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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Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).