By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Seven races are left in this season’s NTT IndyCar Series campaign with the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course being this weekend’s stop.
Among the field of 26, four notable drivers stand out with two returning from injuries. On Tuesday, Felix Rosenqvist was cleared to drive his No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet after missing the last two races. A day later, Rinus VeeKay got the okay to drive the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.
Santino Ferrucci will also make another appearance in the No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Fresh off his NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono last Sunday, Mid-Ohio will be his fourth IndyCar race of the season.
Finally, Indy Lights alumni Ryan Norman will make his IndyCar debut. He’ll pilot the No. 52 Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Honda that recently scored a top-20 finish at Road America.
In the time since he last competed in Indy Lights two years ago, Norman has spent time competing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Highlighted with a championship last year and multiple victories for Bryan Herta Autosport.
“My goal throughout my whole racing career has been to become an NTT IndyCar Series driver,” said Norman in a press release. “So many years of hard work and sacrifices have finally paid off and I want to thank Dale Coyne for giving me a shot to show what I can do in the series.
“It’s an honor to be able to drive for DCR. They have shown over the years that they have created a great competitive program and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together. I’m more prepared than ever before to show that I belong in IndyCar and can fight for podiums and wins. It’s time to get to work!”
As far as the championship is concerned, it appears to be a three-man battle between Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon. Each looking to have a strong showing to further separate themselves from the pack.
One team absent in the title mix is Team Penske, who are still looking for their first win of the season.
Josef Newgarden has come close twice towards victory, but no cigar. In 10 Mid-Ohio starts, Newgarden won in 2017, but aside from another podium in Race No. 1 last year, he’s had results that weren’t ideal. Time will tell if any sense of urgency kicks into high gear and see Newgarden deliver big in Lexington.
No matter what, each driver are eager to finish the Honda Indy 200 on a high note before the near month-long break that lies ahead.
By the Numbers
What: Honda Indy 200, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 10 of 16
Where: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – Lexington, Ohio (Opened: 1962; First INDYCAR Race: 1980)
When: Sunday, July 4, 2021
TV/Radio: NBC Noon ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211) 11:30 a.m. ET
Track Size: 2.258-mile road course
Race Length: 80 laps, 180.64 miles
2020 Race Winners: Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started first, 66 laps led) (Race No. 1) & Colton Herta – No. 88 Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Honda (Started first, 57 laps led) (Race No. 2)
Track Qualifying Record: Simon Pagenaud – No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet (1:03.8700, 127.271 mph – July 30, 2016)
From the Driver’s Seat
Colton Herta – No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda
“This is a very interesting race. I think split strategies mostly between a three-stopper and a two-stopper in the past. You kind of need to be able to be really fast in the race to make a two-stopper work, but you also have to be really fast to make a three-stopper work.
“We need a good race car, which obviously we had last year. I think we’ve seen it’s difficult to pass at this place. Starting up near the front helps for sure. It’s less variables. You don’t have to pass guys. You’re not giving yourself crossovers in the pits where something might happen there.
“So qualifying is going to be a big key to a good race. If you can kind of start up near the front, it will make your day a whole lot easier.”
Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to Mid-Ohio. It’s a track that I love. It’s a really good racetrack for INDYCARs, and they always put on a good show there.
“It’s going to be an amazing weekend. I’m sure it’s going to be hectic and there’s going to be a lot of people there, so I can’t wait for that.”
Last Time at Mid-Ohio
Mid-Ohio had two races last season with one central theme defining the doubleheader. If you’re leading the field to the green flag, it’s gonna be tough for the competitors rivaling the front runner.
Will Power, who wasn’t having the greatest season, scored the much encouraging triumph in Race No. 1. Not only he got the monkey off his back, he did it convincingly. Beating the likes of Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi.
As the laps wind down, the clouds became darker but the field didn’t have to put up with such hurdle.
“This is probably the first race in 10 years that I’ve just gone hard the whole time. So many other races, we try and save fuel and play the strategy game, and a lot of times it just doesn’t work out,” said Power after the race.
“Today, we said, ‘Let’s just go hard.’
“We said let’s just go hard and use my race pace and see what happens – and we won the race. This was just a race to put down good laps after good laps. It was just a flawless day and a flawless race. The whole Verizon team did a great job. It’s great to see Verizon in Victory Lane again, because it’s been awhile. It’s also great to finally win at Mid-Ohio – I’m over the moon about that.”
In Race No. 2, chaos ensued on the opening lap when Santino Ferrucci hit some of the grass while battling pole sitter Colton Herta.
Ferrucci merged back at an awful time as he collected Felix Rosenqvist and Alex Palou. This brought out the full course caution immediately and ended Rosenqvist’s day.
Herta said he tried giving Ferrucci some room which didn’t really occur. It left Herta no other choice but play some driver tactics.
“He was on the outside, and I got halfway in front of him, so that was my corner at that point,” Herta explained. “I tried to leave him as much room as I could, and he just wanted to stick on the outside. So, I had to push him off.”
Scott Dixon didn’t have the greatest day at Mid-Ohio. He lost it in Turn 1 on Lap 22 that kept him from scoring a top-10 result.
Meanwhile, Herta was able to win from the pole to score his lone win of 2020 over Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. As stated in victory lane, things finally went his way after races of shortcomings.
“We’ve been knocking on the door almost every weekend. We’ve had the pace. But for some reason or another, one thing has gone wrong or this thing has gone wrong. We finally put everything together,” said Herta.
“We got the pole this morning, had a stellar car. Everybody on the Capstone Turbine crew gave me an incredible car. Honda-Andretti 1-2-3, so happy to be powered by Honda, too.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, July 2
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, July 3
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (9:05 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. – Peacock (Live)/NBCSN (8:00 p.m.))
- NTT IndyCar Series Final Practice (3:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. – Peacock)
- Indy Lights Race No. 1 (4:20 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, July 4
- Indy Lights Race No. 2 (9:50 a.m. – Peacock)
- Honda Indy 200 (12:00 p.m. – 80 laps/180.64 miles – NBC)