By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The show will indeed go on at Mid-Ohio as the latest doubleheader weekend kicks off the final leg of the NTT IndyCar Series championship trail.
Although Scott Dixon, the master of Lexington with six wins to his name, has the 96-point championship lead under control. It’s far from over and that’s what you’ll get from him because one bad weekend could change everything and that’s when Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward come into the mix.
Fresh off a win from the second Gateway race, much needed momentum is what Newgarden has, but the only problem he’ll face is that Team Penske hasn’t had much success on the road courses this season. Whether its strategy woes or outright pace, this weekend might be the deal breaker if Newgarden has a shot for back-to-back titles as the remaining races are road or street circuits.
As for O’Ward, we’ve seen what he’s capable of this season and there’s a great chance that this weekend is the time of him becoming the first driver from Mexico since Adrian Fernandez in 2004 taking the top step of the podium. After three chances of being denied of victory, the Arrow McLaren SP racer will be as determined to fight for the win.
One name that hasn’t been mentioned, but shouldn’t be counted out is Dixon’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist. He was that close of getting his maiden victory last year. Aside of eventually getting his maiden win at the second Road America race, it hasn’t been a great 2020 campaign, with just three top-10s finishes all year, Mid-Ohio could be a solid weekend for the sophomore racer.
All that’s certain is that two races at a fan favorite circuit that was meant to commence in August before being postponed due to the pandemic will be quite the show. Yes, there hasn’t been a caution since 2017, but it doesn’t mean the action will be lacking.
By the Numbers
What: Honda Indy 200s, NTT IndyCar Series Races No. 10 & 11
Where: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – Lexington, OH (Opened: 1962, first INDYCAR event was 1980)
When: Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13
TV/Radio: NBCSN 4:30 p.m. ET (Saturday) & 1:00 p.m. ET (Sunday) / Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 205)
Track Size: 2.258-mile road course
Race Length: 75 laps, 169.35 miles
2019 Race Winner: Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started eighth, 38 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Simon Pagenaud – No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet (63.8700 seconds, 127.271 mph – July 30, 2016)
From the Driver’s Seat
Graham Rahal – No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
“I’m excited to get back home. It’s going to be very physical. I think everybody expects that it’s going to be a tough weekend for all of us, but I feel good about my physical condition. I am excited to continue on down this path and get back to racing.
Clearly having a doubleheader at home is always going to be fun for me. I’m looking forward to that challenge. We have been competitive pretty much everywhere with the exception of the short ovals, where we struggled. I’m pleased with what I’ve seen on road courses. I think the guys have done an amazing job, but we’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep pushing to try to improve a little bit further.”
Rinus VeeKay – No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
“I’m really looking forward to Mid-Ohio. Of course it’s a track where I’ve never finished off the podium in my whole Road to Indy. It’s quite a track. I love it there, and yeah, finally after a long time of ovals, we go to a road course again. Really enjoy the ovals, but yeah, I’m looking forward to turning right this weekend.
“I’ve had a very important test with Ed Carpenter Racing at Mid-Ohio, so yeah, good memories.”
Last Time at Mid-Ohio
One of the best race winning battles from last year’s IndyCar campaign took place at Mid-Ohio. In the closing laps, the battle came down to Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist.
Lap traffic certainly played a massive role for Rosenqvist to catch Dixon, who had the race in control despite starting from the eighth position. Rosenqvist had little issues getting by lapped traffic and coming to the white flag, he was right on the back of Dixon and without any team control, the chase was on.
Rosenqvist made his first move on the top but the two made contact, but both saved it. The same cannot be said for the battle for third as Newgarden drove the wheels off to pull a bold move on Ryan Hunter-Reay, but it backfired and ended up into the kitty litter. An angry Newgarden wound up 14th which turned out to be one of only three finishes outside the top-10.
“I just forced the issue. I was trying to get on the podium there. I got into the side of Ryan, looped it around and lost power,” Newgarden on the last lap incident. “It was my fault trying to force the issue. I wish I could’ve kept the engine running. That was the big thing.”
Back up front, Dixon was still in command but Rosenqvist made one last ditch effort to get his maiden win but ran out of time as Dixon captured his second and final win of 2019.
Dixon said that scoring the win was a huge sigh of relief because his red Firestone alternate tires were completely worn out that his No. 9 team would’ve been better off going with the black primaries. However, he did give credit where its due to his Ganassi teammate for the hard fought battle.
“Had gone to the black tires, we would have maintained our eight- or ten-second gap, but it definitely made it exciting for me and I’m sure everybody else. And huge respect for Felix. He drove clean, and ultimately, I don’t know, it was going to be hard for any car to come past, even though we were about three seconds slower a lap than anyone else.”
Although Rosenqvist’s maiden victory would have to wait until this season at the second Road America race where he got by O’Ward with just two laps to go, he had a blast battling with Dixon.
“The last lap, I think everyone really enjoyed that. We were enjoying it,” said Rosenqvist. “We were banging wheels in Turn 2 there, (it) was a bit exciting. But Scott is always going to fight you hard, but fair, and I think I did the same, and maybe one more lap we could have got him. But yeah, it was awesome.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, September 12
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice (10:45 a.m. to Noon – NBC Sports Gold)
- NTT IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 Race No. 1 Qualifying (2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. – NBC Sports Gold)
- NTT IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 Race No. 1 (4:30 p.m. – 75 laps, 169.35 miles – NBCSN)
Sunday, September 13
- NTT IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 Race No. 2 Qualifying (10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. – NBC Sports Gold)
- NTT IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 Race No. 2 (1:00 p.m. – 75 laps, 169.35 miles – NBCSN)