Into the Crystal Ball… Its a REAL Twistie Edition

For the 28th year not in a row, open wheel descends upon the tight and twistie Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Lexington, Ohio will play host to the 12th round of the 2012 season and mark only the second of three times this year that the drivers will compete on a natural terrain road course. These tracks present a different challenge from the street courses; grip is usually much higher and the track undulates with the terrain, often requiring steel eyed commitment to come out on top at these events. Ryan Hunter-Reay still sits atop the points standings, but I’m not sure he has the natural terrain experience to come end the day in the same position. Helio stands between RHR and Will Power who sits in third; with only four races left, it will be increasingly difficult for WP to jump two contenders in the championship.

Five Things to Watch

Multiple Winners – Mid-Ohio seems to have some sort of winning curse; the track has produced back to back winners six different times. However, the IRL/INDYCAR era has yet to produce such an outcome. Scott Dixon would seem to be the easy choice for a win here considering he has found victory lane three different times: 2007, 2009 and 2011. The only other drivers to win the event on multiple, nonconsecutive occasions were Teo Fabi in 1983 and 1989, and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1988 and 1992; he then went back to back in 1993. Because Dixon won last year, I just don’t think he will be victorious this weekend, but he could produce the first back to back since Helio won for Penske in 2000 and 2001. Dixie could use the points, and more importantly: a victory over Will Power could be a huge step forward in the championship, the fubar that was Detroit notwithstanding.

The Pre-Season Lock – And what about Will Power? It would be hard to call the last three events a bad stretch of races, but the last time he finished outside of the top ten was way back in 2008. The three times he finished 11th or worse three times in a row in 2008 would comprise exactly 100 percent of those occurrences. In other words, Power doesn’t know anything but consistency. He may have a bad race or two but he inevitably bounces back to the podium, which is exactly what he did in Edmonton.  With all of that said, I still think Helio and Hunter-Reay are inside his head. Even though he came back from 17th to finish third in Edmonton, he has yet to prove he can fight through adversity when it counts. He’s a choker, there I said it. I’m sure it will be fun to watch him during the balance of the season, but he will not close the deal.

Panther-DRR – Since the switch from Lotus to Chevy power, if the team isn’t knocked out due to mechanical gremlins they are finishing in the top five. Servia has not put a tire wrong and has managed to keep his nose clean and has not been involved in a crash yet this year. Dreyer and Reinbold Racing also share a huge hand in these accomplishments. During their four race stint with Lotus, the team never finished worse than 16th and actually mustered up a P11 in Sao Paulo. Only three times this year has the team not seen the checkers; each time they were sidelined was because of mechanical issues, and those were during their Chevy days. As a matter of fact, they are four whole spots above Panther Racing, the team that is providing support to DRR for at least one more year! If Oriol can finish the final four events, one will be a win.

Five Second Delay? – In an attempt to fight using push-to-pass as a defensive aid, a driver must be holding the button for five seconds and have the go pedal pressed past the prescribed threshold before the extra horses kick in.  They are trying to mitigate the “he’s on the button, get on yours!” call coming from the pit box to the leading car. Like normal, baseline power return once the button is released, if the throttle drops below the limit, or if the brakes are depressed. This could allow the trailing car to slowly deplete the leading cars p2p time if the guy in front get baited into preemptively juicing it to defend, but it seems like an overly complicated addition to an already unnecessary aspect of the racing. Effective? Possibly. Even more gimmicky? Heck yes…

Trifecta of Boredom – Barber, Infineon and this week’s destination of Mid-Ohio are nearly universally bemoaned due to their annual lack of action though the field. But after the insanity that was Barber 2012, anything is possible. It is true that all three of these tracks are better served as motorcycle facilities and the DW12 is slightly wider than the old chassis, but don’t lose hope quite yet. We are going to see the same compound of rubber that has made this entire season of road and street racing one for the ages. Not to mention the DW12 has proven again and again that it is more than at home on the twisties. Add in the new p2p rules for drivers to deal with, and it could make for yet another interesting weekend of racing.

Predictions

Pole – Scott Dixon – He knows his way around the twists and turns of Mid-Ohio

Winner – Tony Kanaan – Do I ever need a reason to pick TK for a win?

Biggest Loser – James Hinchcliffe – Loosing too many points to the leaders, Hinch finally postpones his championship aspirations until 2013.

Epic Performance – Rubens Barrichello – The Formula One vet final gets the chance to pull together everything he has learned this year. The natural terrain road courses fit his driving style and could have a very good day.

I will be there in the flesh on Sunday to take in everything that indycar at Mid-Ohio has to offer. I have never seen indycars, or anything legit for that matter, on a road course outside of Indianapolis so it should be quite a fun experience. As we enter the waning stages of the season with a three week break looming ahead, I hope the series can carry some positive momentum into the break and close with a bang. A sixteen race season was too short and fifteen is nearly laughable, but the product has exceeded expectations up to this point. Now it the portion of the season where the remainders go for broke and pin all their hopes on a win. We could start to see some of the trademark indycar craziness as drivers search for the elusive first win late in the season.

Eric Hall

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