MidOAnalysis

IndyCar: Mid-Ohio weekend analysis, musings, and observations

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – The first race in the “final four” for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is in the books. Round 15 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course featured some surprises and ultimately a rare performance for 2014: a Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing victory. Here’s the weekend summation:

  • When do they rename the joint Mid-Ohio Scott Dixon Wins, Of Course? ‘Ol “Scotty Dog” has had a tough season in defense of his 2013 championship, not really through any fault of his own but more due to an ever so slight performance gap that the Chip Ganassi Racing team has spent the entirety of the year trying to catch up. But Sunday? Yeah, he needed strategy to get to the lead but once he got there, Dixon had the speed to burn to ultimately pull away from Sebastien Bourdais and James Hinchcliffe in the final stages. All while saving fuel. As Hinchcliffe said when asked what he thought of Mid-Ohio, it was, “Scott Dixon winning… Scott Dixon winning… Scott Dixon winning again… yep, Scott Dixon won again.” Sunday’s win was Dixon’s fifth in eight years (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014), coming with the old car, the new car, and both engine manufacturers (Honda, Chevrolet) for the new car.
  • Could Dixon steal the title? The short answer is no. The longer answer is very slightly still possible. With his win and Helio Castroneves finishing 19th, Dixon gained 42 points on the Brazilian this race, and he also gained 25 on Will Power. So with three races remaining, Dixon is 108 points behind new leader Power, and with a double-points finale at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana he still has a mathematical chance (wins pay 100 points and a gain of 88 points from first to 22nd is possible). But in sixth, he’ll need to win the next two races and hope the five ahead of him have an avalanche of bad luck in order to have a realistic one.
  • Newgy’s bitter luck strikes again: What can you do when your team lets you down? Grin, bear it and take it like a pro, or break down and lose it. Fortunately Josef Newgarden chose the former after his bitter disappointment on Sunday.
  • Rain reigns… just like it has most of this year: Rain again made for an abnormal flow to the race weekend. It’s affected a wealth of races this year – Mid-Ohio was just the latest – and a funky qualifying session saw teams gamble depending on the weather conditions. The debate rages over Firestone’s new wet weather tire, which has been a subject of controversy in the paddock of late. There’s also a debate as to whether yours truly holds the “championship belt” for rain delays… actually there’s little debate on that (it’s an inside joke run amuck, that’s been particularly pertinent this season).
  • Championship fight on the back burner: Power took the lead from Castroneves, but none of the title contenders ended in the top five. Ryan Hunter-Reay had a miserable day and Simon Pagenaud was anonymous all weekend, surprisingly; the Frenchman started and finished ninth. Does anyone want this championship?
  • Underrated, great run from Graham Rahal: Perhaps overlooked but turning in one of his most impressive performances of the season was Graham Rahal in the No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda, at his home race. Rahal – who could have podiums at both Houston races and also ran well at Iowa and Toronto before falling back – qualified seventh, consistently ran within the top five all day and ended fifth. Believe it or not this was only Rahal’s second top-five of the season, but was a big confidence booster heading into the final three races.
  • Similar story for Carlos Munoz: The Colombian rookie made his first Firestone Fast Six in the No. 34 Cinsay/AndrettiTV.com Honda and posted his best result since Pocono with fourth place on Sunday. Munoz hadn’t finished in the top five on a road or street circuit since Houston Race 1, when he finished third behind countrymen Carlos Huertas and Juan Pablo Montoya.
  • Two cautions, thus two more than in the last two years: The first lap caution and the second caution for Hunter-Reay’s spin made it two cautions in Sunday’s race – which is two more than the Verizon IndyCar Series produced the last two years this race. Both the 2012 and 2013 races went caution-free.
  • Silly season, schedule on the back burner: In recent years you’d have figured silly season and schedule talk would be emerging, but not right now. The condensed schedule means most focus will be on the championship chase over this month, and then everything else – all the lingering questions – will be addressed later.
  • Coffee shortage: This one had nothing to do with the on-track action, but more the internals in the media center. Coffee was hard to find this weekend, unless you went by Honda, in which case the coffee was awesome as ever at its home race. Sadly, a win was as elusive for Honda as coffee was for the rest of us media folks outside their hospitality – Chevrolet won its third straight race at a Honda-sponsored event (Chevrolet swept the Honda Indy 2 in Toronto; this was the Honda Indy 200).

That’s all from Mid-Ohio for me. My home race of Milwaukee occurs in two weeks, and you can bet we’ll have a wealth of coverage leading into the ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers on August 17 on MotorSportsTalk.

Rosberg ready for close fight with Red Bull in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a close fight with Red Bull in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after Daniel Ricciardo dominated practice on Thursday.

Ricciardo finished six-tenths of a second clear of the field on the ultra-soft tire in FP2, making the most of the upgraded Renault power unit in his RB12 car.

Mercedes’ Rosberg arrived in Monaco as the championship leader and chasing a fourth straight win around the streets where he grew up.

“It’s great to be back on the streets of my home town here in Monaco, and also to see all the fans so close to us as we’re on track,” Rosberg said on Thursday after finishing third in FP2.

“It was a tricky start in to the weekend for us, though. The sessions were a bit messy, with quite a few Virtual Safety Car periods – but I was able to learn a lot on the longer runs we managed to do which was a positive. A big applause for all of the circuit marshals, who did a great job as always to clear the cars quickly.”

Rosberg was not surprised by Red Bull’s practice pace, believing it will create a close fight for pole position on Saturday before Sunday’s race.

“As expected, Red Bull look very strong here,” Rosberg said.

“We have some more homework to do during tonight and tomorrow to find some time – but I can’t wait for Saturday and the qualifying battle.

“It should be very close and very exciting, which is great for the sport.”

Indy Carb Day rolling notebook

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Rutherford's final laps. Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – Ah, Carb Day. A busy and crazy day of action that is so much bigger than just the final hour of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

It’ll be easier to round up all that’s happened to this point in chronological order, so we’ll do that below:

PRE-PRACTICE

8:00 a.m. ET: Historic cars took the track for laps. Pictures are better than words here, so here’s a taste of what was out.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

9:00 a.m. ET: The new Tatuus USF-17 car, the new car for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2017 and the base model for the eventual new Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires car, the PM-18 in 2018, was unveiled on the IMS Pagoda Plaza. A link to that release is here. More information will follow in the days to come. Additionally, the first race driver for that car has been confirmed in Dutchman Rinus VK.

9:30 a.m. ET: Honda has spoken. Sort of. After its particularly strong start to the month, Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr held court with the media at the HPD hospitality transporter. While St. Cyr noted the hard work that has gone into the month, nothing is satisfying unless Honda can actually win on Sunday.

Said St. Cyr, “I wouldn’t call it redemption. I would say we’ve had to work harder to catch up. To win the 100th is what we’re shooting for.”

10 a.m. ET: Chip was on the bricks. But on the infield side, not the track side. Chip Ganassi did his annual holding court with the media there.

10:15 a.m. ET: The field of 33 posed for their annual class photo. All but one was on time, with Alex Tagliani casually late to temporarily halt the proceedings. A round of applause and laughter occurred when Tagliani arrived. He’ll start 33rd and last on Sunday in the No. 35 Alfe Heat Treating Honda for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

10:35 a.m. ET: Sam Schmidt took laps in his modified ARROW Electronics Corvette, ahead of the Carb Day practice. It was cool to witness it again.

10:45 a.m. ET: Johnny Rutherford took laps in the 2017 Camaro SS 50th Anniversary Edition with a tribute lap ahead of the practice session. He’ll retire from being the pace car driver after this year’s Indianapolis 500.

10:50 a.m. ET: Two quick awards and other notes from pit lane before the session. The annual Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations went to Honda PR aces T.E. McHale and Dan Layton, while Dale Coyne Racing’s Tim Whiting won the Clint Brawner Award, an honor for chief mechanics.

Among those present on pit lane are a couple of Gateway Motorsports Park officials, who are exploring the weekend. The track has expressed interest in a potential return for a Verizon IndyCar Series race in 2017, and the track was rumored as a last-ditch, eleventh hour replacement for Boston.

FINAL PRACTICE

11:00 a.m.: Final practice began with ambient temperatures of 76 degrees and track temperatures of 92 degrees Fahrenheit, per Firestone Racing. Only a half hour earlier the temperatures were 73 and 84.

Oil on the track caused a delay in the session and an early yellow flag. INDYCAR officials would add 10 minutes to the session, originally scheduled to end at noon, to now end it at 12:10 p.m. ET.

Per NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis, Marco Andretti lost time as the team changed steering arms. Meanwhile fellow NBCSN reporter Katie Hargitt also reported Conor Daly was back on track Friday after gearbox issues earlier in the week.

Just at 11:45 a.m., Pippa Mann crashed out of Turn 4. The driver of the No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda lost control through Turn 4 and had a mix of right rear and left front damage. It will force the Dale Coyne Racing crew to scramble to make repairs. She was checked, cleared and released from the infield care center.

More to follow as the day progresses.

Kaltenborn confident of resolution to Sauber’s financial struggles

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Felipe Nasr of Brazil driving the (12) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Sauber Formula 1 chief Monisha Kaltenborn is confident that the team’s ongoing financial struggles can be resolved in the near future.

The past couple of years have seen Sauber face an uncertain future due to its ongoing financial problems, with staff facing a delay in payment earlier this year.

The team failed to attend the recent test following the Spanish Grand Prix, sparking further concerns, but Kaltenborn is hopeful that a resolution can be found soon.

“Yes, we have certain challenges and we are working very hard to overcome the situation and I’m confident that we’ll resolve it shortly,” Kaltenborn said.

“We are working on that since a while now and we also know that we need that. If you look at today’s Formula 1 environment to be strong as an independent team you need to have a strong partners.

“So we have always been open to that and now we are pursuing our chances and we hope to resolve that soon.”

Kaltenborn elaborated on the challenge facing Sauber at the moment, saying how F1 has become more difficult for independent teams in recent years.

“I think Formula 1 has changed a lot,” she said.

“If you look at the times when Peter Sauber was team principal and I wouldn’t take the time when he returned as team principal in 2010 to the sport, but if I look at the time before, it was a very different sport and a very different kind of business with a very different financial set-up and sporting set-up.

“So I don’t think you can really compare the times. Challenges for private teams like ours have become bigger, year-by-year, particularly also due to the rule changes which have made things in the last few years far more expensive, if you look at the power train itself but also with regard to the distribution of income.

“There was a time when teams were not getting 50 per cent but even less, but yet the economic environment was much better, where you could get far more sponsors.

“So I don’t think it’s really that easy to compare the times, it doesn’t just have to do with people or the situation within the team, but the overall surroundings we were in.”

Dutchman Rinus VK is first confirmed driver for new USF-17

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Photo: Rinus VK Racing
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You saw the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis get unveiled this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now meet the first driver.

Dutchman Rinus VK (Van Kalmthout) will step into the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series next year. He tested last November at Circuit of The Americas.

The full release is below:

Dutch karting sensation Rinus VK announced today that he will be making the move to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2017. The 15-year old made the announcement at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway in conjunction with the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 car, which will be introduced for the 2017 USF2000 season.

IMG_0368_BLK“I am so excited about coming to the U.S. and racing in USF2000 next year,” commented the teenager, who is also on Holland’s premier driver development program called KNAF Talent First. “Every time I’ve come to the U.S., I love it more and more, and I think moving to the Mazda Road to Indy is the perfect step for me. The INDYCAR ladder is definitely the right place to be.”

2017 will not only be Rinus’ first season racing in the U.S., it will also be his first season of open-wheel racing. He does however have extensive karting experience competing in the North American based U.S. Rotax Max Challenge, and also sampled two USF2000 cars last year at the Circuit of the Americas during the Chris Griffis Memorial test, where he posted the third fastest time overall.

Rinus will spend the next few months racing in the European Karting Championships, which will be followed by off-season testing in the new Tatuus USF-17, which he hopes to kick off in early October. Rinus plans to test with several teams to figure out where the best home for him will be for the 2017 season.

“I’m looking forward to starting testing,” said Rinus, who finished runner-up in both the European and U.S. Rotax Max Senior Championships last year. “I know the level next year will be very strong with the new car, so I want to test with as many teams as possible to learn about them and learn about the car.”