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

PWC confirms 2018 season finale at Watkins Glen

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Pirelli World Challenge will end its 2018 season at Watkins Glen International, the series confirmed Friday.

The exciting finale will feature traditional 50-minute sprints for GT and GTS classes and 40-minute features for Touring Car classes.

The last PWC event at Watkins Glen was held in 2010 with sports car greats Ron Fellows (GT) and Peter Cunningham (GTS) winning the top two events and Robert Stout claiming the Touring Car race. The Pirelli World Challenge series premiered at Watkins Glen International in 1992 and has featured eight PWC years (1992, 1996-1998, 2007-2010) at the famed New York road racing facility.

“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Pirelli World Challenge competitors, officials, leadership, and fans to Watkins Glen International in 2018,” said Michael Printup, Watkins Glen International President. “This series features fantastic wheel-to-wheel racing across a wide spectrum of sportscar classes and our fans are in for a treat on Labor Day weekend next year.”

In addition to the Watkins Glen season finale, the Pirelli World Challenge also announced its race lineup for 2018 with the GT/GTA/GT Cup divisions again being split into five GT Sprint (50 minutes) and five GT SprintX (60 minutes, two drivers) races. The GTS events, featuring GT4 machinery, will remain nine-weekends with a total of 18 50-minute Sprint rounds while Touring Car divisions will contest 40-minute Sprints in the class’ 12-race, six-weekend campaign.

The GT Sprint championships will be contested in the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif., as well as at the permanent road circuits of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Road America and Watkins Glen. The GT SprintX championship will be campaigned at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), VIRginia International Raceway, Lime Rock Park, Portland International Raceway and Utah Motorsports Campus.

Details on the 2018 race regulations for GT Sprint and GT SprintX events will be announced in the near future, including the new pit stop requirements and other amendments to competition rules.

Featuring the GT3 and GT4 categories, the second annual SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge California 8 Hours is set to return to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Oct. 26-28.

2018 Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date, Track (Classes)

March 9-11, Streets of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, Fla. (GT Sprint and GTS)
March 23-25, Circuit Of The Americas (COTA), Austin, Texas (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
April 13-15, Streets of Long Beach Long Beach, Calif. (GT Sprint)
April 28-30, VIRginia International Raceway Alton, Va., (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
May 18-20, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Bowmanville, Ont., CAN, (GT Sprint and GTS)
May 25-26 -28, Lime Rock Park Lakeville, Conn., (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
June 22-24 Road America Elkhart Lake, Wis., (GT Sprint and GTS)
July 13-15, Portland International Raceway Portland, Ore., (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
August 10-12, Utah Motorsports Campus Grantsville, Utah, (GT SprintX, GTS and Touring Car)
Aug. 31-Sept. 1-2 Watkins Glen International Watkins Glen, N.Y., (GT Sprint, GTS and Touring Car)

Special Event

SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge, California 8 Hours
October 26-28, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Salinas, Calif.