After a well-earned one week sabbatical, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action this weekend – this time at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington, Ohio. One of the many things I like about this series is the variety of tracks the series runs on. Two weeks ago, the series was on a temporary street circuit in Toronto, surrounded by concrete barriers on both sides. This weekend, there will be a lot more room for error as the IndyCars will be on a natural terrain road course with plenty of run-off areas.
If you are a road course purist, you love Mid-Ohio. I’ve never been there, but from what I hear; it’s like a trip to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Supposedly, it’s like taking a step back into time. If you want all of the amenities found in the corporate suites at most sporting venues – Mid-Ohio is probably not your kind of place. You probably won’t find Club Level seating serving Chardonnay and Lobster Rolls as you watch racing on several HD Jumbotrons. What you will find is ample room for camping and a multitude of open seating areas for folding chairs that offer outstanding sight lines – and the ability to move around as you wish.
In terms of age, there are several tracks that are older than Mid-Ohio. Milwaukee and Indianapolis are both more than twice the age of Mid-Ohio. Road America has been around a decade longer. But Mid-Ohio is the one that has maintained the quaintness and feel of an intimate facility from yesteryear. With my love of everything that is traditional, something tells me I would love the setting at Mid-Ohio. From the small grandstands to the starting line on the backstretch and the finish line on the front-stretch; this place oozes with uniqueness.
As far as the actual racing goes, I’ll be honest – lately, it hasn’t been that great. It may look spectacular in person, but it doesn’t always translate well to TV. The last two races have been run under green flag conditions, flag-to-flag. Last year’s race distance was scheduled with five additional laps, to try and avoid the dreaded fuel-mileage race. Still, most teams tried to make it in two stops. Charlie Kimball was on a three-stop strategy that worked to perfection, leading to his first and only IndyCar win, to date.
Since the IndyCar Series started running there in 2007, this has pretty much been the playground for Chip Ganassi Racing. Since then, a Ganassi driver has failed to win only once – in 2008, when Ryan Briscoe won for Team Penske. Other than that win, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball have all scored wins for Ganassi, with Scott Dixon picking up four of those wins. Current drivers with Mid-Ohio wins from the CART days are Team Penske drivers Juan Montoya and Helio Castroneves.
This season’s championship is shaping up to be a strange one. It’s almost as if no one really wants it. Whoever wins it, I think they will essentially back into it instead of taking it. Each contender seems to have his flaws this season. Helio Castroneves has been the most consistent over the course of the season and probably deserves to be leading at this point. Will Power has been erratic, but not as much as Ryan Hunter-Reay in third. Simon Pagenaud has had some good races with a couple of wins, but has mixed in a couple of clunkers as well. Power, Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud are all within seventy-one points of Castroneves. Currently, I consider them the only championship contenders. Right now, Montoya is over one-hundred points behind with four races remaining. He is not mathematically out of it, but I’d consider him a longshot at this point.
The only two teams that are currently running in the Verizon IndyCar Series that have won at Mid-Ohio are Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Will Ganassi continue his dominance at Mid-Ohio, even though his team has yet to win this season? Will Team Penske strengthen their lead in the championship with a winning performance? Maybe a new team will break through and get their first win at Mid-Ohio.
The smart money would be on Scott Dixon to win this race. He’s won two of the last three and four of the last seven. Two other Ganassi drivers have wins there – Ryan Briscoe in 2008 (with Penske) and last year’s winner, Charlie Kimball. The only Ganassi driver to not win at Mid-Ohio is Tony Kanaan. Conversely, Will Power is the only Penske driver to never win there.
Who is my pick to win this weekend? Simon Pagenaud; which would really tighten up this championship. We’ll see.