INDYCAR Preview: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

Photo: IndyCar

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.


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, (Live)
2:35 – 3 p.m. ET – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, (Live)

Saturday, July 28
10:00 – 10:45 a.m. ET – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, (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


Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”