By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Setting up a car for a road course like Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course can be a challenge. Getting the setup right can pay dividends, as Scott Dixon has shown by winning at the track five times during his Indy car racing career.
Since 2015, Chris Simmons has been Dixon’s race engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing. In that time, the pair have one pole and a best finish of fourth place on the 2.258 mile road course. To get Dixon his sixth win at Mid-Ohio will require some great setup work by Simmons heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy 200.
“The first thing is Mid-Ohio is a unique surface,” said Simmons. “It’s a lot more polished, a lot lower grit. If you think of sandpaper, it’s a lot lower grit than a lot of the tracks we go to. It picks up a lot of grip as it rubbers up, the track changes a lot from first practice to qualifying and then even more throughout the race so it’s a challenging track from that perspective.”
A lap around Mid-Ohio starts with the fast left hander at Turn 1 before a straight that goes uphill in segments. Turn 2 (The Keyhole) is next; a gradually downhill right hand hairpin leading onto the back straight before the next complex of corners from Turn 4 to Turn 9.
The track goes uphill through Turn 5 (left hander), downhill again through Turn 6 (right hander) and then uphill again through Turn 7 (left hander) . After Turn 9 there is a bit of a drop but that’s the toughest part of the track.
“It’s important to deal with that elevation,” said Simmons. “Particularly in practice and qualifying with the alternate start/finish line being right after a jump almost coming over the top going through Thunder Valley. It’s critical to be able to start your lap fast going through there.
“It’s real important there and Turn 4-5 area and then coming around 6-7 there’s a lot more elevation change than you really see on television there so it’s critical, the car’s performance around Mid-Ohio.”
After Turn 9 there is another right hander before the fast left hander at Turn 11. That turn is critical for ending the lap especially in practice and qualifying.
Many different tire compounds will be on the track surface by the end of the weekend. The Road to Indy races on Coopers, Mazda MX-5 Cup races on BF Goodrich while the NTT IndyCar Series is on Firestone. The Indy cars will be fastest with the most rubber down on the track since the surface rubbers up quite well but one thing can throw a wrench into everything. Rain.
“Rain at Mid-Ohio is a big headache,” said Simmons. “Because that’s one problem with having a track that is super smooth like that, when it gets wet it’s really slippery. Rain is usually not very fun for the drivers and engineers. It can be fun to watch as long as there aren’t too many yellows but it’s certainly a super slippery track in the rain, very challenging.”
The Honda Indy 200 is Sunday July 28th at 4:00 p.m. ET. Below is a video of the track walk from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship weekend back in May so you can see the elevation changes.