After the Verizon IndyCar Series’ trip north of the border to Canada a couple weeks ago for the Honda Indy Toronto, another Honda Indy follows this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in the form of the Honda Indy 200 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, CNBC with re-air 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
Traditionally the stomping ground of Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal scored a well-judged win there last year following a caution that shook up the order.
But all eyes will be on the Team Penske title tilt between Will Power and Simon Pagenaud at a track where, hard as this is to believe, neither has won in an IndyCar. And it’s also at a place where Team Penske hasn’t won since 2008 (Ryan Briscoe); instead, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams reeled off six wins in a row from 2009 to 2014 before Rahal’s victory last year.
Here’s some of the talking points going into the weekend:
2016 Honda Indy 200 – Talking Points
Power vs. Pagenaud, again
Simon Pagenaud’s points lead shrunk below 50 points leaving Toronto for the first time since Barber Motorsports Park more than three months ago – after Round 4 of the season, Pagenaud led Dixon by 48 points.
Here’s been his points gap to second, since:
- Angie’s List GP: 76 points to Scott Dixon (242-166)
- Indianapolis 500: 57 points to Dixon (292-235)
- Detroit 1: 59 to Helio Castroneves (313-254)
- Detroit 2: 80 to Dixon (357-277)
- Road America: 74 to Castroneves (375-301)
- Iowa: 73 to Josef Newgarden (409-336)
- Toronto: 47 to Will Power (432-385)
Now, with five races remaining (four full races and the Texas resumption), Pagenaud’s lead is at 47 points over Will Power, who’s gained 90 points on Pagenaud in the last six completed races.
Power has the momentum but he’s yet to tick the Mid-Ohio win box. His best finish is second, twice, in 2010 and 2012.
Same story applies for Pagenaud, who has won at the track in other series (American Le Mans Series, 2009) but has three non-win podiums in five prior IndyCar starts.
Both drivers have three wins this year and if either gets to their fourth, it could put them in a potentially upper hand in the title fight.
Dixon’s last stand, now for Target?
After getting caught out by an ill-timed yellow in Toronto, renowned Mid-Ohio master Dixon – a five-time race winner – sits 83 points back of Pagenaud with just the five races to go. He’d have to gain an average of 16.6 points on Pagenaud over the final five races to overcome that gap, plus climb over not just the title leader but his two teammates, Power and Helio Castroneves, ahead of him.
It’s certainly not impossible and after his 40-plus point, one-race turnaround to steal last year’s title in Sonoma, he can’t be ruled out. But much the same as last year, when we wrote Dixon needed a big Mid-Ohio result (where he ultimately gained 14 points on Juan Pablo Montoya) to complete a title comeback, he’ll need an encore or close this year – especially following Wednesday’s news that this will be his last season driving a Target-sponsored car.
Rahal, and Honda, needing a rebound
A myriad of issues, many outside of Graham Rahal’s control, have left the defending Mid-Ohio race winner 11th in points heading into this weekend. It’s a bit of a misnomer because he and the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake RLL Racing Honda team have run better than that this year, but the results read like a roller coaster: 16, 5, 15, 2, 4, 14, 4, 11, 3, 16 and 13.
Rahal scored a famous win at his home race a year ago and will look for an encore this time around.
Meanwhile Honda has won only once this year, at the Indianapolis 500, and will be desperate to not let another win slip away at a race it sponsors. Barring a strategy play to help get them back in contention, it might be a tough weekend for them at their home race.
Montoya seeks to break results drought
Passion isn’t the question for Juan Pablo Montoya even though he’s gone through a rough patch results-wise at the moment, with three 20th place finishes in his last four starts.
Montoya’s generally done better at Mid-Ohio than at other permanent road courses since his IndyCar return. He probably could have won last year had he not been caught out on a yellow, ultimately falling to 11th, and at Road America he engaged in an epic scrap with Josef Newgarden for seventh.
“Mid-Ohio… we really qualified well there last year,” Montoya told NBC Sports. “I’m hoping… we qualify well there and we race well there again this year. If find some more things in the package, we can turn this run around.”
Enerson’s debut and others who need a standout run
A new face will make his debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend, as RC Enerson steps into the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Enerson really could surprise and in terms of realistic targets, a qualifying run in the 17th to 19th range and finish in the 12th to 16th bracket would be an excellent job done – anything beyond that is a bonus. The 19-year-old from New Port Richey, Fla. is vastly experienced at Mid-Ohio and has past wins there in both USF2000 and Indy Lights.
As for others who could use a result?
- Rookie Max Chilton hasn’t finished better than 18th in the last five races. He’s not been that bad, but a couple tough moments and one or two mistakes has dropped him back.
- Same story for Jack Hawksworth, who lost a potential top-10 at Toronto after reported late race contact from Simon Pagenaud at Turn 5. Outside of two 11th place finishes, Hawksworth has been 15th or worse every other race, and that hasn’t belied his practice pace.
- Conor Daly’s Mid-Ohio race debut will come at long last, and he was poised for a top-10 at Road America before his rear wishbone failure. He’s due to snap a tough run his last three races.
The final word
From Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet: “This team obviously has a strong history at Mid-Ohio and it’s a really good feeling to be able to come into a race weekend knowing that this team knows how to get it done here. It’s a difficult road course with the passing opportunities being so limited, but the atmosphere is always so great. You can just tell that the Mid-Ohio fans really love the shows we put on for them.”
Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:
At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, July 29
10 – 11:15 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 – 3:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, NBCSN (Live)
Saturday, July 30
9:45 – 10:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (Live)
Sunday, July 31
10:15 – 10:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:58 p.m. – Driver Introductions
2:38 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
2:45 p.m. – The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (90 laps/203.22 miles), CNBC (Live); re-air at5:30 on NBCSN
Here’s last year’s top 10:
1. Graham Rahal
2. Justin Wilson
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Scott Dixon (pole)
5. Tony Kanaan
6. Tristan Vautier
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay
8. Jack Hawksworth
9. Carlos Munoz
10. Marco Andretti
Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:
1. Scott Dixon
2. Will Power
3. Sebastien Bourdais
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Josef Newgarden
6. Charlie Kimball