IndyCar recap: Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

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The numbers make it look like Alexander Rossi almost had it easy during Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

He started on the pole, led 66 laps, and won by over 12 seconds.

And that’s why, at times, numbers fail to detail the whole truth.

With differing strategies amongst the drivers battling for the win, things were hardly easy for anyone on Sunday, and the outcome was up in the air until the final stint.

A look at big storylines to surface at Mid-Ohio is below.

To Two-Stop or Three-Stop

Alexander Rossi was the only one to use a two-stop strategy, and it netted him a victory. Photo: IndyCar

Five years ago, in 2013, the Verizon IndyCar Series’ annual event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was lengthened from 85 laps to 90 laps.

The debate ahead of that year’s race was if a two-stop or three-stop strategy would be favorable – a two-stop plan was possible, but would require a lot of fuel saving and/or caution laps to make the fuel mileage work.

That day, Charlie Kimball took his first, and so far only, IndyCar win by using a three-stop strategy, and it became apparent at around the midway point that his was the superior strategy.

He emerged from his second stop still leading the two-stoppers, like Ryan Hunter-Reay, who started on the pole that day. And with everyone still needing two pit stops, Kimball, and Simon Pagenaud – he was also on a three-stop strategy that day – found themselves in the catbird seats, while many two-stoppers abandoned their original plans to go for three stops.

Since then, the debate has been non-existent. A three-stop strategy was the way to go from 2014 through 2017.

However, the tables were flipped in 2018. There was only one driver who tried a two-stop strategy, but that driver was Alexander Rossi, and he and Andretti Autosport found themselves in Victory Lane.

Still, while the strategy was well-executed and Rossi drove a perfect race, circumstances needed to fall his way in order for the strategy to work.

Indeed, things perfectly fell his way. Robert Wickens was balked by lapped traffic in his third stint, which prevented him from building a gap big enough to counter the extra stop he would make in comparison to Rossi.

And even though the ambient temperatures were somewhat cool on Sunday, there was still tire degradation to cope with, a factor Rossi discussed in the post-race press conference.

“When you go that hard on a three stopper, you have tire deg,” Rossi explained. “I mean, there is a tradeoff. There’s a period of time where, yeah, you’re substantially quicker on a three stopper, using the tire a lot more. They have to back up, not because they’re saving fuel, but because they have to look after the tires, whereas I’m just looking after a fuel number. That wasn’t something I really had to deal with. I’m just concerned about the mileage.”

Future Mid-Ohio races will dictate if the two-stop vs. three-stop debate resurfaces, but it returned on Sunday, and Rossi and Andretti Autosport capitalized on it.

Dixon’s “Off” Day Still Sees Him Finish Fifth

A lot of the focus entering the weekend was on five-time Mid-Ohio winner, and current IndyCar points leader, Scott Dixon.

Yet, Dixon’s weekend proved somewhat troublesome. A red flag for James Hinchcliffe in qualifying prevented Dixon from getting a quick lap in Round 2, and he failed to advance to the Firestone Fast Six.

And while he ran on the tails of Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power in the first stint, he was never really in contention for the win at any point.

“We were kind of in that no-man’s land of going for three then going for two (stops). I wasn’t concentrating enough on getting the mileage I needed to,” Dixon lamented in discussing the strategy in a post-race interview with NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis.

Dixon added that track position also never turned in his favor.

“It was just one of those days where we’d pit to get track position and then somebody would come out in front of us or we’d catch somebody and we just never had the speed. But, we had the fastest race lap by over half a second I think – the car had speed. Later in the run too, it would wear off the left-front tire and I just couldn’t get the car to turn.”

Still, Dixon managed to finish a solid fifth. He now leads Rossi by 44 points entering a two-week break before the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Misc.

  • Carlin Racing was having their best outing of the season entering Sunday, with Max Chilton qualifying sixth. However, things quickly became unraveled. Chilton made contact with Takuma Sato on Lap 2, sending the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver into a spin. Chilton received a drive-through penalty, and things never got better. He languished in 24th at the end, while teammate Charlie Kimball could do no better than 16th.
  • Graham Rahal finished ninth, but was frustrated at not being able to run better, highlighting a bad oversteer condition that hampered his and RLL’s efforts. “We struggled with too much oversteer most of the race, which put us a ways behind the 8-ball. I just couldn’t get close enough to anybody without losing a lot. We had to just manage the rest of the day,” he explained afterward. His 2018 season been consistent – he has top 10s in all but two races – but the lack of wins and podiums (his only podium came at the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg) have blighted his season.
  • Pietro Fittipaldi finished 23rd on return from injury. It won’t generate much attention, but running all the laps on a track as physical as the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is an accomplishment in and of itself, and the 22-year-old gained valuable on-track experience.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now takes an informal “summer break” before the ABC 500 Supply (August 19, NBCSN).

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.