|Preview: The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline|
|Chip Ganassi Racing has won nearly half of the INDYCAR races held at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course since 1996, which bodes well for Scott Dixon in his bid to win a record-tying seventh NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship this season. But that also bodes well for the driver he and the rest of the field are chasing for the series title.|
Alex Palou, Dixon’s first-year teammate, has regained the top spot in the standings and holds a healthy 28-point lead over Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward heading to the 10th of 16 races on the calendar. Dixon trails Palou by 53 points, a deficit that will take more than one race weekend to overcome. Only two other drivers – Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud – are within 100 points of the series lead. Newgarden trails by 88, Pagenaud by 94.
All of which makes it imperative for those chasing Palou to gain ground in this weekend’s The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline.
Twenty-six car-and-driver combinations are rolling into the permanent road course in Lexington, Ohio, for the 38th INDYCAR race held since 1980. The weekend schedule includes all three levels of the Road to Indy, with doubleheader races for Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 with USF2000 staging three races.
On-track activity will effectively be non-stop through Sunday’s main event. INDYCAR’s action begins Friday at 2:30 p.m. (ET) with a 45-minute practice live on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service. A second 45-minute practice, also on Peacock, will be held at 9:05 a.m. Saturday, with three rounds of knockout qualifying for the NTT P1 Award set for Saturday at noon (live on Peacock, delayed on NBCSN until 8 p.m.).
The 80-lap INDYCAR race is Sunday at noon on NBC, with the green flag set for 12:05 p.m. The INDYCAR Radio Network will have complete coverage on its affiliates, INDYCAR.com, the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA and SiriusXM Channel 205.
Among the storylines to monitor:
The Second Half
Applying a legendary quote from baseball great Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early in this NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
Of course, a different, improving phase of a pandemic is part of that, but the calendar just turned to July and yet nine races have been held. Last year, only one had by this point.
Also, at Sunday’s checkered flag the season will be almost two-thirds completed, and for those drivers with significant ground to make up on the standings leader, the season finale won’t be a double-points race as it has been in recent years. Assuming all drivers participate in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sept. 26, those with designs on the title must be with 45 points of the lead to mathematically have a chance.
Thus, it’s time for many to get motoring. Include former series champions Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda), Newgarden (No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet), Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet), Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet), Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) and Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) in that group. Each is 88 points – or more – out of the lead.
A Large Field
Twenty-six cars are three more than competed in last year’s doubleheader at the 13-turn, 2.258-mile flowing road course, and the driver lineup includes returnees and newcomers.
Back in the lineup after recent injuries are Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet).
Rosenqvist missed the two most recent races – the back end of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on June 13 and the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America on June 20 – due to lingering effects from his abrupt, nose-first impact with the Turn 6 barrier in Race 1 at Belle Isle Park. VeeKay suffered a broken right clavicle in a cycling accident June 14, with surgery the next day forcing him to be held out of the Road America race. He was in Chevrolet’s simulator earlier this week and was cleared by INDYCAR’s medical staff Wednesday.
Santino Ferrucci will be back in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda for a fourth time this season, and he has had top-10 finishes in the first three, including finishing sixth in the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He finished sixth and 10th in the Detroit races.
The newcomer in the Mid-Ohio field is Ryan Norman, a two-time race winner in Indy Lights who has been driving for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian in IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge series.A former motocross rider, the 23-year-old Norman hails from a Cleveland suburb, which makes Mid-Ohio his home track. The circuit is also one where he has a significant amount of experience, competing in six Indy Lights races with Andretti Autosport and testing last week in the No. 52 KOINU INU/EVO Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR in which he will make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut.
This will be INDYCAR’s largest field at Mid-Ohio since the 2011 race when there were 27 cars.
Best Driver, Best Team
As mentioned, Chip Ganassi’s Indianapolis-team has dominated INDYCAR races at Mid-Ohio, winning 11 of 23 races since Alex Zanardi won the first of his two in 1996. Other race winners for the team include Juan Pablo Montoya, Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball. The team won five in a row from 2009-2013, with Kimball’s win in ’13 the fastest ever at the track (117.825 mph).
Dixon has won at Mid-Ohio a record six times, most recently in 2019. His starting position hasn’t been a factor in the races he has won — he has started as high as the pole (2011) and as far back as 22nd (2014).
For capturing a sixth INDYCAR championship in 2021, Dixon is a leading candidate for Best Driver at the ESPYs. Fan voting, which plays a significant role in determining the annual winner, continues through 8 p.m. (ET) Friday, July 9. Votes can be cast at this link. https://www.espn.com/espys/story/_/id/31633865/espys-2021-vote-best-driver
Challengers Are Plentiful
For all of the Dixon and Ganassi dominance at Mid-Ohio, it was Andretti Autosport which fared the best overall last year.
Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) led the team’s podium sweep of the second race, with Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) and Hunter-Reay rounding out the podium and a top-five Honda sweep. Rossi won the 2018 race and finished third in last year’s first race, won by Power.
Power has been the best of INDYCAR’s Mid-Ohio qualifiers, earning the NTT P1 Award a record five times, including two of the past three.
Be mindful of the hometown motivation of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Meyer Shank Racing. Both teams consider this the second-most important race on the schedule after the Indianapolis 500 because both outfits either started in the Columbus area or still maintain facilities there.
The team co-owned by Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan fields 2015 Mid-Ohio winner Graham Rahal (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda), Takuma Sato (No. 30 Panasonic/Mi-Jack Honda) and Ferrucci, while MSR co-owners Michael Shank and Jim Meyer have Jack Harvey (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) primed for this event.
Pagenaud (2016) and Newgarden (2017) are also former winners at the track.
A Change in Race Distance
Last year’s two races at Mid-Ohio were 75 laps, lower than the standard 85 or 90 used since the resumption of INDYCAR racing in 2007.
For the first time in track history, INDYCAR will stage an 80-lap race, the goal to force teams to decide between making the strategy based on two stops or three.
“It just makes people do different things,” said Ferrucci, who finished 14th in each race last year. “You can either do fuel savings or you can run hard and fast. It definitely changes up the grid a little bit, and I’m looking forward to it. It will make the racing more entertaining.”