Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio

Just like the last few times that the IZOD IndyCar Series has made the trek to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; the crowds came out to support them. And just like the last few times; the masses witnessed a snoozer. Except for Alex Tagliani going wide and forcing James Hinchcliffe off course on the first lap, there was nothing that went off script – as Scott Dixon had his way with the entire field. Hinch’s shunt resulted in an early pit stop that, combined with a fortuitous crash by Sebastian Saavedra on Lap twenty-one, resulted in Hinchcliffe leading the entire second stint. But when he and Scott Dixon cycled through their pit stops, Dixon found himself out front again and coasted to his first win of the 2011 season.

Except for some poor timing on both pit stops by Will Power’s team and a late spin by Graham Rahal, that’s pretty much the entire race. Oh, I forgot – for some reason, Danica Patrick chose not to pit on the first caution. After starting twenty-first and being practically invisible all weekend, except for the AP report that all but confirmed her impending move to NASCAR – I suppose that her Go-Daddy sponsor needed some free airtime, so they let her lead some laps. That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why she would stay out while everyone else pitted.

Will Power suffered in the point standings. His nemesis, Dario Franchitti, drove a safe race and finished second. Due to some bad luck on pit strategy, Power finished a distant fourteenth and is now sixty-two points behind with only six races remaining. If Power doesn’t stop this summer swoon of his, Scott Dixon could overtake him for second before October. Next week’s race is a short oval, which doesn’t exactly play to Power’s strengths. It’ll be interesting to see if Power can shake things up and begin a late season turnaround this week.

TV Coverage: I would give the coverage this weekend a B. There were no major flubs, but there was nothing spectacular either. Let’s just say they were solid. There was one thing, though. As humorous as it was to see Robin Miller scurry about to find anyone to talk to during his Grid Run segment, they need to coordinate their timing with INDYCAR to make sure that the drivers will actually be on the grid during the next Grid Run.

By now, we’ve all heard that Versus will officially become the NBC Sports Network on January 2. That’s no big surprise. I’m glad that they incorporated “NBC” into the name, which lends legitimacy. Having “Sports” in the title actually tells what the channel is about. No one seemed to know what Versus was or if they even had it on their cable system. Most of my non-racing fans have said they didn’t think they had Versus, when they really did.

But the biggest news regarding NBCSN (is that how it will be referred to?) is the news that they are going after the early season, eight game Thursday night package for the NFL. If they are successful in getting the NFL on their cable channel, then the fledgling station is suddenly a legitimate contender to ESPN.

Remember when FOX was launched in the mid-eighties as a fourth network to compete with ABC, CBS and NBC? It was pretty much a joke. All they had was Married…With Children and The Simpson’s. When they snagged the NFC package away from CBS beginning in 1994, no one was laughing anymore. Today, FOX has an empire of network programming, news, sports, and financial news. They were not considered legitimate on any level until they had the NFL.

Many of us have complained that the ten-year deal with Versus was an albatross around the neck of the series. Now, through a strange quirk of sheer luck – it may prove to be a Godsend. That is, unless NBCSN gets so big that the series finds itself at the bottom of the rung and is given no publicity. We’ll see.

Ganassi’s playground: On Friday, I referred to Mid-Ohio as Chip Ganassi’s playground, simply due to the fact that his team has won three of the four races there since the IZOD IndyCar Series began racing there. He also won there with Juan Montoya back in 1999. Nothing happened this weekend to make me think any differently. His team won the pole, the race and wrapped up second place as well. All four Ganassi drivers qualified in the top-ten, with three in the Firestone Fast Six. I’d say Chip Ganassi has this place figured out.

Justin Wilson possibly out: The biggest story of the weekend came on Saturday, when Justin Wilson was involved in what was seemingly a mild off-track excursion. However, as he drove across the lip of an access road, the car went airborne and landed hard on the asphalt. The result was a compression fracture to his lower back. Chances are, Wilson’s season is probably over. It is the same type of injury that Vitor Meira and Will Power suffered in 2009 that resulted in both of their seasons being cut short. It’s a shame because Wilson was coming off of his best finish of the season – a fifth at Edmonton. He was also fifth quickest in the practice session when he had his incident.

Simon Pagenaud did an admirable job as a last minute substitute, finishing a respectable thirteenth. I hope that Dreyer & Reinbold will stick with Pagenaud for the rest of the season. If not, they should at least stick with whomever they choose. The “Driver of the Week” thing they went through last year, after Mike Conway was lost for the season, did no one any favors.

Rough rookie season: With the season now two-thirds complete, I have to say that one of the rookies has really been a disappointment. Ana Beatriz ran a handful of races in 2010, but is still considered a rookie in 2011. She made an impressive debut last year, by finishing thirteenth in her home country of Brazil in her very first outing in an IndyCar. To date, her best result – is an eleventh place finish in the crash fest at Toronto last month. After qualifying twenty-fifth, Bia finished seventeenth yesterday and now sits twenty-second in points. More importantly, she is eighty-one points behind fellow rookie J.R Hildebrand.

Ana Beatriz has not done anything stupid. Instead, she has been invisible. As frustrating as it has been to watch EJ Viso over the years, he at least turned some heads as a rookie. Although he did some boneheaded things as a rookie, he showed some flashes of brilliance. Of course, we all know how that turned out so that’s probably not a great example.

The point is, I expected a lot out of Ana Beatriz. Coming into this season, I expected nothing out of Charlie Kimball, Sebastian Saavedra or James Jakes. For the most part, they haven’t surprised us – although Kimball did have a nice run this weekend. I did, however, go into this season with some level of expectation from Beatriz, Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe. Hildebrand and Hinchcliffe have delivered good performances at various times of the season. Beatriz has not.

It’s frustrating, because I like her and hope she does well. Hopefully, she can perform well in the final six races and finish the season on a high note and build some momentum for 2012.

All in all: I thought it was a typical race at Mid-Ohio – boring, for the most part. Although I appreciate the tradition at this track as much as anyone, I have to wonder why Barber Motorsports Park is considered the scourge of natural terrain road-courses on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule? I have no way of knowing, but I’ll bet there was more passing at Barber this past April than there was at Mid-Ohio yesterday. I know there was more action at Barber this year than yesterday. Yet, Mid-Ohio is praised at a demanding and physical track, while Barber is considered nothing more than a parade site. Not only did Barber provide better racing this year – yes, it’s much more beautiful.

Shameless self-promotion: I’ve mentioned on Twitter a few times this past week that there is going to be a yawn-inducing announcement this week regarding something new at Oilpressure.com. While it may rival yesterday’s race in putting some people to sleep, some may find it halfway interesting or at least mildly amusing. Be sure and check back here on Wednesday to be completely underwhelmed.

George Phillips


16 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio”

  1. Yeah, keep an eye on these upstarts at NBC, maybe they’re on their way to becoming the next FOX.

    Someone in the graphics dept listed Briscoe on probation during the prerace.

    INDYCAR T&S is so worthless these days it’s not even worth opening the laptop on the couch.

  2. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    While I am not necessarily a fan of TCGR, I would not have characterized Scott Dixon’s win as coasting, he certainly had the car for MO unlike nearly everyone else… However, this race certainly could have rivaled Morpheus in it’s ability to induce sleep and dreams.

  3. I’ve been underwhelmed by Bia’s performance as well. Let’s hope she can step it up in the last third of the schedule.

    Totally agree with you on musical chairs at DRR. Pick Pags or pick someone, but let’s have consistency.

  4. Mid-Ohio and Barber seem to be really cool, fan-friendly, and well-attended venues for Indycar. Would it really be that expensive to tweak the tracks (widen a turn, get rid of a turn or something) to make them a little bit racier for Indycar?

    Also thought R. Miller’s comment was interesting about how (as instructed) the driver’s avoided contact this week but was the racing really more entertaining than the Canadian street races? (Speaking of Miller, do they even plan out that grid walk? It’s gone from semi-informative to semi-hilarious to semi-ridiculous.)

  5. I called Mid-Ohio “Barber North” yesterday, but you are right, George, that was unkind to Barber. I have no idea why I even watch this race. We’ll see how the new car does next year, but life is to short to watch zero-entertainment sports TV.

  6. Savage Henry Says:

    Indycar needs to stop staging races on motorcycle tracks. Oh, look – here comes another one at Infineon! Goody!

    I understand that these cars were designed as oval-only cars and therefore aren’t that great on the twisties, even with the special aero-bits that they can put on. Perhaps the next car will help to spice things up. However, I’m not
    sure that running on tracks too short and/or too narrow for top-level open-wheel cars is ever really going to work.

    I know that Indycar can’t just show up at a track and race, but if they want to keep their momentum going they’re going to have to do better than this. There needs to be a happy middle ground between crashfests and parades, right?

    • I have always been a fan of natural-terrain road courses and (yes) street races. However, I’ll go along with any of you who recommend that too-narrow or poorly-designed tracks be reconfigured and/or replaced by ovals, or tracks such as Cleveland’s wide-open airport, which allow side-by-side racing (passing).
      Antiquated venues such as Mid-Ohio, which are so far from FIA-specification and NEED many improvements before they fracture or kill more racers, course workers, or spectators.
      George, that “late spin by Graham Rahal” was not an unforced error such as Hinch’s; Danica rammed Rahal.
      And Tagliani didn’t swing wide but jerked rightward in a right turn when he saw Hinch in his right mirror.

  7. Two things:
    1) The “pit run” yesterday rivaled the original BBC version of The Office for straight up cringe-inducing, non-intentional laughs (although I guess The Office was intentionally, non-intentionally funny, so never mind). “Um, who’s around here? Anybody? Oh, hey, Charlie Kimball’s dad! Hey! Wanna kill 30 seconds of airtime for me?” That’s gotta be tweaked a little to be a little more coordinated, not just a half-assed attempt at imitating something that Speed’s F1 team does so well.

    2) People (rightly, I guess) are going to complain ad nauseum about how this race is terrible and should be eliminated from the schedule. To those folks, I ask “how do you get passing in an auto race?” Think about it for a second. The #1 thing that you need to have passing on any track, anywhere, is a faster car behind a slower car. Yesterday, we generally had the fastest car (Dixon) out front, the second fastest car (Dario, for most of the day) in second, and so on. When that happens, passes are going to be rare. Short of a random draw or a field inversion at Barber and Mid-Ohio, we’re never going to have Talladega-esque action at those tracks. For some folks, that’s unacceptable. For others (me, for one), that’s OK a couple of times per year, so long as it serves a greater purpose (in Mid-Ohio’s case, a nod to longstanding road course tradition and as a hat tip to the local Honda presence). That’s a debate that’ll never get solved, I think. Back to passing. In the instance that a faster car is actually behind a slower car, and this is true for just about any track as well, oval or twisty, that faster car has to be more than 0.5% faster than the car in front, otherwise you’ll have a crash-‘em up fest like we had in Toronto. The (slightly) faster car that’s behind can only get the pass about 1/3rd of the way done, and then you wind up with a car in the wall. Bottom line: we gotta have cars that perform differently from one another. Cars with different engines and aerodynamic packages is the only way this is going to happen. I hate to sound like a Cubs fan (um, which I still sort of am), but “wait until next year”. Then let’s revisit, shall we?

    • Hey! What are you doing using logic and reasoning?

      Seriously, passes may be few and far between at Mid-Ohio, but as a spectator who’s seen it, I’d miss it from the schedule. Even Mrs. Rick was impressed watching CART cars transition from the back straight to turn 4 back in the day…

  8. The Lapper Says:

    Since it has been brought up, I like Barber a lot and I found the racing there pretty good. I think the only excitement yesterday was Dixon passing Franchitti on that last restart.

  9. I was at the race and loved it. Though it probably helped that The GF and I made a wager on the #9 car. It was thrilling to see him Vettel the field.

    I wouldn’t mind if IndyCar alternated Cleveland and Mid-Ohio every other year. Dixie just wants the odds in Amish country.

  10. What a waste of time… it failed what I call the “Fontana test” which is where I compare a race to the NASCAR parade at Fontana. It was worse than that, and considering how poorly received Fontana’s Cup race is, that’s bad. Actually, this race made Pocono look good. At least Brad won that.

  11. All I have to offer is the fact that there are huge crowds every year because it is an absolute blast of a weekend. There are races and practices all day long for three days straight, a campground next to the track that turns into a giant party at night, and fantastic amenities and customer service provided by the fine folks of Mid-Ohio. What doesn’t translate to tv are the excellent sight lines and all of the action in the middle of the pack. I can’t see Indycar or Mid-Ohio ever wanting to not host this race, I believe it will be around for a very long time to come.

    • I’ve heard Mid-Ohio (and Barber) are great venues–in person. Which is important. And I hope Mid-Ohio and Barber are on the schedule for years to come also. But it’s not quite as entertaining on the tube. Why should Indycar just accept that instead of lobbying/investing to modify/widen the narrow tracks (in addition to a better car) to make the racing even better for the audience that drives ratings, sponsors and–if not growth–at least stability.

    • I would have LOVED to watch American LeMans, SCCA World Challenge, and IndyCar racing in one weekend in a pretty setting rather than watch two of the three on a TV. Some year I’ll go up to Mid-Ohio.

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