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

Leave a comment

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.

Mercedes set to clinch F1 constructors’ championship in Russia

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 08:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP speaks with members of the media in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 8, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

For the second year in a row, Mercedes is poised to wrap up the Formula 1 constructors’ championship in Sochi at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes won its first F1 teams’ title in Russia last year, having returned to the sport as a works constructor in 2010. When it last enjoyed such status in the 1950s, there was no championship for the teams.

Just as it did in 2014, Mercedes has dominated proceedings in F1 this season, winning all but three races and sweeping to eight one-two finishes to leave drivers Lewis Hamilton (pictured) and Nico Rosberg battling for the drivers’ title for the second straight year.

Now, Mercedes seeks the knock-out blow in the constructors’ title race by officially wrapping it up in Sochi this weekend.

To do so, the team must simply outscore rivals Ferrari by three points this weekend. The lead currently stands at 169 points, with 215 still on offer. After Sochi, there will be 172 remaining.

“We return to Russia with positive memories from last season, when the team sealed the first constructors’ title for Mercedes-Benz with a one-two finish,” team boss Toto Wolff said.

“A repeat performance in Sochi would be fantastic and this is absolutely the target – but we are under no illusions that it will come easy. The job is not done yet.”

The tire allocation for this weekend’s race could pose problems to Mercedes just as it did in Singapore, potentially allowing Ferrari to spoil the party and delay the victory celebrations at Brackley.

However, if the form book is to be trusted, Sochi could be playing host to another Mercedes party on Sunday night with a second world title in the bag for the Silver Arrows.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Charlie Kimball

Charlie Kimball
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the driver-by-driver recaps following the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, with a look at Charlie Kimball, who finished 12th this year.

Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 14th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 6th, 1 Podium, 4 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 16.3 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 12th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 3 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 21 Laps Led, 13.3 Avg. Start, 13.1 Avg. Finish

“Super Chuck” – as NBCSN’s Townsend Bell has called him in the past – had another typically “Super Chuck” season. He produced some dizzying heights, made a few mistakes, and posted a lot of consistent runs in the middle that ultimately netted him 12th in points for the season.

We wrote last year that one of the areas where Kimball most needed to improve was his qualifying, and a three-spot year-to-year gain from 16.3 to 13.3 delivered that improvement. Problem was, in a Chevrolet top-heavy grid, Kimball might have been qualifying better, but he was qualifying behind at least seven or eight more fancied Chevrolet runners. In a Honda, you worry if Kimball’s grid positions this year would have dipped into the low teens or high 20s, rather than only just missing advancing into Q2 as was often the case.

While Barber and Mid-Ohio had served as his standout races in the past, the undoubted highlight of Kimball’s 2015 season was his quiet early – then dynamic late – drive to third in the Indianapolis 500. It was a performance that was particularly impressive given he was up against past series champions Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Scott Dixon, who were all vying for the win. Another podium at Sonoma was his first on a road or street course since Detroit race two in 2014, and put him third in points in the two double points races for the year.

But mistakes occurred all too regularly in the 14 standard points events, where he ranked 14th among all drivers. Contacting Dixon in Detroit, surviving a nightmare weekend in Iowa with multiple incidents, and coming together with Graham Rahal in St. Petersburg – even though Rahal was assessed a penalty for avoidable contact – were all moments he’d like to have back.

Kimball’s five years into his IndyCar career and there’s enough evidence to suggest now his breakout 2013 season was an outlier, not the norm. But seasons like 2014 and 2015 prove he still has plenty in hand to cut it at this level, and together with his entire Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team, an overall asset to the sport.