LEXINGTON, OH – The NTT IndyCar Series drivers heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a pivotal race weekend in terms of the championship. Five races remain in 2019 including Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (4 p.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network).
On Friday, the teams had two practice sessions as a quick tuneup before another practice on Saturday morning and qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
The first session it appears that the usual suspects would be strong.
Five-time Mid-Ohio winner Scott Dixon paced the field with a hot lap of 1:06.0973-seconds in his No. 9 Honda. Dixon, has finished runner-up in each of the last two weeks and is looking for his first win on the 2.258-mile road course since 2014.
Spencer Pigot was P2 in his No. 21 Chevrolet. Pigot, circled the track in his No. 21 Chevrolet with a time of 1:06.2455-seconds. He was just 0.1482-seconds off of Dixon’s top lap. Pigot, is coming off of a nice run last weekend in Iowa with a fifth place finish to go along with coming home seventh as a rookie at Mid-Ohio in 2016.
The two Penske drivers in the championship hunt in Simon Pagenaud (1:06.2665-seconds) and Josef Newgarden (1:06.3064-seconds) were third and fourth respectively on the speed charts while James Hinchcliffe (1:06.3611-seconds) rounded out the top five in an incident free first practice.
Overall session 1 Results @Mid_Ohio pic.twitter.com/RwSf6hWwc3 — Eric Smith (@Eric_RaceReview) July 26, 2019
But, the second practice wasn’t as clean. Scott Dixon spun on track but luckily didn’t make any contact. He would only be P16 in that session with his quick time coming on his final lap (16). Then, at 3:54 p.m. ET, Newgarden spun and made contact with the Turn 9 tire barriers in his No. 2 Chevrolet. As a result, he was only 11th quickest on the session.
That’s trouble for two title contenders.
Colton Herta gets ready to leave pit lane in his No. 88 Honda on Friday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – INDYCAR Media Site
In the session, rookie Colton Herta led the timing charts with a quick lap of the day at 1:05.7292-seconds in his No. 88 Honda. Herta, has three runner-up finishes in his last four Indy Lights starts at Mid-Ohio and was 12th in the first practice session of the day earlier. He calls this his favorite track on the schedule.
But, Herta credits his gain of 1.2 seconds on red tires a bit of a shock, especially with Mid-Ohio being a shorter track to gain that much time between the alternates and primaries.
“Yeah, definitely not a full representation,” the young rookie said of his top lap. “That red flag I think screwed a few of the big guys, especially Josef (Newgarden). So, yeah, I don’t think (Alexander) Rossi got his red tires in. Josef obviously didn’t. He’s usually fast around here. There are a few guys.
“No, I was really confident in the car. Even the guys that got full runs in, Will (Power), Simon (Pagenaud), (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, guys that were quick in first practice, usually quick around here, not as happy with it.
“Even though it wasn’t a full representation, it’s still a good benchmark to look at.”
Pagenaud, was second quick in his No. 22 Chevrolet. The Indy 500 champion turned in a lap of 1:05.9313-seconds. His teammate Will Power (1:05.9935-seconds) was P3 in his No. 12 Chevrolet as this trio were the only ones in the 1:05-second bracket.
Rookie Felix Rosenqvist (1:06.0218-seconds) was fourth in his No. 10 Honda while Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:06.0286-seconds) rounded out the top five.
Practice 2 results – @Mid_Ohio #IndyCar #Honda200 pic.twitter.com/IS9U7P9Ta8 — Eric Smith (@Eric_RaceReview) July 26, 2019
Today’s combined practice results – @Mid_Ohio #IndyCar #Honda200 pic.twitter.com/UdxNFbMjEW — Eric Smith (@Eric_RaceReview) July 26, 2019
Here are my main takeaways.
Title Contenders, Minus Pagenaud, Have Rough Start To The Weekend
I really felt like Sunday’s race would be a race to lose for the top four in the current standings. Combined, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon have won the last nine races of the season. At Mid-Ohio, they’ve won the last three as well including four of the last five overall.
Seemed like the ones to beat right?
Josef Newgarden practices his No. 2 Chevrolet on Friday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – INDYCAR Media Site
Well, all minus Pagenaud had some troubles.
Rossi, was only 13th in both practice sessions in his No. 27 Honda. He was .8-seconds off from the lead time at the end of the day. For a driver who led 66 of 85 laps last year, that was shocking.
“Obviously, we’re not where we’d like to be at the end of the day,” Rossi said on Friday. “We tried a few different things, so we know what doesn’t work, but we need to find what does. We were hoping to get a good run in just before the red flag came out, so we can’t really gauge how we ended, we just know we need to work overnight to figure out what it is we’re missing. Luckily, Ryan (Hunter-Reay, teammate) found something that was a little beneficial, so hopefully, we can take that and build off of it.”
Newgarden, was fourth quickest in the first session but crashed in the second one. He was only P11 in the second and final practice of the day and saw his No. 2 Chevrolet leave the track on the hook.
“Unfortunately, I just got loose and went off track late in the afternoon session today,” Newgarden said of his crash in the closing minutes of the session. “Thankfully, the damage isn’t too bad and the PPG Team Penske guys are the best, so they’ll get everything fixed up for tomorrow. We were just a little off with the car in the second practice, so we will get that fixed as well and be ready to go with the PPG Chevy on Saturday.”
Dixon, spun in the second session and was only P16. He was P1 in the first practice though.
“I think we need to do better than we’ve done here lately in terms of results,” Dixon said of his day on Friday. “We need to get back to our winning ways. We’ve had success at Mid-Ohio as a team, as well as me personally, but that isn’t good enough right now. The track really evolves here and you really need to keep up with changes to understand what you need here to go fast. I think we made some gains here from last year and hope we get to continue to show that this weekend after a fast start in the PNC Bank car this morning. The second session wasn’t terrible. I spun early in one run and then the red (flag) came out when we were on our run on the alternate tires, so we didn’t get to post a time that reflected what we have.”
But, the only consistent one was Pagenaud. He was third and second respectively in his No. 22 Chevrolet. Pagenaud, won this race in 2016 and was fourth in 2017. He has seven consecutive top 10 finishes at Mid-Ohio too.
“Great first day here at Mid-Ohio for the Menards Chevrolet team,” Pagenaud said. “Today was hopefully a good snapshot of how the car is going to be in qualifying tomorrow. We feel competitive and confident, whether we are running on Firestone black tires or the reds (alternate tires), so we are in good shape. We’ll go back and look at all the little details tonight, so we are fully prepared for another good day tomorrow.”
If Saturday goes this way as well, Pagenaud can cut some points off his deficit on Sunday.
Ryan Hunter-Reay in his No. 28 Honda on Friday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – INDYCAR Media Site
Hunter-Reay Leads An Ordinary Bad Day For Andretti Autosport On Friday
As I stated above, Rossi had a horrible day in terms of pace in his No. 27 Honda. So did Zach Veach and Marco Andretti too. Veach, was only 22nd and 14th respectively while Andretti was 15th and 22nd respectively himself. None of the three showed much speed.
“It was a horrible day, to be honest,” said Andretti. “We were jumping all over the place with setups trying to find something we liked and then the red flag came out at the end there, so we didn’t get a lap on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) that we were looking for, so we really don’t know where we stand. We’ll put our heads together tonight, and hopefully, redeem ourselves tomorrow before qualifying.”
Veach, was a bit more optimistic.
“Trying to get the car right has been the biggest struggle of today,” said the Ohio native. “We made good progress from 20th to 14th in Practice 2, so hopefully, we can do the same tomorrow in Practice 3 and be where we need to contend for the (Firestone) Fast Six like we did last year. We just need some help in some places and I think we’ll be well on our way to do that.”
But, Ryan Hunter-Reay did show some pace though. He was sixth and fifth respectively in his No. 28 Honda and has five top 10 finishes in his last six Mid-Ohio starts. While he enters this weekend reeling, maybe he can get going on Sunday.
“I think it was a somewhat productive first day,” Hunter-Reay said. “It went by pretty quickly due to the limited amount of laps we wanted to put on these tires – we wanted to save them for qualifying tomorrow. All-in-all, I think we’re in the top five to seven right now. We need to make some big gains in the car tonight. We’re not going to be on pole with the current balance and qualifying is very important here, so we need to put our heads down and make some of the right setup changes tonight.”
So far, I didn’t expect Andretti to be this far off after day 1.
Graham Rahal at his hometrack at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Friday – INDYCAR Media Site
RLL Not The Best Start Either
I had high hopes for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing as well. This is their hometrack and they usually perform well here. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have the pace either.
Graham Rahal was slowest in session 2 and 17th in session 1.
Takuma Sato was only 14th and 20th respectively himself.
Rahal, has five straight top 10 finishes at Mid-Ohio and is the only non Penske, Andretti or Ganassi driver to win here since 2007. But, he said that as they sit today, they aren’t even in the same playing field as his competition.
“We tried a lot today and made a big swing in the second session after struggling in Practice 1,” said Rahal. “Everyone puts a lot into this program, so I know it’s not a lack of effort, but we’re not in the ballpark right now. We still have tomorrow to figure it out so we’re going to dig in and come back out here fighting tomorrow.”
Sato, has two top 10 finishes in his last three Mid-Ohio starts.
“It was a little bit of a tough day,” Sato said. “The session was interrupted by a red lap and we never got a timed lap with the red (Firestone alternate) tire, which was a shame, and I believe a lot of people are in the same boat. However, we are still on the bottom of the timesheets, so we need to find the speed. Last year, we came back quite strong in Practice 3, so hopefully, overnight we will analyze and come back better tomorrow. We are struggling with a little bit of everything. Struggling on rotation, snap oversteer and the stability on power.”
For them to have two of the slowest four speeds on the day was a bit surprising.
James Hinchcliffe goes under the Honda bridge at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Friday – INDYCAR Media Site
Hinchcliffe Looks Strong Again
I wrote entering this race weekend that we should watch out for James Hinchcliffe. He heads to Mid-Ohio with three straight top seven finishes on the season including a podium last Sunday morning in Iowa.
On Friday, Hinchcliffe was fifth and sixth respectively in his No. 5 Honda on the speed charts. He also has four top 10 finishes in his last six Mid-Ohio starts as well.
“Solid first day for us in the No. 5 Arrow car,” said Hinchcliffe. “We rolled off the truck pretty strong, which we were hoping to do after a strong showing here last year. The setup seems to have carried over pretty well. Obviously, the times are super close, a tenth (of a second) puts you into P2 this afternoon. We don’t need big changes, we just need to kind of tune it and put it all together over a lap and see where we shake out tomorrow. This is definitely a track position kind of race and qualifying is going to be very important, so that’s the focus overnight.”
So far, it was a pleasant start to the weekend for the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver.
With some of the title contenders struggling on Friday, we have some sleepers starting to appear. Sebastien Bourdais won the IMSA race here back in May and has two top six finishes in his last four Mid-Ohio starts. He was in the top 10 in both session – ninth and 10th respectively on Friday. The Dale Coyne Racing driver also has four top 10 finishes in his last five tries on the season as well.
Also, don’t count out Hunter-Reay (6th, 5th), Hinchcliffe (5th, 6th), Felix Rosenqvist (8th, 4th), Colton Herta (12th, 1st), Jack Harvey (11th, 8th) or Spencer Pigot (2nd, 9th) either.
So far, keep and eye out and bet wisely on them.