PREVIEW: Honda Indy 200

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The Verizon IndyCar Series’ final race before a two-week break – the closest thing to a summer break the series having had on-track activity either every week or every other week since Round 2 of the season at Long Beach on April 9 – occurs this weekend with the Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, CNBC with encore 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Indeed the challenge of the weekend at the tricky, often temperature sensitive permanent road course is nailing qualifying and ensuring you’re not caught by an ill-timed caution flag.

Here’s what to look for ahead of this weekend’s race.

2017 Honda Indy 200 – Talking Points

Dixon’s proverbial happy hunting ground

Scott Dixon has the points lead, just, as he heads to a track that has always suited his style. With five Mid-Ohio wins (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014), Dixon is the modern master of Mid-Ohio, but needs his second win of the season in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda to hold off the surge of Team Penske drivers this weekend. He’s up by three heading into Mid-Ohio over Helio Castroneves (423-420).

The surging six behind him

Three of the six trail Dixon by just 23 points or fewer, while fifth through seventh could make a move into title contention before the final run of four races in five weekends with a strong Mid-Ohio.

In the first group, Castroneves (420), defending Mid-Ohio winner Simon Pagenaud (404) and Toronto winner Josef Newgarden (400) have a degree of momentum all on their side. Castroneves has been on top of his game all year and seems to be driving for his future in IndyCar, depending on whether he gets moved to Penske’s new Acura sports car program. Pagenaud looked the most on form he has been all season at Toronto, and this race last year defined Pagenaud’s title push. Newgarden hasn’t been phased by his transition to Penske and is one of only three drivers with two wins this year. Any of them could overtake Dixon this weekend.

Further back, Will Power (359), Graham Rahal (359) and Takuma Sato (351) aren’t out of title contention but could be after the weekend. Power, surprisingly, has never won at Mid-Ohio while Rahal’s 2015 win was a popular one. Sato needs to stem the tide of bad results with 16th place or worse finishes in each of the last three races. He actually was on pace for a top-five here last year before getting nerfed by Sebastien Bourdais.

Rahal’s home race

No race is more important outside of Indianapolis to Graham Rahal and the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing than this one at Mid-Ohio. Like James Hinchcliffe last race in Toronto, for Rahal, coming home to the track closest to Columbus is both a privilege and a duty to fulfill the desires of the home fans.

Tires and temperatures

Mid-Ohio’s surface is renowned for getting better and grippier as the day gets longer. Similar to Road America, expect Firestone’s red alternate tires to be the ticket for drivers and teams this weekend. And like for Honda, it’s pretty much a home race for Firestone, with the track not far from the Bridgestone Americas Technical Center in Akron.

Firestone Racing engineers are happy to be back at Mid-Ohio, a track just 70 miles away from our Bridgestone Americas Technical Center in Akron,” said Cara Adams, Chief Engineer, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. “For this year’s Honda Indy 200, the Firestone Firehawk primary tires have the same construction and compound as this year’s Indy Grand Prix tire. This is the same compound that was run at Mid-Ohio last year. The red sidewall alternates also are the same tires that were used on the Indy road course, but the compound has a slight increase in grip and heat resistance over last year’s Mid-Ohio compound.”

On road courses and Honda-sponsored races…

Here’s the scorecard this year in terms of who’s won where on the previous three permanent road courses and two Honda-sponsored races:

  • Permanent road courses: Barber (Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet), Indy GP (Will Power, Chevrolet), Road America (Scott Dixon, Honda)
  • Honda-sponsored races: Barber (Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet), Toronto (Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet)

So the field of 13 Hondas will be looking to win once in a race it sponsors at another of the manufacturer’s home races. A plant in Maryville, Ohio isn’t too far from the track and this is always an event that sees a lot of Honda workers come to the race.

Newgarden and the rest of Team Penske, meanwhile, will look to rebound from that Road America near-miss the quartet had and keep Penske and Chevrolet’s streak intact of winning in Honda-sponsored races, which besides the two this year also includes Simon Pagenaud (Barber), Power (Toronto) and Pagenaud (Mid-Ohio) winning all three for Chevrolet in 2016. Rahal, at 2015 in Mid-Ohio, is the last Honda driver to win a race sponsored by Honda.

Other notes

  • Strategy has jumbled the finishing order the last few years. In 2016, Carlos Munoz, Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot and Takuma Sato used off-sequence moves to come from 15th or lower to the top-10. Similarly in 2015, Scott Dixon was the only top-five starter to finish in the top-10; the other nine started anywhere from seventh to 24th and last. And in 2014, Dixon won from 22nd and last on the grid, with three others starting 17th or worse also making it in the top-10. The caution-free 2013 race, won by Charlie Kimball, featured eight of the top-10 finishers having started in the top-10.
  • As of Wednesday, Mikhail Aleshin was listed to drive the No. 7 Lucas Oil SPM Honda this weekend, but the team hadn’t confirmed it yet.

The final word

From Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Honda, who hasn’t won this year but describes how fun Mid-Ohio is: “I love racing at Mid-Ohio with the massive, loyal fan base we’ve created there over the years. It’s just always so fun to come to this track and put on a good show for the fans, who have so much passion for what we do on the road course. I believe I have around 15 starts at Mid-Ohio, so I definitely have some history out there and would love to add a win this year. We had a rough race in Toronto, so I think it was a good thing for us to take the weekend and regroup before heading into Mid-Ohio this weekend. Obviously, Scott (Dixon) has proven how strong he is at Mid-Ohio, so we’ll just try to get as much data as we can from him and hopefully snag a much-needed podium-finish for the No. 10 NTT Data Honda.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule: 

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, July 28
10 – 10:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2:15 – 3 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:05 – 3:20 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com(Live)

Saturday, July 29
9:55 – 10:40 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2:05 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (Live)

Sunday, July 30
11:15 – 11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3 p.m. – Driver introductions
3:40 p.m. – Command to start engines
3:47 p.m. – The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (90 laps/203.22 miles), CNBC (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Simon Pagenaud (pole)
2. Will Power
3. Carlos Munoz
4. Graham Rahal
5. James Hinchcliffe
6. Conor Daly
7. Spencer Pigot
8. Charlie Kimball
9. Takuma Sato
10. Josef Newgarden

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Simon Pagenaud
2. Will Power
3. Josef Newgarden
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay
5. Charlie Kimball
6. Graham Rahal

Hunter-Reay released from hospital; not yet cleared to drive at Pocono

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Ryan Hunter-Reay has been released from a nearby hospital at Pocono Raceway after his accident in qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) but has not yet been cleared to drive. He’ll be re-evaluated by INDYCAR Sunday morning.

The full release from INDYCAR and Andretti Autosport is below:

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Ryan Hunter-Reay was evaluated at Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Saturday for injuries to his left hip and knee sustained in a crash in qualifying for the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Hunter-Reay was treated and released but has not been cleared to drive, pending a re-evaluation Sunday morning.

“During qualifying today, out of nowhere, the car stepped out on me,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was a bit of a wiggle, which I caught. The second time it happened, it came with no warning – which is a bit confusing. I hit my hip pretty bad as well as my knee, so the doctors thought it would be best to go in for further evaluation. After a CT scan and MRI, I am able to go and get a good night’s sleep. I’m sure I’ll wake up sore, but will hopefully be able to get back in the DHL machine tomorrow.

“I know the entire Andretti Autosport team worked hard to get the car put back together and with 500 miles, there is still a chance to win from the back of the field. I can’t thank the Holmatro Safety Team enough for their quick response along with the medical staff at INDYCAR, Pocono and Lehigh Valley Hospital – Cedar Crest. Also, thank you to the fans for reaching out with their support.”

IndyCar Paddock Pass: Pocono (VIDEO)

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NBCSN’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the series trip to the “Tricky Triangle” for the ABC Supply 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass also continues for another episode from the three-turn oval, Pocono Raceway, in Long Pond, Pa.

NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter and Indy Lights analyst Anders Krohn checks in for the latest edition of the show, which you can see above.

On tap in this week’s episode are interviews with Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power, and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay led first practice; however was involved in a heavy accident in qualifying later Saturday afternoon and transported to a nearby hospital.

His status is unclear for Sunday.

Newgarden leads the championship but had a tough qualifying run – he was only 14th Saturday afternoon – while Power was second among Chevrolets and starts fifth. He is the defending Pocono race winner.

You can see the episode above. Past IndyCar Paddock Pass episodes are below:


Chaves, Harding continue to shine at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – In two previous starts in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been shining stars, finishing ninth at the Indianapolis 500 and fifth at the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, avoiding several crashes and incidents in both races to do so, and advancing from 25th and 20th on the grid, respectively.

Returning to the series for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway (Sunday 2:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the combination continues its remarkably strong form, qualifying eighth for Sunday’s race, third fastest of the Chevrolet runners.

And with the goal of turning the team into a full-time effort next year, Chaves and the team appear to be picking up right where they left off.

“We’re just here to improve our team, get it ready for next year,” Chaves told NBC Sports. “We’d like to go home with a great result of course, that’s always the aim. But I think the work we did throughout the practice improved the car enough to wear I was pretty comfortable at the end.”

Of course, even though the team is still very new to the world of racing (their first race was this year’s Indianapolis 500), it doesn’t stop Chaves from having lofty expectations.

“You always want to shoot for the win,” he asserted when asked about expectations for this weekend’s ABC Supply 500. “Obviously it’s never easy – with the limited time we have on track, it just makes it even harder on top of it. We’re always trying to keep our expectations high and do the best job we can to accomplish them.”

Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing have been very impressive out of the box. Photo: IndyCar

And perhaps Chaves is right to have big expectations given the team’s first two races. Ninth at Indianapolis and fifth at Texas are genuinely impressive results for the brand new team. And on the surface, they are a surprise, given the organization itself hadn’t run any races at any level prior to this year. But, Chaves explained that the people involved in the team are more than familiar with the sport and know how to build a successful operation.

“It’s just a matter of having the right people involved,” Chaves said of their early success. “Our team owner, Mike Harding, is very dedicated to making sure that we have the means to go out and hire the best people we can. It’s hard to do when the full-time teams have already got most of those guys, but there’s a few guys left out there who are very quality guys. Then that comes down to our team manager, Larry Curry, who has been able to track down these guys and give them a good offer to come on board with us. We’re just going to get better from here.”

Specifically, team manager Curry has been instrumental in recruiting talent and helping the team get ahead of the game, as Chaves explained.

“When it came down to our Indy deal, we started getting our car ready, and a little bit through his connections, we were able to get our mockup engine a little sooner, our body fit sooner – enough that we had the time to go out and test and do a shakedown run at Texas before Indy. It’s that type of experience and knowledge that Larry brings to the team that helps us out.”

NBCSN’s Robin Miller reported earlier this weekend in a piece for RACER.com that the team is ready for a full season in 2018, with Harding also telling the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query that “100 percent number” Miller cited is closer to 95 percent.

Chaves stopped short of going that far, but feels confident that a full-season effort will come together.

“Obviously, our plans are still to go out and run the full season. I’d say every day we get closer and closer to that. I’d say it’s looking really good. I know (Robin Miller’s report) mentions 100% – I think we’re close to that. But, it’s not done until it’s done. So I’ll just keep focused on my job here this weekend.”

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Power tops final practice at Pocono

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LONG POND, Pa. – Team Penske’s Will Power topped final practice for tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway. Power’s best lap of 216.294 mph was turned late in the session and pipped teammate Simon Pagenaud for the top spot, making it a Team Penske 1-2 in final practice. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan were third and fourth, the best of the Honda teams, while Helio Castroneves rebounded from his earlier qualifying crash to end the session in fifth, putting three Penske cars in the top five.

Of note: pole sitter Takuma Sato was 11th quickest and Ed Carpenter was 16th, Carpenter having missed qualifying as Ed Carpenter Racing made repairs to his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and missed the lineup time for pre-qualifying inspection by only a few minutes.

Also: Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 DHL Honda, usually piloted by Ryan Hunter-Reay, did not venture onto the track for final practice, with Hunter-Reay currently being evaluated at a local hospital following a qualifying crash.

Times are below. Tomorrow’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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