Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio
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.