Notes & Quotes: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

DALTON KELLETT began competing in the NTT INDYCAR Series a year ago with his debut in the K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet at the GMR Grand Prix on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A graduate of the Road to Indy Series, the 27-year-old Canadian collected podiums enroute to his debut in America’s premier open wheel series. In fact, he finished on the podium with a third place at Mid-Ohio in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire Series in 2018. Since Mid-Ohio is one of his favorite tracks, we asked him a few questions…

It has been a year since your first IndyCar race at the IMS road course. How would you assess the past year?
DK: “The last year was all about learning and getting up to speed quickly. It was hard without the usual testing and condensed schedules, but I am happy with what we got done. Coming into this season I knew it would still feel like a rookie year, so my focus has been on learning and improving at each race weekend.”

What is the best part of being an IndyCar driver?
DK: “It’s an honour to have the opportunity to compete in IndyCar, really a dream come true! I would say taking part in the Indy 500 has been the best part. Especially this year, having fans back in the stands made it very special.”

Can you point to some things you have learned?
DK: “I’ve been very fortunate to have a great team around me. They have helped me learn the car and get up to speed in IndyCar. I would say my most tangible gains have been in braking technique and optimizing the entry phase of the corner. Also, pitstops were relatively new to me. I feel like I have gotten much better at hitting my marks and being smooth in that process.”

What were the biggest challenges you faced?
DK: “I think my biggest challenge in this first year was taking on my first IndyCar season during COVID. It was tough to come into such a competitive series with no testing and condensed race weekends. On top of the racing challenges, we were dealing with the uncertainty of where everything was going. It was tough watching [girlfriend] Nicole have to deal with the realities of the pandemic, as a healthcare worker, while we were focused on race cars.”

How do you deal with the frustration when things don’t go as planned during a race weekend?
DK: “It’s important to be able to learn from those weekends, reset, and move on. We have had a few of those but the AJ Foyt team is always focused ahead. Of course, I would be lying if I said the frustration wasn’t there but it’s how you deal with it that counts.”

Kellett chats with A.J. Foyt after just getting out of the car. (Photo Courtesy of A.J. Foyt Racing

Why is the simulator an important part of a team’s race prep? What can the engineers extract from it?
DK: “I think it is especially important for tracks that you haven’t raced at before. Getting your brake references right, knowing the overall sight picture, and having a feel for the bumps of a track are all achievable in the sims. So, they’re a great tool for that. As a secondary measure, the correlation between real-life and the sim is better now than even 10 years ago. You can use them for some setup work, but the primary benefit is working on tracks and technique.”

Does working with a veteran like Bourdais help a young driver like yourself?
DK: “Having a (very) experienced teammate like Seb is a great asset to a rookie and a young driver like me. It gives me a benchmark and I can tap into Seb when I have questions about tracks or a technique. He’s been great to work with.”

What do you like about Mid-Ohio?
DK: “I have always liked the fast-paced nature of the layout. It has a great rhythm. For me, it falls into the same category as Laguna Seca and Barber. Short, intense, flowing tracks. Those are my favourites!”

Has your opinion changed about the course from when you first ran it in an Indy Lights car?
DK: “I’ve always like Mid-Ohio so I wouldn’t say my opinion has changed. The capabilities of the Indy car just take it to another level.”

What would you tell race fans who are disappointed the INDYCAR Series had to cancel this year’s Toronto event for the second straight year due to Covid-19?
DK: “The drivers are right there with you! We love that track and everyone really enjoys coming to the city (and I’m not just boasting about my hometown!). It wasn’t the right time, given Ontario’s COVID numbers, for it to happen this year – we will see you next year!”

Did you take up any new hobbies during last year’s lockdown? And are you still interested in them?
DK: “I’ve really gotten into astronomy – I’m still working on my star tracker mount but the busy season schedule halted my progress. Looking forward to picking that project back up in July. We also moved into a new house at the beginning of May, and let me tell you, I never realized that a power-washer could be so much fun. It’s hardly a chore!”

Do you have any plans during the 3-week break in the schedule due to the Olympics?

DK: “We will probably take a long weekend and travel somewhere domestically for a little break. And I’ll definitely be supporting Team Canada! Rock climbing is making its first appearance in the Olympics, so as a climber and someone who loves the outdoors, I’ll be cheering on Canada’s Sean McColl and Alannah Yip. They’re both super talented so it should be exciting to watch.” (Kellett is pictured at right rappelling off of the Grand Teton in Grand Teton National Park near Jackson Hole, Wyoming)

Kellett Fast Facts: Age 27…Born in Stouffville, Canada…lives in Indianapolis; bought his first house there in May…Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf.

SÉBASTIEN BOURDAIS will be making his 10th IndyCar start at Mid-Ohio, including his 2003 run in CART when he started fifth and finished third for Newman-Haas. His best result came in 2014 when he won the pole and finished second for KVSH Racing. Perhaps his most satisfying result came in 2018 when he started last (24th) and finished sixth for Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan.

How do you feel about Mid-Ohio?
SB: “It’s a place I very much enjoy, I’ve had some fun races there, particularly in 2018. Very, very fluid track, super challenging where you have to put a lot of energy behind the wheel to produce lap time. Huge track evolution, gripping up through the sessions and through the weekend so always good fun and hopefully we’ll have a little better luck than we’ve had lately and put in some strong results for that ROKiT Chevrolet No. 14 with AJ Foyt Racing. Seems like it’s going to be a nice weekend weather wise and looking forward to getting back into the car.”

What is the most challenging part of Mid-Ohio to get right?
SB: “The toughest part and most important part is turn 4 through turn 9 – a long succession of corners that all lead to the next one so if the balance isn’t really good then you lose a ton of time because you just late apex and if you can’t get back on power then it just keeps making things worse, and compounds the problem: missing apexes one after the other and not being able to go back on power and losing a ton of time so that’s definitely the key point of the track. The toughest corner is probably Turn 1. It’s a very fluid track and very fun track when the car balance is good.”

Which sports will you be following during the Summer Olympics?
SB: “I always enjoyed discovering new sports during the Olympics which showcases a lot between rowing and track & field and all of the collective [team] sports like basketball, volleyball. Obviously, the handball team in France is usually very good. I haven’t really seen what the basketball team is going to be up against but that could be fun so lots of things to look for but not really any one in particular.”

What will you be doing during INDYCAR’s summer break?
SB: “As far as our summer break, it’s going to be basically heading to France. My family is already there and I’m going to meet them after Mid-Ohio. I will try to spend some quality time with the family and maybe go down to south of France a little bit. I’ve got a fishing trip with my dad where we have an apartment in La Rochelle and then it will be time to head back for the Gateway test on the 25th of July..

Bourdais Fast Facts: Age 42…Born in LeMans, France…lives in St. Petersburg, Fla…Married to Claire, has two children, Emma and Alex…Ranks sixth on INDYCAR’s All-time Wins list with 37 victories and ranks seventh in career poles with 34…Ex-Formula One driver (2008-09)…Won 12 Hours of Sebring this year; has won Rolex 24 at Daytona overall (2014) and Petit LeMans…Finished second overall in 24 Hours of LeMans and won in the GTE class with Ford in 2016.

Past Performance at Mid-Ohio: Bourdais’ posted his best start and finish in 2014 when he won the pole and finished second after leading 38 laps for KVSH Racing. Kellett’s best start of 21st and best finish of 22nd came in Race 2 last year. The Foyt team’s best start is 7th and best finish is 4th — both with Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2009. In the CART Series (1987-1995), the team’s best start was 12th (1988-A.J. Foyt, 53) and best finish was 2nd (1993-Robby Gordon, 24).

Last Race: At Road America, Bourdais qualified 11th and finished 16th while Kellett dropped out after 19 laps with engine issues.

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be broadcast live by NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network on Sunday starting at 12 noon ET. Practice and qualifying will be streamed on Peacock. A tape-delayed broadcast of qualifying will be aired Saturday night on NBC Sports Network at 11 p.m. ET.