Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio

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For a track that is known for a lot of strategy and little passing, it was refreshing to see an IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course won by a driver who had the fastest car and driving like he wanted to win. When Charlie Kimball passed Simon Pagenaud for the lead on Lap Seventy-Two, it was the move of the race and propelled Kimball to his first-ever IndyCar Series win.

This season has now seen four first-time winners – James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and now Charlie Kimball. This late in the season, I expected the experienced winning veterans to start flexing their muscle. Instead, it was Kimball who flexed his muscle. Pagenaud finished second, while Dario Franchitti, who is now the only Ganassi driver without a win this season, rounded out the podium in third.

Back to that pass – Pagenaud had a sizeable lead when he pitted on Lap Seventy-Two. He had a good stop and was still in front when he came out. But he had cold tires. As he was heading for the sweeping right-hander after he exited the pits, Kimball had a full head of steam as he made a brief excursion into the grass exiting Turn One. Quite honestly, I thought he was done for at that point. I thought he had either lost too much time or had gotten so much debris on his tires that there was no way he would catch Pagenaud at that point.

As usual, I was wrong. On hot tires, Kimball quickly caught up to Pagenaud and made a gutsy move carrying a lot of speed into the corner and blew past the Frenchman. I wasn’t sure if Kimball would make the car stick or go flying into that gravel trap. It stuck

Meanwhile, the front row of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power finished fifth and fourth respectively. Their two-stop strategy backfired and left them with slower cars during the longer stints. Not that I’ve ever been confused for a race strategist, but heading into the race – I thought that the two-stop strategy was the key to victory. I suppose that is why there are no teams beating my door down to come work for them.

Points leader Helio Castroneves did a respectable job to move from his starting position of fourteenth to finish sixth; on a track that is very difficult to pass on. Scott Dixon, who had won the last three IndyCar Series races and four of the last six at Mid-Ohio, seemed to be a shoe-in by starting third. Instead, he was pretty much a non-factor as he finished a very quiet seventh and actually lost points to Helio in the championship.

TV Coverage: NBC Sports Network did their usual stellar job. Leigh Diffey has certainly grown on me since his debut at St. Petersburg. He made the first two-thirds of the race seem exciting when it really wasn’t. The injured Ryan Briscoe was a guest analyst and did a very solid job. No one would confuse him with the job Dan Wheldon did a couple of years ago, but he was smooth, lively and gave some great information as only a current driver could.

Kevin Lee was excellent, as always. Jon Beekhuis gave us his unique perspective from the pits. He does great pit work, but I still say he is better suited for being in the booth than as a pit reporter. Several years down the road, I could see an IndyCar booth at some network consisting of Kevin Lee doing play-by-play, and Jon Beekhuis and a retired Ryan Briscoe in the booth. That would be easy to listen to.

If I had to come up with a negative – and this is getting picky – it would be for Marty Snider to change his terminology. In NASCAR, when a car doesn’t want to turn, they say it is tight. In IndyCar, the same condition is referred to as pushing or having a push. When I hear the word push, I know exactly what they mean. When I hear the word tight, I have to process it through my feeble mind in order to translate it to push. As I said, it’s a little thing, but Marty Snider gave us the NASCAR terminology two or three times yesterday.

A chump no more: After a couple of races this season, I made the statement that I’m beginning to think Charlie Kimball isn’t the chump I thought he was. After a very forgettable rookie season, where he was best known for being the backmarker that supposedly caused JR Hildebrand to find the Turn Four wall on the last lap of the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Last season, Kimball was improved but not very spectacular. His most memorable moment from 2012 was a second place finish at Toronto. This year, he has shown marked improvement and has made several spectacular passes, such as the one he made for the win on Sunday. Sunday’s win was even more impressive when you consider the hard hit he suffered on Saturday morning when he hit moisture on the track. The car was damaged bad enough that he was relegated to the backup car for qualifying. Some drivers would have had their confidence shaken where they would mentally just mail it in for the weekend. Obviously, Kimball isn’t built that way.

It’s easy to pull for Charlie Kimball. He is very likeable and comes across as a very normal guy. He doesn’t whine or hang his head when things don’t go his way. When things do go his way – as they did yesterday – he is always quick to credit his crew and the entire Ganassi organization for his success.

If that wasn’t enough reason to pull for Kimball, his struggle with diabetes is. Kimball was diagnosed with the disease when he was twenty-two. He wears an insulin pump in the car and his blood glucose levels are monitored in the race. It is a horrible disease. I am not diabetic, but my daughter was diagnosed with the disease in 1995 when she was seven. I know first-hand what struggles she faces as it is a constant battle between too much food and too much insulin. For him to continue racing after his diagnosis shows how much he loves the sport. That was also evident as he hunted down Pagenaud to pass him for the win rather than settle for second.

If you’re currently looking for a driver to pull for in the IndyCar Series, I would give Charlie Kimball strong consideration.

Helio’s next shot: As Helio Castroneves drives for consistency while leading the championship, all the other drivers keep lining up to take their best shot at him. So far, they all keep missing. Helio has been the points leader for nine consecutive races now. He has won only once and I’m not sure he’ll win again this season. But what he has done has been enough. Scott Dixon was poised to take the points lead heading into this weekend, but even though he only finished sixth yesterday, he was able to extend his points lead over Scott Dixon to thirty-one points.

Before Dixon made his recent charge to second in points, it was Ryan Hunter-Reay that got agonizingly close to Helio – but he couldn’t get it done. Marco Andretti was the last driver to lead the points before Helio, but he has faltered down the stretch. Other than his win at Texas, Helio has done nothing great, but he has had no disastrous weekends either. He is the only driver this season that has completed ever lap, thus far. His worst finish this season has been in his home country of Brazil, when he finished thirteenth. All the other drivers that have flirted with knocking Helio off of the top, have faded when it counted most. I’m wondering which driver will be next to take their best shot at Helio.

With five races to go, I’m beginning to think that Helio is not going to blink and he will finally win his first championship, albeit not in very spectacular fashion. If anyone is close to him heading into the season finale at Fontana, I like Helio’s chances in a five-hundred mile race on an oval.

Acknowledging the obvious: After yesterday’s race, Will Power said it was very obvious that he was out of the running for this year’s championship. Clearly this is not his year. How else do you explain the fact that Power finished fourth, yet dropped a spot in the championship standings to eleventh. Meanwhile, his teammate finished sixth and stretched his lead over his closest pursuer. It’s been that kind of year for Power.

All in all: This was the first IndyCar race in three weeks and it will be another three weeks before we get to see another one. September will be torture as the series goes on a five week hiatus between Baltimore and Houston. I am hoping that the 2014 schedule will be announced sometime in August and also hoping that it doesn’t have the large gaps at the end of next season.

I’ve seen some boring races at Mid-Ohio, but this wasn’t one of them. The first two-thirds trudged along while different strategies were beginning to unfold, but the last thirty laps were anything but boring. Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. I’ve heard several claim that last weekend’s Brickyard 400 was exciting to those that know the nuances of that series. A casual fan may have found the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio boring, but I found it interesting. A good race is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

It was good to see a big crowd at Mid-Ohio yesterday, although I never doubted there would be one. The fans in that area are great fans. They know their racing and are passionate about road racing. They turn out in droves and appreciate what they are watching. The weather looked ideal Sunday and it seemed to be a perfect day to go to the track. As it turned out, they were rewarded with an enjoyable race.

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio”

  1. I was traveling to the in-laws during the race and didn’t see or hear it. Made it about half way through the YouTube highlights. To the IMS radio crew, everything is ALWAYS EXCITING. Appreciate the reference to the Brickyard race, George. Sounded to me, based on my limited exposure, that Mid-Ohio was kind of similar to the BY: A few flashes of excitement in the race with a popular winner. Question: minus the feel-good element of the the Kimball win (say Helio won for example), what entertainment level did this race deliver?

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Well, it’s pretty hard to beat the entertainment value of going to one’s in-laws during a race, but I suppose if there had been a few phony yellows, a GWC or two, a couple of drivers dukin’ it out after the race, and maybe some giant billboard like wings on the cars it would have been more entertaining. Personally Bill, I feel any race not won by fuel strategy is entertaining.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Picking the right strategy is so critical at Mid-Ohio, but Kimball clearly had as much pace as anyone. I saw no reason he would not have had a very good chance to win even if Hunter-Reay, Power, and Dixon had picked the right strategy. Had Viso not held Charlie up, Pagenaud would never have even seen Kimball, much less come out of his final pit stop ahead of him. He was that fast.

    It is great to see another graduate of the Mazda Road to Indy take a first win and it is even better to see an often-dismissed driver silence his doubters.

  3. Will Power can’t catch a break.

  4. IndyCar set the number of laps just right this time. 90 laps was few enough to tempt some teams to try the 2-stop strategy, but enough to make the 2-stop strategy fail in the absence of yellows. Down with fuel-economy racing!

  5. A race. Three week gap. Race. Three week gap. Race. Four week gap. This is not a freaking schedule, it’s a random series of events. A momentum-killing random series of events.

    Mid-Ohio seems nice and all that. But sort of like spending an afternoon with your elderly aunt.

  6. Some of the comments expressed thus far questioning the entertainment value of the race on TV are typical of what we see after most natural terrain races on the IndyCar schedule. Based on my many experiences at Road America, it is very entertaining to be there, but perhaps not so much on TV.

    In an effort to make events more entertaining for TV viewers the NBA has the shot clock and the 3-point shot, MLB apparently just juices its games with juice, we all know what NASCAR does, the NHL pretty much ignores fights, and the NFL has pretty much made just glancing at a receiver “pass interference”.

    Places like Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Road America, and Barber are charming places to visit and the races are fun if you are there, but “charm” seldom translates to entertainment on TV.

    I certainly do not know the answer to better IndyCar TV ratings, but I hope the series does not resort to any more gimmicks than what it has now.

    • agree about gimmickry (mostly). but it seems like the road courses (Barber, Mid-Ohio) could learn from some of these street races (Brazil) and reconfigure their tracks a bit to make them less charming and more racy.

      the entertainment market is so much more crowded now than in the past and the competition for eyeballs on the tube is so intense that you have to up the ante somewhat, I think. But I don’t really have any answers either…

      I do hope to see Indycar in Austin soon.

      • Ron Ford Says:

        I am curious as to whether you think a third Texas race at Austin would jeapordize the oval race?

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Less charming!…………More racy! I think you are on to something. That has the potential for a commercial.

        • Whatshisname in Ft. Worth has said an Austin race would call into question the viability of the oval race. But he said that when they added the Houston street race also. I think they could market the uniqueness of a road, a street and an oval track all within the state of Texas. And I’m sure Whatshisname could be convinced to help market the unique trio of events if someone gave him enough encouragement. Meaning cash.

    • billytheskink Says:

      To be fair, most of those stick and ball “gimmicks” were implemented to improve the viewing experience in person, as well as on television. Some of them predate the significant presence of professional sports on television.

  7. I attended the race and was dumbfounded how three teams (128, 12, and the 9) the top three, could get the strategy so wrong. The two stopper wasn’t even close to working and the lack of caution laps had nothing to do with it (The caution has to fall at the perfect time and why would you ever count on it, nevermind at Mid-Ohio). The teams should have known what lap time they had to run to make the 30 lap stint and they knew the lap times the other cars could go flat out. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that math. Yet somehow the best and brightest of IndyCar couldn’t figure that out.

    I had a good time but my normal row of port-a-john’s was missing this year. They were a bit hidden and lines were much shorter. The track would be wise to build some permanent bathrooms in the infield. It will be interesting to see if things are worse for the Busch race in two weeks. It has been my experience that NASCAR fans drink a lot more than IndyCar fans.

    The other problem I had may have been a “you” problem. My headset would not come in clear and I have no idea why. The signal kept on coming and going and it never got all the way clear. The T’s were especially fuzzy. The radio worked well at MIS for the June Cup race. I did notice I got the NBC call instead of the usual Mike King call. Perhaps the problem was NBC and IndyCar or maybe the unit hit its limit. I will see what happens in two weeks when I return. Does anyone have any ideas?

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