Sold out camping… historic road circuit… double header weekend with the same machinery that runs the 24 hours of Le Mans… This is the type of right turn weekend we need more of… Created in 1962 and kicking off its spotty history with indycar racing in 1980, the historic Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is the location for the eleventh round of the championship. With the topsy turvy officiating this year, the tight confines of Mid-Ohio will be trouble for race control to handle. The track is quick, but with few passing spots restarts and pit stops will play a factor in the ultimate outcome on Sunday.
Five Things to Watch
Defending Champion – The track is currently experiencing its longest drought for a back-to-back winner. There have been six races since Helio successfully defended his 2000 win in 2001, there were no major open wheel races from 2004 through 2007. Dario won last year’s edition and is on quite the streak this year. Not that I want to see a runaway championship, but the numbers don’t lie. The longest non defending streak was three years, 1987 through 1989.
Restarts – Drivers will take the race starting green flag on the back stretch, as is usual here at Mid-Ohio. However, they will restart on the front pit straight. The backside of the track is very long, and creating the two by two start should pose no problem. Although called a sports car course, the track is narrow and treacherous; track position will be at a premium. Add marbles, heated tempers and lapped cars to the short pit straight and we could have a recipe for chaos followed by flying carbon fiber.
Plowey – Returning to the site of his only Indy Lights win, Martin Plowman makes his first career INDYCAR start this weekend with AFS Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He joins a large contingent of graduates, another Lights driver able to make the jump to the big cars, proving that it is not impossible to do without bringing a huge check. He knows how to get around this place, but I am sure his attention will be focused on learning what a weekend in an indycar is all about. We hear often from young drivers that one of the hardest parts of an indycar is learning the steering wheel layout. This single nuance showcases the difficulty with just jumping in a car and being successful.
Helio – With his masterful manipulation of the brake pedal in Edmonton, HC seems to have stepped his game up to a more competitive level. I have no idea if he has finally figured out the black art of left foot braking, but he has shown massive improvement since the first race in Brazil. Because of his three Indy wins, I don’t think he ever has to really worry about his job, but a win this year would go a long way in guaranteeing his seat at Penske.
Officiating – Conway, Hunter-Reay and Tagliani were all placed on probation this week. Is this race control’s, almost always, ineffective way for reigning in bad driving? Hopefully the drivers show a little more patience than usual and avoid dragging race control into the spotlight, again for the third race in a row. We have seen both extremes’ of officiating during the past two events. From boys have at it, to race control finally finding the black flag, this weekend should set the tone for the final few races of the season. If they can find any sort of consistency and the drivers cooperate, we could see a racy end to the season. Now if they can finally find the black flag on starts and restarts we would be set.
Pole – Tony Kanaan – Finally unleashing the full potential of the KV/Lotus crew, Kanaan has the ability and his team has the savvy to put the 82 on pole.
Winner – TK – He finishes the weekend as strong as he started. It won’t be a flag to flag win, his battle will be hard and tough but TK will come out on top.
Biggest Loser – Will Power – He won’t necessarily crash out or lose a huge amount of points, but I just don’t see Power consistently finishing ahead of Franchitti given all of the 12 teams problems this year.
Epic Performer – Sebastien Bourdais – Two sixth place finishes in a row with Dale Coyne equipment? It’s an almost unbelievable turn of events. With three events to go in his season, SeaBass can capitalize and possibly secure a ride next year if he sees fit.
The championship is looking to be a bit one-sided. Will Power has to be fast and consistent from the moment he unloads. The mistake he made in Edmonton by turning into a misidentified Tagliani is the kind of thing that will instantly derail a season. Not looking in his mirrors and his team not informing him of the running order are both no-no’s. Franchitti can put it into cruise control, keep his nose clean and coast to the championship. The season is busted for everyone else except for maybe Scott Dixon. These drivers are going to race the rest of the season with a checkers or wreckers mentality and the boys up front need to be even more vigilant of spirited driving from people not in contention. This weekend will set the tone for the rest of the season, and heading to Loudon next week Power really has to make the most of this race. Hopefully we can load everyone back on the transporters in one piece and continue the fight at the flat one mile oval in New Hampshire.