Usually in IndyCar season 2015, it’s been weather that’s overshadowed the weekend.
At Mid-Ohio this past weekend, it was set to be the cloud of uncertainty regarding the series’ competition and operations department, with Thursday’s news that Derrick Walker would be leaving at season’s end.
Happily, for once, IndyCar weathered the storm. Mostly.
Because this is IndyCar after all, and there is no such thing as a perfectly sunny, clear day without the threat of clouds, rain, or storms brewing on the horizon.
Anyway, Mid-Ohio was a near perfect showcase of what can make IndyCar great – in a much better way than what Fontana did a month or so ago for arguably the most tense, but most thrilling, race of the season.
If you’re a sucker for strategy races, Mid-Ohio is the race for you. Following who is going to pit when, and who covers who when they make a move to the pits – race winner Graham Rahal admitted as much that his team astutely covered Justin Wilson, then got lucky with a full-course caution coming out immediately thereafter ��� is one of the hallmarks of the race.
If you like controversy or drama, Mid-Ohio isn’t usually the race for you, but it was this year. Some competitors thought Sage Karam’s spin on Lap 66 was a little too convenient; Karam told this writer he’d adjusted his brake bias, then misread the speed through the apex of the corner, dropped wheels off and spun out. INDYCAR will release its findings on Wednesday about the incident.
If you enjoy constant, wall-to-wall action, Mid-Ohio is the race for you. There was nary a moment of downtime throughout the three full days on site. With 12 races – IndyCar coming as the showcase after 11 other mostly intriguing races from the Mazda Road to Indy (three USF2000 and two Indy Lights and Pro Mazda apiece) and Pirelli World Challenge (two GT and two GTS races) – plus practice and qualifying, you never went more than 15 minutes without any on-track activity.
If you like uninterrupted working Internet in the press room… Mid-Ohio is not the race for you. An IT glitch on Sunday made posting difficult during and after the IndyCar race. But, as one visiting European reporter told me during the weekend, there’s a quaintness about the “treehouse” media center he doesn’t get at European venues, which have similar stale centers, and that he loved how unique the Mid-Ohio media center is. Thankfully, the staff handled the challenges well.
If you love the ambience of a natural, permanent road course that doubles as a campsite, Mid-Ohio is the race for you. Between hanging out with friends both of Friday and Saturday night and taking in a bonfire the latter night, as well as exploring the infield to see the fans, you remember why you got into racing in the first place. Seeing the grounds as packed as they were this weekend – this was my fifth time to Mid-Ohio dating to 2009 – was a welcome reminder that road racing in this country still can be vibrant, and packed with astute, dedicated, smart fans.
The “Indy Camping” group – find them at @IndyCamping on Twitter – were particular rock stars. With several different shirts throughout the weekend, “Team Dracone,” the circus shirts, followed by the Karam “Happy Buddies” shirt featuring that infamous Instagram shirtless photo he posted with him and his dog Max, then the Rahal Steak ‘n Shake get-up on Sunday, these guys showcased a fantastic sense of humor as well as a keen awareness of what is going on in the series right now.
Seeing those shirts, seeing Karam go over to receive a shirt of his own, then seeing a homemade “Rule 9.3.8” shirt added to the highlights of the weekend.
Oh, and if you love a championship fight featuring two unlikely candidates, IndyCar’s got that too.
Somehow, it’s happened that the expected preseason title favorites – Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves and defending series champion Will Power – have taken a backseat to Graham Rahal, in a single-car effort with both driver and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team having an otherworldly year and Juan Pablo Montoya, who looks to complete the Indianapolis 500-title same season double for the first time since Dario Franchitti in 2010.
Montoya has been good, while Rahal has been hot of late with four consecutive top-five finishes, including two wins.
Yes, JPM got “hosed” with the Karam caution timing on Sunday while Rahal, admittedly, got lucky.
But to win a championship, you need the combination of both pace and luck. Once Rahal was out front Sunday, he used the pace part of that combo to perfection, and did exactly what he had to do – survive strategic advances from Wilson, drive deeper into a corner and then pull away from the pack to secure the win.
The moment was there for Rahal with all the pressure on him. Wearing an Ohio State helmet, his family on site, driving a Honda in Honda’s home race, driving for his father in their home race. And he seized it with both hands.
“I dreamt of this for a long, long, long time,” Rahal said in the post-race press conference. “In fact, I had a dream Friday night that I won.
“I guess sometimes dreams do come true.”
A dream weekend for Rahal, and pretty much a dream weekend for the good of what IndyCar can be.