Power keeps pressure on by leading Mid-Ohio practice

LEXINGTON, Ohio (Friday, July 29, 2016) – Like a hound on the hunt, Will Power continues aggressively chasing down the prey in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Team Penske driver paced the field in practice today for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, running what would be a record pace in the process.

Power’s best lap around the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course of 1 minute, 4.1962 seconds (126.624 mph), in the second of two 75-minute practice sessions, was nearly four-tenths of a second better than the track record established a year ago by Scott Dixon in Verizon P1 Award qualifying. Power, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, was among four drivers who turned laps on the 2.258-mile permanent road course under Dixon’s standard.

“Obviously the cars are just getting faster and faster,” Power said. “It’s not like the track is getting faster. It’s just amazing how much speed we have in like Turn 11 and Turn 1 now.

“It’s definitely going to be a lap record broken. … Yeah, that’ll be broken for sure if it’s dry.”

Power missed the 2016 season opener with an inner-ear infection, but has won three of the last four completed Verizon IndyCar Series races to move into second in the championship. The 28-time Indy car race winner and 2014 series champion sits 47 points behind teammate Simon Pagenaud – the other three-race winner this season.

“It’s very obvious to us what we have to do, and that’s finish ahead of Pagenaud in particular because he’s got such a chunk of points ahead of us,” Power said. “It’s a no-brainer for us. … Not that you take any stupid risks, but we understand that week in, week out, you’ve got your aim, you’ve got your goal.”

Dixon, the five-time Mid-Ohio race winner in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy, led morning practice with a lap of 1:04.4491 (126.127 mph) that held up for second fastest on the day. Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet, 1:04.4663, 126.094 mph) and Pagenaud (1:04.5353, 125.959 mph) also eclipsed Dixon’s track record in the afternoon practice before heavy rains moved in with 25 minutes remaining.

RC Enerson, making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut after driving the first half of the season in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, grabbed everyone’s attention by running seventh quick in the afternoon session (1:04.7284, 125.583 mph). The Dale Coyne Racing driver was excited to be behind the wheel of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda.

“It was incredible,” said the 19-year-old who won an Indy Lights race at Mid-Ohio last year. “It’s completely different from anything I have driven. Every time I come here, I tend to do all right and it’s one of my favorite tracks. It’s just got this thing about it that suits my driving style really well and I’m just excited to be here.”

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio is Round 13 of the 16-race Verizon IndyCar Series season, though the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway was suspended by rain after 71 laps on June 12 and will be completed Aug. 27.

A third Mid-Ohio practice session is scheduled from 9:45-10:30 a.m. ET Saturday, ahead of three rounds of knockout qualifying to determine the pole winner at 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). Coverage of Sunday’s 90-lap race begins at 2 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with a same-day re-air at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Courage of INDYCAR drivers impresses Ohio State football coach Meyer

As head coach of the Ohio State University football team, Urban Meyer knows a lot about the intestinal fortitude it takes to succeed. But even the mega-successful leader of one of the most prominent programs in all of college athletics was impressed by what Verizon IndyCar Series driver Conor Daly does for a living, after Daly delivered Meyer to a Honda STEAM Connections event Thursday on the college’s Columbus campus in the INDYCAR Experience street-legal two-seater Indy car.

“Great respect for what you do for a living,” Meyer, who has accumulated a 50-4 record with the Buckeyes, including the 2014 national championship, told Daly in front of the assembled group of elementary and middle-school students attending the science, technology, engineering, arts and math gathering. The event was hosted by Honda, the longtime engine and aero kit supplier to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Daly and Meyer exchanged Ohio State-themed helmets – Daly receiving a football helmet and Meyer the lookalike racing helmet. When asked to compare the athleticism he sees daily on the gridiron to that of Indy car drivers, Meyer’s thoughts rapidly went to bravado.

“It’s not just athleticism, it takes courage,” said Meyer, who also coached the University of Florida to a pair of national titles before taking the reins at Ohio State in 2012. “I just asked (Daly), ‘What’s the trick?’ He said, ‘Courage.’ You have to not be claustrophobic to be sitting in that thing (an Indy car).

“The biggest thing is the courage to do what they have to do. I know enough about that. It’s a very dangerous sport and one that you have to be very focused and on your game.”

Students attending the STEAM Connection event were treated to an array of racing vehicles, Honda cutaway passenger cars and more to pique their interest in possible future careers as engineers or designers.

Daly, driver of the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda for this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, spoke to the group, along with his race engineer at Dale Coyne Racing, Michael Cannon. Daly emphasized that, even at age 24 and after reaching his dream of driving an Indy car, he yearns to learn more every day.

“Pursue it, enjoy it, continue learning,” the Noblesville, Ind., native said. “The quest for knowledge never ends. I’m on the same path. I’m trying to learn more about my race car, trying to understand everything about it so I can make it go faster when I get into it.”

It’s that never-ending curiosity, engineer Cannon added, that makes his job exciting and rewarding.

“One of the neat things about engineering is you never have all the answers,” said Cannon, who has worked as a lead Indy car engineer for two decades. “Every day it’s something new, every day you probably come home with more questions than what you went to work with. The best engineers I know are the ones that ask the most questions, the ones that refuse to accept the status quo.”

Rahal honoring Ohio State football team again at Mid-Ohio

A year ago, Graham Rahal – born and raised in suburban Columbus – drove to a Mid-Ohio victory wearing a racing helmet mimicking the helmet of his favorite college football team, Ohio State University. Still a Buckeyes fanatic, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver is taking it to another level this year.

Rahal unveiled his firesuit for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio during a fan event Thursday at a Columbus location of his primary sponsor, Steak ‘n Shake. The firesuit is designed to look like an Ohio State football uniform with the Steak ‘n Shake logo still prominently featured.

Rahal also has a pair of Ohio State-logoed driving shoes and gloves to complete the outfit, in addition to his helmet again resembling the Buckeyes football helmet.

“I’m a huge (Ohio State) fan,” Rahal said. “I came up with a suit this year as a marketing concept in my head to not only help the university because I’m a fan, but for Steak ‘n Shake, all of our partners, to get great media exposure. I think we’ve done that.”

Veterans Castroneves, Montoya have love-hate relationship with Mid-Ohio course

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course may be one of the favorite circuits for drivers, but it can also be one of the trickiest. Even for successful Team Penske veterans Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.

“I love Mid-Ohio,” two-time Mid-Ohio race winner Castroneves said. “You know every time you go out on this track, the conditions are going to change and you want to predict what will happen with the car, especially with putting on new tires.

“When you put new tires on the car, it’ll change a lot,” added Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet this weekend. “You might have some good cars putting up fast times, but once they put the red Firestone tires on, it’ll change, because the reds, the only time we try them (before the race) is in qualifying.”

Montoya, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Hawk Performance Chevrolet, also referenced the ever-changing conditions on the 2.258-mile permanent road course.

“This a tough track because, when we rubber up the track, the balance of the car changes a lot,” the 1999 Mid-Ohio winner said. “Sometimes, if you’re up in the top early in the weekend, it’s hard to stay up in the top throughout the weekend with all the changes we make to the car and the way the track changes.”