IndyCar: A crucial weekend to commence at Mid-Ohio

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This weekend’s Honda Indy 200 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) will go a long ways to determining the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

With just four races remaining, the top four drivers in the standings are within 71 points. Helio Castroneves leads Will Power by 13 points, with Ryan Hunter-Reay third at 69 behind and Simon Pagenaud fourth, 71 back.

Interestingly, Castroneves is the only one of that quartet who has won at Mid-Ohio in an IndyCar. The Brazilian won back-to-back in 2000 and 2001.

The other three have Mid-Ohio podiums, but are yet to win. Power has been second in 2010 and 2012; Hunter-Reay third in 2003 and 2011 and Pagenaud third in 2012 and second a year ago.

If any of these four win, they’ll break the streak currently held by Chip Ganassi Racing – which has won the last five races running at Mid-Ohio.

CGR is in the unusual position at Mid-Ohio where none of its four drivers are in realistic championship contention. Scott Dixon ranks best of the quartet in sixth, but 146 points back of Castroneves.

So if CGR makes it a six-pack – with either Dixon, defending race winner Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan or Ryan Briscoe – they’ll be doing damage in the standings by taking points away from any of the key title contenders.

Realistically, Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud need to make some headway in points this weekend before the final three races occur in weekly succession.

Hunter-Reay must be considered favorite at Milwaukee IndyFest in two weeks, where he has won the last two weeks in a row; that’s also traditionally been a Castroneves bogey track.

But for this weekend, seeing the ebb and flow between the title contenders and the Ganassi quartet will be the most interesting thing to watch.

It’s worth watching the progress of drivers like James Hinchcliffe, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden this weekend as well. None have won this year but this group of drivers tend to run stronger on the permanent road courses compared to the temporary street courses. Consider them your top sleepers this weekend.

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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