neil Young, “starts off kinda slow then fizzles out altogether.” I get the need for an off week now and then, especially when traveling overseas, but this every two week schedule just sucks the momentum right out the series.

    Thirdly (I just found another dead horse) they need to alternate oval and twisties. I just think it’s be more interesting to go back and forth. Does that make for more work for teams–maybe, but since I just watch I don’t care.

    Other than that, the race was okay, I just want more than okay, I want freakin’ awesome. Simona is great and I think will either attract a great sponsor to her team or leave for a bigger team. (By the way, other than the Milka incident–did they even talk to or feature Daniker at all yesterday?) Good to see Hildebrand in the mix and I’d like to see Hinch get a ride in the big boy series, I think that both driver-wise and personality-wise he’d bring a lot to the series. Lastly, I think Nascar ruined Sonoma. How could you have a winding track thru some of the most scenic countryside in the country and make it look so fugly?

    I think I just wrote too much. Sorry.

    • LOL, Redd. Ya just went with it, no? Sonoma’s fugliness is a result of California’s summer…it always runs very hot (moreso as it winds towards September) and parched, with very little rainfall during the late spring and summer. CA seems to perpetually be in a drought.

      I’m really hoping that Simona will attract some bigger money to HVM and that it’ll help them to step up a bit more. Mike Cannon is the magic there along with Simona. They’ve obviously ‘clicked’ in their communication. If they get some $$ for next year, I hope to see her run in this “best of the rest” group consistently. I think she’s fully capable of doing so. If she ever got a shot with RP or Chipmeister, she’d raise the bar for any female driver trying to come into this level of racing…she may have done that already.

      As I’ve said before (talk about dead horses), as long as we have a spec-car series, nothing…no track…will really dramatically improve the show. There’s an inherent need for a LACK of parity in one area or another to make these things turn into real barn-burner races.

  3. Jim Will Key Says:

    Boring race. Sorry, but it was boring from green to checkards. Nothing redeeming about it.

    Milka getting in the way, was the only thing interesting that happened.

    We need about 4 or 5 Milka’s (Jay Howard and Dracone are pretty close) to be used as moving chicanes. They liven up a dull race.

  4. Congratulations to Ganassi for this perfect weekend and Will Power for winnin ght emario Andretti Road Course Trohpy!

    “…one of the most competitive seasons in history…” well, seven drivers have won this year on own merit. It’s not a record but a big improvement on last year.

    I agree with redd that road/street courses should be fine-tuned for IndyCar. Barber is the most likely to be improved soon. Anyway, New Hampshire will break 2011’s “third quarter” of road/street courses in two.

  5. The race sucked. Almost no passing and not a whole lot to be excited about. Plus, the Big Two held all of the top spots except for Tag’s in 4th. Mid Ohio, Barber, and Infenion DO NOT BELONG ON THE INDYCAR SCHEDUALE!!! It’s SOOOO hard to pass that nothing interesting happens but a little fuel stratagy.

  6. Mike Silver Says:

    I was at the race and I thought it was a very good road course race. There was passing back in the pack which you didn’t see on tv. There does not have to be a pass for the lead every race. that sounds like something nascar might mandate next year. I thought there were many great stories happening- Tags, Simona, Power closing at the end. It was likely the last decent raod race of the year.

  7. I liked seeing RHR make a comeback. He is a solid driver and I look forward to watching how his career unfolds. He is a good one.

  8. Thesmartestguyintheroom Says:

    Mike brings up a good point which Dylan and others fail to understand, there doesn’t always need to be a pass for the lead every lap if you truly understand the sport. Obviously, not everyone does.

    I like the idea of grouping the races into clusters of ovals/street-road courses. You may not care, redd, but if the series is gone because no one has the equipment to put on the race, then you will care. I do agree with you on one point, IndyCar may need to mandate that the facilities that host races improve their overtaking points to make the racing more exciting. I enjoyed the race, but I enjoy every race because I can see beyond what’s on the screen.

    • Mike Silver Says:

      Thanks for the support, smartestguy. Racing is a lot like baseball. You have to think ahead and anticipate what could happen. More games end on outs than homeruns.

    • There’s a difference between a pass for the lead on EVERY lap and a pass for lead at SOME point.

      Races need to be competitive and entertaining. And for most fans, pit stop nuances don’t provide that. But then, if I could see beyond the screen, I might like it more also. But I can’t.

    • Funnily enough, I enjoy good road racing, like say MotoGP or WSBK or ALMS. The thing is, NO ONE WAS PASSING for large portions of the race. I watched Online for the first quater of the race and then watched Vs. for the rest. After about 2 laps, everyone spread out and no one passed, except for lapping Milka. Compare that to say, MotoGP, where even if Lorenzo runs away, Rossi and Stoner are still fighting hard for 3rd.

      • Not entirely accurate. Matos went from 10th place to 7th place in the last 10 laps by overtaking Marco and then Simona. He completed the passes in the exact same spots each time. On the straight after the keyhole leading into the s-turn. You just didn’t see it on tv. The same goes for RHR as he fought to get back up to 10th after the pit mishap. If you ask anybody who goes to Mid Ohio such as I do they will debate you for an eternity that it should not leave the schedule. Its a great race but no matter how good VS is and it is great, they can’t catch everything on camera.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    Hunter-Reay drove a great race. “Drove through the field” after that pit contact about as much as anyone can “drive through the field” at Mid-Ohio.

  10. Jim Will Key Says:

    There is always passing that the TV people miss.

    At least that’s the tried excuses the road/street racing defenders use.

    Most of the road/street races in Indy Cars today are not made for Indy Cars and not suitable for them to put on a good, proper race. And new cars/chassis are not going to mean anything with that.

    And this series cannot survive with so many boring races.

  11. Mid-Ohio continues to be the consistent boring race it is every year. Please dump this track and bring back Cleveland’s Burke Airport!

  12. Randy Holbrook Says:

    I really don’t understand all of the comments about “boring” races. Anytime I get to watch open wheel cars flying around the track whether in person or on TV, I love it. Maybe I’m just easily entertained but I really like the strategy involved in road and street courses. I’d rather have a few passes per race that are memorable rather than the constant meaningless passes you see in a N-car race. I love Indy cars on an oval too but I would like to see them only on ovals where they have to at least lift off the throttle. The races where they never lift and just drift forward and backward based on aerodynamics are the least appealing to me, although I will never complain about them either. Great job on the blog George.

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