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INDYCAR Preview: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

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The final five events of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season begin with this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29, 3:00 p.m. ET, CNBC).

It also marks the final event before an informal “summer break” for the IndyCar paddock, with two weekends off following Mid-Ohio before the ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway (August 19th, NBCSN).

As such, even if you aren’t in the championship hunt, exiting Mid-Ohio with a solid result will be vital in order to have a strong outlook ahead of the final four races, which are contested over a span of five weeks.

Talking points ahead of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio are below.

The Master’s Domain

A celebrating Scott Dixon has been a common thing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Photo: IndyCar

The image of Scott Dixon celebrating a victory at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is an image all too familiar for his rivals. After going 0-2 in his first two starts in 2001 and 2002 (he finished 12th and fifth in those years), Dixon got his first win there in 2007.

He followed that triumph up with four more, in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014 – the 2014 one is especially notable as he came from 22nd and last on the grid to do so.

LEXINGTON, OH – AUGUST 03: (L-R) Second place finisher Sebastien Bourdais of France driver of the #11 KVSH Racing Dallara Chevrolet, race winner Scott Dixon of New Zealand driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Chevrolet, third place finisher James Hinchcliffe of Canada driver of the #27 Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda stand on the podium with their trophies following the Verizon IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 3, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

And he has three other finishes of fifth or better to boot, meaning he often runs well even when he doesn’t win.

“Mid-Ohio is just one of those tracks where we have a feeling that if we get things right with the PNC Bank car, we always have a decent shot at winning,” Dixon said of Mid-Ohio success.

“The track has been very special to not only myself, but to the team over the years. It’s one of those rhythm tracks where if you get in a good groove, then things just take off if everything is working right. You can come from about anywhere to win here as we’ve seen in the past, but it’s a lot easier when you do it from the front, so a good qualifying run is always important on this style of track.”

Dixon enters Mid-Ohio with a sizeable 62-point lead over Josef Newgarden, the defending Mid-Ohio winner. As such, the task of gaining ground on Dixon – already a daunting one given his career history – is made all the more difficult.

Rest assured, all drivers behind Dixon must finish ahead of him in order to retain realistic chances of catching him before the curtain falls after the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in September. But, doing so at maybe Dixon’s best track, while not impossible, is far easier said than done.

Rahal Looks for “Home Cooking” Boost

A second win at his home track would be massive shot in the arm for Graham Rahal. Photo: IndyCar

Ohio native Graham Rahal entered 2018 as a possible championship contender. And while he has demonstrated the needed consistency – he has finished inside the top 10 in all but two races so far – he has not yet graced the winner’s circle and has fallen to 151 points out of the lead in eighth.

However, he trails fifth place Will Power by 60 points, and getting back into the top five in the championship for the third time in four years (he was fourth and fifth in the standings in 2015 and 2016) is a goal that is still within reach.

And for Rahal, beginning the final five races of the season with his second win at his home track (he won at Mid-Ohio back in 2015) would do wonders to turn things around.

“Over the last four years, we have been really strong at Mid-Ohio,” said Rahal, who has finishes of fifth, first, fourth, and third in the last four Mid-Ohio races.

“We’ve had great consistency and we finished on the podium last year, which is always special. It’s going to be an important one for us again. I’m excited to get back home. Obviously we would like to continue the top-five streak but, more importantly, we’d love to get another win which is what we really need at this time. I’m definitely focused heavily on trying to make that happen.”

Watch Out for Pit Strategy

Maybe more than any other venue, Mid-Ohio is notoriously difficult to pass on, and can often see pit strategy influence the outcome.

In 2016, an early stop and timely caution for Mikhail Aleshin put him in contention for the win before a pit stop error later in the race dropped him to 17th.

Rahal used pit strategy and cautions to work his way forward from a 13th starting position to win in 2015. Conversely, strategy, and an untimely caution, bit the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya and Josef Newgarden that year – they finished 11th and 13th.

Dixon, too, has used pit strategy to his advantage at Mid-Ohio, evidenced by his aforementioned win from 22nd in 2014, which was aided by strategy and cautions.

Watch out for early pit stops as drivers and teams try to catch a timely yellow in Sunday’s race.

Misc.

The Final Word…

From Josef Newgarden, last year’s Mid-Ohio winner:

“The race weekend at Toronto didn’t go the way we were hoping but we’re ready to put that behind us and really focus on Mid-Ohio. We ran a really strong race there last year and have had some good luck on road courses this season, so we’re feeling pretty good going into the weekend. It was great for us all to have a weekend off to refocus, but I know the entire No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team and myself are ready to head back to Mid-Ohio and have a great performance to gain more championship points.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, July 27
11:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. ET – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2:35 – 3 p.m. ET – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, July 28
10:00 – 10:45 a.m. ET – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:30 p.m. ET – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (Live)

Sunday, July 39
3:00 p.m. – CNBC on-air
3:35 p.m. – The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (90 laps/203.22 miles), CNBC (Live); encore on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Josef Newgarden
2. Will Power (pole)
3. Graham Rahal
4. Simon Pagenaud
5. Takuma Sato
6. Alexander Rossi
7. Helio Castroneves
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay
9. Scott Dixon
10. Conor Daly

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Will Power
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Takuma Sato
4. Graham Rahal
5. Helio Castroneves
6. Scott Dixon

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Dakar Stage 8 Highlights: Ricky Brabec blows engine, retires

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The motorcycle class of the Dakar Rally has been a seesaw affair through seven stages, but Ricky Brabec seemed poised to win the class for the USA. Until he blew an engine in Stage 8 that is – and gave up a more-than seven second lead. He was the second rider to retire after starting the stage as the leader. Joan Barreda retired in Stage 3.

Brabec was looking to become the first American rider to win in 27 years, but his fate was eerily similar to last year. Three days from the end of the stage, he retired about 50 kilometers into the stage, which is precisely when and where he retired in 2018.

With Brabec’s trouble, Toby Price leapfrogged from third to second in class despite riding with a metal pin in his wrist. In the world’s most grueling endurance event, it has never been more obvious that it isn’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to run a consistent rally. With a 46 minute advantage over Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, all he needs to do is stay error free for the final two stages to win his third Dakar.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Sebastien Loeb scored his fifth stage win of the Rally by seven minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah, but problems in Stage 3 have kept him from being competitive for the overall lead. … Jakub Przygonski earned his third podium of the Rally. All of these have been third-place finishes.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 46:29 over Roma and 46:45 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Ricky Brabec’s blown engine opened up the class once more. … Matthias Walkner narrowly edged Pablo Quintanilla by 45 seconds. … But it was Toby Price’s third-place finish that helped elevate him to the class lead. … Sam Sunderland was supposed to blaze the path for the riders, but a malfunctioning navigation system kept him from rolling off first. Blazing the trail is a disadvantage and officials adjudged him to have tampered with his system to avoid that fate. Sunderland was penalized an hour to finish 35th on the stage. He dropped to ninth in class.

Class Leaders: Price inherited the lead over Quintanilla by 1:03 and 6:35 over Walkner

In side by sides, Francisco Lopez Contardo scored the victory over Cristian Baumgart by 4:47. … Gerard Farres Guell rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Contardo holds an advantage 0f 54:10 over Rodrigo Piazolli and one hour, 08:09 over Guell

In quads, there was no surprise in Nicolas Cavigliasso winning his seventh stage of the season. … He padded his overall advantage over Gustavo Gallego by more than nine minutes. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished third.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 24:52 over Ferioli and one hour, 44:04 over Gallego

In trucks, Dmitry Sotnikov won the stage to take over the class lead. He beat Ton Van Genugten by 22:01. … Siarhei Viazovich rounded out the top three. … Eduard Nikolaev lost the class lead by finishing eighth – nearly one hour behind Sotnikov.

Class Leaders: Sotnikov holds an advantage of 26:49 over and one hour, 7:43 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [7] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

For more watch the daily highlight show on NBCSN. Click here for the complete schedule.

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