Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio
As most seasons eventually do, the 2009 IndyCar season will probably come down to one or two mistakes making the difference between a successful season and a disappointment. Such was the case in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. At first, it looked as if Justin Wilson had the entire field covered. However, two or three minor mistakes made the difference between battling for the win and finishing thirteenth – which is exactly where he finished.
Helio Castroneves was not going to contend for the race win, but he probably had a top-five finish in his grasp before he lost control on his own, spun into the gravel trap and was lucky to finish twelfth. Ryan Briscoe had no such disaster but did nothing spectacular either. He made no pass for position on track, yet gave up a couple. These are the types of things that can ruin a season or make one if you can avoid such trouble. On Sunday, Scott Dixon was able to avoid any and all trouble while coasting to an easy victory and pocketing fifty-two valuable championship points.
Justin Wilson was visibly upset after the race. He should have been – with his crew AND himself. His crew possibly played his first pit stop too conservatively by bringing him three laps ahead of the other leaders. I’m merely guessing, but they may have tried to compensate by leaving him out too long for his second stop. Just as his crew said to pit next lap, his car sputtered going into turn one and he nursed a fuel-starved car all away around the track – literally coasting into his pit. With the fuel lines dry, he stalled his car while trying to leave the pits costing him even more valuable time.
Of course, he had already fallen behind Scott Dixon by this time, being the victim of the rolling chicane — Milka Duno. No one can predict which way Milka will go when overtaking her, and Wilson guessed wrong when he approached her on lap thirty-seven. Dixon pounced and the race was effectively over at that point.
As most races do, this one boiled down to who made the fewest mistakes while doing a couple of things assertively as well. On Sunday, it was Dixon. This season has gone back and forth too many times at the top to make any type of prediction other than a guess, but Dixon sure looks like someone ready to close the deal. If he comes out fighting at Infineon in two weeks…look out!
Foyt’s team: With Ryan Hunter-Reay running near the front all day, the AJ Foyt car got a little more airtime than usual. On Hunter-Reay’s second stop, the TV cameras were watching and it revealed a telltale sign that may be the root of some of AJ’s problems.
This will sound a little politically incorrect or cruel, but there’s no other way to say it. The right front tire changer for Foyt’s team is way too portly and obese to be doing what he is doing. He was about two seconds behind the other tire changers. Before he had even removed the old tire, the others already had theirs on and the fueling was complete. There were no front-wing adjustments, he was just that slow. He looked like Chris Farley trying to change a tire. One of the complaints that some have about Foyt is that he is loyal to a fault. He is known to keep cronies on the team even though their abilities are questionable. I don’t know who this person is and for all I know, he may be a substitute. I’m sure he has other redeeming qualities within the team, but the one stop I watched him make was agonizingly slow.
Penske woes: Team Penske definitely had an off week at Mid-Ohio. After wining the past two races and reclaiming the points lead, they didn’t seem to have a sense of urgency this weekend. Yes, they had the pole – but Briscoe drove way too cautiously for a potential champion on Sunday. He seemed to be driving more not to lose than to win, and you know what happens then – bad things. Dixon drove like he wanted it. Briscoe’s two pit stops were a tick slow and his out laps were slow as well. Helio went from a not so great qualifying effort to an even worse result in the race. He was never a factor, even before he spun. Based on what I saw on Sunday – this did not look like a championship caliber team.
AGR woes: Marco Andretti took advantage of a gamble and it paid off. He moved from a thirteenth place starting point to run second for a while, owing to an off-sequence pit strategy, before finishing sixth. Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan both had off-track excursions. Danica was punted by Mike Conway, who made a boneheaded move on her going into turn four. Kanaan went off line as he tried to give room for Ryan Hunter-Reay on lap one, but ended up in the grass. He struggled for the rest of the day to finish tenth, while Danica finished nineteenth. The silent hero for AGR was again Hideki Mutoh — who sadly,is probably e out of a ride after this season. It’s a shame because he is, by far, the best Japanese driver I have seen in CART or the IRL.
TV Coverage: If it weren’t for the commercials, I would give it an A. The frequency of the commercials brings the grade down to a B and the spacing of the frequent commercials brings the Versus score down to a C. They seemed to cut away for commercials every five laps, and the “non-stop” box is getting used less and less. Why? Plus, just as either Jon Beekhuis or Robbie Buhl (it’s hard to tell their voices apart sometimes) said that pit lane is going to get very busy around lap twenty-four or twenty-five – Versus cut away to commercials on lap twenty-three. They knew the pit window – why can they not plan their breaks around it?
Later, they cut away on about lap sixty and returned on lap sixty-five. By lap sixty-seven, they cut away again after only two laps of racing. Then with only about ten laps to go, they cut away again. I understand ad revenue is important and that commercials are a necessary evil, but they need to plan their breaks better.
On the positive side, all of the announcers did an excellent job. Their pre-race show was superb. They had a good feature on Dale Coyne and showed video of his driving days at Mid-Ohio in 1984. They also had a good segment on Graham and Bobby Rahal. But their best segment was when Jon Beekhuis did a feature on the Firestone tires and the technicalities involved with racing tires. To me, this is what truly sets Versus apart from ABC/ESPN. Versus is doing a good job of educating fans from all aspects of the sport. ABC just seems to want to focus on drivers wives and emotional tax problems.
Overall: The race was not as entertaining as some, but not a yawner like Edmonton or Richmond. Like qualifying, there weren’t many surprises but the team that seemed to want it the most, won. That’s the way it should be.