Random Thoughts On Mid-Ohio
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.