Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mid-Ohio Preview


Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, much like Watkins Glen, is steeped in racing history. The course was built in 1962 and has been the site of numerous karting, sports car, and open wheel events. Most of the racing at Mid-Ohio is sports car and motorcycle racing. Most notibly, the SCCA Runoffs were held at Mid-Ohio for 11 years between 1994 and 2005 before moving to Heartland Park in Topeka. IndyCar racing first appeared at Mid-Ohio in the CART days of 1982 through 2003 when the infamous Paul Tracy won from the pole on his way to the 2003 CART championship. The IRL returned open-wheel racing to the venue last year as a package weekend with the American Le Mans Series and the Speed World Challenge series. The same pairing of events is scheduled for this year as well. One unique feature about Mid-Ohio course is that the race start happens on the longer back stretch so there's less congestion and less carnage in the first turn after the green flag. That didn't work exactly as planned in 2007.

Mid-Ohio Track Map

Last Year:

Not surprisingly, Helio Castroneves set the pole at last year's inaugural (although, not really the first IndyCar race here) Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by Westfield Insurance with a lap time of 1:06.8375 sec. Yes, I know that its typical in the IndyCar Series for the lap speed to be displayed rather than lap time, but whereas that's fine for an oval, its not meaningful for a road course. Lap time is better, trust me. However, once the race started chaos ensued. Danica Patrick was slow, perhaps on her own, perhaps because of the pace car. The debate still goes on, but the results were catastrophic for Team AGR. Tony Kannan slammed on the brakes to avoid running into the back of Danica who had to cut through the China Beach section of the track. When TK hit the brakes, he started to spin and collided with Marco Andretti. When Marco's car came to a stop, it was upside down. Both Tony and Danica would recover to finish 4th and 5th, respectively. Marco, obviously, was finished for the day. Dario Franchitti avoided the mayhem and he and Scott Dixon proceeded to run away from the field and have their own private battle as they'd had all year long. Dixon would win out in the end, with Dario trailing by just under three seconds. Helio rounded out the top three.

Last year was also the first race for Rahal Letterman Racing's new driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ryan did very well for his first time out in the car finishing the race in seventh. There are still some harsh feelings toward RLR amongst the fandom for how their previous driver, Jeff Simmons, was released. Jeff was at the track with his motorhome set up for the weekend when he receieved a phone call with the bad news. Jeff will return this weekend to the Mid-Ohio venue to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights races on Saturday and Sunday.

What to Watch:

As with any road course, passing takes some planning. Drivers won't be able to pass just anywhere on the track. Look for prime passing opportunities at the entrance to T2, the Keyhole, and at the entrance to the esses in T4. The straight along Thunder Alley after the esses has the potential to provide a good braking zone as drivers go into the Carousel, but it depends upon whether the drivers can make a two-wide run through T11.

Weather will be something to watch throughout the weekend. Right now, there's a 25% chance of rain on both Saturday and Sunday. Unlike an oval race, rain will not halt a road race. Remember the St. Petersburg Grand Prix from earlier this year? Racing in the wet is not something that many of the existing IndyCar drivers have done a lot of recently. The new drivers to the series coming over from ChampCar have a lot more recent experience. If the track becomes wet, expect to see the new and old drivers much more mixed up in the standings than they've been previously. Especially be on the lookout for Justin Wilson and Oriol Servia. If the track remains dry, expect those teams most experienced with the Dallara to remain up front. It will likely be a scrap between Dixon, Briscoe, Helio, TK, and RHR. For the latest in race weather, check out the weather blog by fellow IndyCar Garage member, Cassie.

If you've never watched the Firestone Indy Lights races, this would be a great event to watch for your first time. The FIL cars will actually run two races over the weekend. The first on Saturday at 5:25pm EDT and the second on Sunday at 10:35am EDT. Unfortunately, these events aren't shown on ESPN until Thursday afternoon, but you can go to the website and catch the live video stream and radio broadcast. Last year, Richard Antinucci won here inspite of Alex Lloyd taking the pole. Antinucci is now in Lloyd's #7 Lucas Oil car for Sam Schmidt Racing. Antinucci will have strong competition from last years Atlantics champion, Raphael Matos. The two drivers are separated by only 15 points in the standings, with Richard on top. However, the two young men had better keep an eye out for Antinucci's teammate, Ana Beatriz. Ana scored her first win, and the first win for any female driver, in the Indy Lights series at Nashville last weekend. In truth, this should have been her second win as she was leading the St. Petersburg GP when her teammate got into the back of her and spun her out in T1. With the confidence and momentum of her first win, look for Ana to be very strong this weekend.

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