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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Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”