LEXINGTON, OH – It was a wild day of pit strategy on Sunday afternoon at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. See, the winner (Scott Dixon) was on a two stop strategy. Second place (Felix Rosenqvist) was on a three stopper. How much was the differential between the strategies at the end?
Third place in Ryan Hunter-Reay was on a three stop strategy too. But, the two drivers to round out the top five in the finishing order were two stoppers as well. Last year, a two stop strategy worked for Alexander Rossi. This year, it could have worked but they went with the wrong tire selection on the first stint.
See, Rossi started on the front row and had every indication he was going to hit pit lane just twice in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200. But, due to starting on Firestone Reds, he and pole sitter Will Power faded over the course of their run.
That allowed the two cars on Firestone Primaries on the first stint to stretch their fuel to leap them in the running order. Rossi, could only make it to Lap 26 on the first fuel cycle due to his tires falling off so much that he fell to fifth place. The problem is, he would have to slow down on his final two stints in order to make it to the end on fuel.
Power, didn’t have that problem as he could stretch his first stint to Lap 30, but his fall off was too big compared to Rosenqvist and Dixon.
Due to no cautions, the duo couldn’t gain back positions and had to settle for fourth (Power) and fifth (Rossi) respectively.
For Power, he led 26 laps on the day and has eclipsed the 4,000 career laps led mark.
Career Lap Leaders
Mario Andretti – 7,595
Michael Andretti – 6,692
AJ Foyt 6,621
Helio Castroneves 6,037
Al Unser 5,802
Scott Dixon 5,521
Bobby Unser 4,863
Dario Franchitti 4,579
Paul Tracy 4,256
Tony Kanaan 4,071
Will Power 4,019
But, he wanted a win on Sunday and a fourth place run in his No. 12 Chevrolet is bitter sweet as he so desperately wanted to get his first win of the season.
“It was a tough race, honestly,” Power said after securing his 99th career top five finish. “It was difficult to predict the tire strategy. The red (Firestone alternate) tires were way better when the track temps came up, and unfortunately we used them at the beginning so it just didn’t play into our strategy. It was a pretty frustrating end for Team Penske, really frustrating to see Josef (Newgarden) in the tires at the end. So, overall, not a great team day, but it was a solid finish for the Verizon Chevy. We’ll take it and move on.”
For Rossi, he’s just happy to gain points on Newgarden. For 89 laps of the race, it looked like he would likely lose points on him in fact. But, the final lap saw Newgarden spin when trying to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay for third and stall in Turn 3 as a result. Power and Rossi moved up a position in wake of that as Rossi went from 34 points down on the final lap to 16 heading to Pocono.
It was his eighth straight top six on the season in his No. 27 Honda but it nearly didn’t happen. Rossi, almost ran out of fuel on the final lap as he stalled in Turn 1 following the checkered flag.
“It was a difficult day overall for us,” Rossi said. “We didn’t seem to have the pace on either tire (Firestone alternate red and Firestone primary black tires). The team did a good job, kept me focused and we stayed with it and got a top five. We know we have to get points and, fortunately, luck was on our side today. The NAPA Andretti Honda team has done a great job all year. We’ve had pace – we’ve always been there. We just need some more race wins and, hopefully, we can get that after the two-week break. We just need to refocus and hit ’em hard at Pocono.”
See, due to having to pit so soon in the first sequence he had to pit on Lap 58 for the final time. That’s a 32 lap final stint. He went 32 laps on the second stint, so the fuel mileage was luckily there, the tire strategy wasn’t.