This weekend marks the return of the IndyCar Series to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a quaint and quirky track located near Lexington, Ohio. I say quaint and quirky as if I have been there. I have not. But I’ve heard and read enough over the years that I have a pretty good feel for what a visit to this facility would be like.
There is a list of tracks I’ve never been to that I plan to visit in the next few years, which include The Milwaukee Mile, Pocono, Road America (if it ever returns to the IndyCar schedule) and Mid-Ohio. There are several things these tracks have in common. First of all, none of them are owned by Bruton Smith or the France family. Second, they are all older facilities with a lot of character, history and tradition. Maybe most importantly, they are located in areas that have very knowledgeable fans that appreciate open-wheel racing.
This weekend’s Honda Indy 200 will be the thirty-fifth time that open-wheel racing has raced at Mid-Ohio, but not without several interruptions. The first was a Formula 5000 event won by George Follmer in 1970. From 1977 through 1982, there was only one open-wheel race run at Mid-Ohio – a CART race in 1980 won by Johnny Rutherford in the “Yellow Submarine”, the same Pennzoil Chaparral he won in at Indianapolis a few months earlier.
From 1983 through 2003, CART had a continuous presence at Mid-Ohio. Teo Fabi won the first of these in 1983, while Paul Tracy won the last CART event held there in 2003. In between those two races, winners included names like Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Alex Zanardi and Helio Castroneves. Tracy’s 2003 win would be the last visit from open-wheel racing until what is now the IndyCar Series showed up in 2007 with Scott Dixon winning for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
There have been six IndyCar Series events at Mid-Ohio since 2007. Scott Dixon has won four of them, including the last two in a row. Scott Dixon is also coming off of a stretch that has seen him win the last three races in a row – the four-hundred miler at Pocono and he swept the double-header at Toronto. Who do you think will be favored to win on Sunday?
Other recent winners since the IndyCar Series started running at Mid-Ohio include Ryan Briscoe, who is sidelined this weekend while still nursing a broken wrist and Dario Franchitti.
The track opened in 1962 and has had only three owners in that time. Les Griebling and several Mansfield, Ohio businessmen founded the track and built it for sports car racing. In 1982, Ohio businessman and CART team owner Jim Trueman bought the facility and did extensive renovations, including building several grandstands, garages and several other improvements to bring it up to the standards of the day. Jim Trueman was Bobby Rahal’s car owner when he won the Indianapolis 500 in 1986. Trueman succumbed to cancer just eleven days after Rahal’s victory. In 1993. Rahal bought the Truesports shop along with the ill-fated Truesports chassis from the Trueman estate. The track stayed in the family until 2011, when it was purchased by Green Savoree Racing Promotions, owned by Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who were Michael Andretti’s partners in Andretti-Green Racing.
I mentioned the quirkiness of the track. One unique item is that there is a separate starting line and finish line. The start of the race takes place on what is essentially the backstretch, because the front straightaway is deemed too short for a start. Curiously enough, I believe re-starts occur on the front-stretch – but I could be mistaken on that. Whatever the case, the race finishes on the front-stretch.
Although there is not a whole lot of room to pass at this track, there have been some exciting, albeit scary moments. Both Michael and Marco Andretti have ended up with their cars upside-down at Mid-Ohio. Fortunately, both escaped without any serious injury. The last few races have not been the most riveting, but they have been entertaining.
A very tight pit lane and an even tighter pit exit makes for some dicey moments. Crews and drivers will need to be especially careful trying to navigate all of the traffic on a very busy pit road.
As far as the points race is concerned, Dixon’s three-win streak has catapulted him into contention for the championship. While Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have faltered the last few races, Dixon raked in the points. He now sits only twenty-nine points behind points-leader Helio Castroneves, who has been very consistent, if not spectacular this summer.
With two weekends off now, the big question is whether or not Scott Dixon can continue his hot streak at the Honda Indy 200. In sports, momentum is key. When a team or driver is on a roll like Dixon has been, the last thing they want to see is a break in the schedule. His teammate Dario Franchitti has been hot as of late also. He has yet to win a race this season, but he’s getting close. After his dreadful start to the season, his championship hopes are all but gone but he is still a threat to win races. Charlie Kimball continues to show improvement in the third Ganassi car.
While the Ganassi team is suddenly white-hot, Andretti Autosport has cooled off considerably since their impressive June. Will they be able to regain their stride after a disastrous July? Team Penske has been lukewarm for the past few races. Helio still leads the championship, but Will Power is still seeking his first win. His miscues at Toronto effectively ended his dreams of that elusive championship, but you know he is aching to end his non-winning streak that is now at twenty-four races and stretches back to his win at São Paulo on April 29, 2012.
Then there has been the trend this season for new winners to come out of nowhere. With this being su a technical track, I don’t see that happening this weekend. I think we will see a proven winner with one of the power teams win this race. In fact, I think we may have seen our last real surprise winner of the season. I think in the remaining five races, we’ll see normalcy take over in regards of who wins races.
So who will win on Sunday? You’d have to be a fool to bet against Scott Dixon. He is on an unbelievable roll after winning the last three races. He has also won four out of the last six races at Mid-Ohio. It would be foolish to think anyone else would win it. But I’ve been called a fool many times (along with other choice names) for good reason. Therefore, my pick is someone who is desperate to prove to himself that he can still win. Some might call him a surprise winner, but I wouldn’t. He placed second here last year and I think he is ready to exorcise his demons. My pick to win Sunday is Will Power. Stay tuned.