IndyCar: Mid-Ohio Preview

Charlie Kimball celebrates his victory last year at Mid-Ohio.

A Brief Overview

The Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Ohio’s Kettle-Moraine countryside this weekend for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. It will be the 30th time the 2.258-mile 13-turn natural terrain road course has hosted an American Open Wheel Racing championship race.

Driving a Pennzoil-sponsored Chaparral Cosworth, Johnny Rutherford edged Gordon Johncock to win the first Indy car race at Mid-Ohio en route to the 1980 PPG Indy Car World Series Championship.

Reigning series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing is the all-time wins leader at Mid Ohio with 4. Emerson Fittipaldi won three times, while Bobby Rahal, Teo Fabi, Helio Castroneves, Al Unser Jr., Michael Andretti, and Alex Zanardi are all two-time winners at Mid-Ohio. Andretti has the most pole positions at the track with 3.

Also, each of the last two years, the race at Mid-Ohio has been caution free. Overtaking is incredibly difficult at the track, and as we will see qualifying up front is paramount.

And how exactly important is qualifying at Mid-Ohio?

Well, 11 of the race’s 29 winners have come from pole position. But get this: the race has been won from outside the first three rows, only twice, and never from deeper in the field than 8th. Yes, qualifying is important anywhere, but perhaps nowhere more than Mid-Ohio.

Who in this year’s race runs well at Mid-Ohio?

Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing are Indy car racing's gold standard at Mid-Ohio

This will probably come as a huge surprise: Penske and Ganassi drivers. The two teams are the only active ones to have won at the track, and have combined for an astounding 16 wins in the last 19 races. Ganassi drivers have 9 of the last 15.

Of course, as previously mentioned, Dixon is the clear gold standard at the track. In addition to his four wins, Dixon has one third-place finish and one pole position. The Kiwi attributes his stellar Mid-Ohio form to his days in the early 2000s as a Toyota test driver, when he had the luxury of turning countless laps at what was then a Toyota-test track.

And while the Kiwi is not having the best of seasons, let the record show, Dixon is the man to beat at Mid-Ohio.

Also, in addition to winning the 2000 and 2001 races, Castroneves has finished second once, third twice, and won two pole positions at the track.

Three other previous winners are scheduled to take the green flag this weekend. Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya won the 1999 race driving for Ganassi. NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing’s

Penske-Ganassi podiums are pretty common in Ohio's Kettle-Moraine country. This, the 2008 edition, with Ryan Briscoe taking the win.

Ryan Briscoe won in 2008 for Team Penske, and finished second in 2009, a race he started from pole. Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball is the defending race winner.

Anyone else run well at Mid-Ohio?

Penske’s Will Power has won pole and finished second twice. Schmidt Peterson Hamilton’s Simon Pagenaud finished second to Kimball last year. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay has finished third twice, and scored his first career podium at the track for American Spirit Team Johansson in 2003. No other driver in this year’s field has scored a podium at Mid-Ohio.

Is there anyone with a particularly unexceptional record at Mid-Ohio?

Because of the Penske/Ganassi dominance at the track, there are many drivers and teams with less-than-stellar records at Mid-Ohio.

For example, the very formidable Andretti Autosport has never won at Mid-Ohio, having scored a mere two podium finishes in 7 races.

As for drivers, Ganassi’s Tony Kanaan has a best finish of fourth in 12 Mid-Ohio races. Marco Andretti’s best result is a sixth in 7 starts. Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson has no result better than 8th in 5 races. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden’s best result is a 12th in two starts.

Graham Rahal has not had much to smile about at his home track.

Local boy Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will look to improve upon his best finish of 8th in 6 starts.

However, the award for driver with the most unfortunate resume at Mid-Ohio goes to the winner of Race 2 of the series’ most recent stop in Toronto. In three starts, Mike Conway has a best finish of 20th at Mid-Ohio.

Wow, Mid-Ohio seems to be a personal playground for Penske and Ganassi. Are there any candidates to rain on a potential Penske-Ganassi parade?

Hunter-Reay has long professed his love of the very technical circuit, and has had success at the track. Pagenaud finished third a year ago, while Toronto Race 1 winner Sebastien Bourdais had a potential podium run in the Dragon Racing machine two years ago going, before an off-course excursion.

Another driver to keep an eye on would be James Hinchcliffe. In a caution-free race two years ago, The Mayor put on a dazzling drive to score a fifth place finish after starting 15th. Hinchcliffe also led the race as a rookie in 2011.

Look for Scott Dixon on the top step of the podium Sunday for the first time in 2014.

Ok, it sounds like you expect more Penske and Ganassi domination?

That would be correct.

For championship purposes, Castroneves and Power need to assure itself of good finishes, particularly in relation to Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud. Team Ganassi has no such concerns.

So, I’m looking Dixon to get back to his winning ways this weekend at his favorite track. Yes, the Kiwi scores the first win of 2014 for both him and Team Ganassi.

Brian Carroccio is a columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at
BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.

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