Another one in the books at Mid-Ohio, and still not a single yellow to be seen in two races. I’m really liking this kinder and gentler, but way more hardcore style of racing we have seen the last few weeks. Full course cautions do not belong in road racing, and the drivers have done a much better job of not booting someone off the track with the inevitable stall and FCY that follows. Not to mention, the track had been washed by heavy rain that morning, so conditions were treacherous as the drivers made their first few laps, side by side no less, around the track. A game of save-the-gas followed and the race was won in the pits. The racing was first class throughout the field, but the action defiantly tapered off near the end as teams tried to find the checkers with fuel still running through the engine.
Scott Dixon – With his victorious performance at Mid-Ohio, Dixon has made it a four horse race to the championship with three rounds still to contest. He was helped out a bit by the poor performance from Helio Castroneves and the continued mechanical gremlins that have plagued Ryan Hunter-Reay’s championship run. Dixon may be hold the best position in the championship as the three guys ahead of him have never won the season ending hardware. Power is a proven choke artist, HCN has never been able to close the deal when it matters and RHR has simply never been in this type of fight before. Dixon has done it before… twice. And after his team’s nearly full time switch from the woeful G-Force/Toyota combination to the faster Dallara/Honda in 2006, he has not finished worse than fourth place in the championship. Dixie is coming and the rest of the boys better watch out.
165 Yellow Free Laps – With the caution free round at Mid-Ohio, the drivers have completed two full race distances with nary a silly punt or doomed to fail dive bomb. I think this has more to do with the modern handling characteristics of the DW12 than the drivers raising their game. As far into the season as we are, the setups are becoming refined and repeatable and the chassis is a proper road racing machine. Unlike the previous generation, the DW12 possesses a legit diffuser and a suspension setup that actually works for road racing. This allows drivers to confidently out brake the opposition instead of shoving it into a spot the car doesn’t belong and hoping to come out the other side like in years past. Drivers are actually able to race like the professionals that they are, because the chassis finally allows it. Gosh indycar, after nearly eight years of road racing are we finally starting to get it?
Tires – With all of that fanboy love out of the way, the issue of tires shortly follows. If teams can start to expect the races to run moderately clean, Firestone needs to give drivers a fair shot at three stopping the race and still have a chance to make the podium. As it is, the tires just don’t lose enough grip throughout the run to really make a three stop strategy worth the risk. Teams need two options: run at 100 percent and make three stops, or carefully conserve tires and fuel without losing that 20-30 seconds the three stoppers will be down because of pitting one more time. On Sunday, it looked like the main concern was fuel mileage and not about tire conservation. Truthfully, the rubber is heads and shoulders above last year in terms of degradation through a stint, but just a bit more needs to be taken away if this is the type of racing we can start to expect from the series.
Fuel Mileage – And of course, the debate would not be complete without mentioning mileage considering the two full fuel races we have seen run caution free. The way our race distances are determined centers around the TV window as well as how much difficulty the drivers have historically had keeping it clean at each facility. Let’s use those fuel cell golf ball things to customize the fuel load at each event to the race distance. The chosen size should make it impossible to save enough fuel with hopes of cutting a stop out. Make teams fuel the car and just run; strategy would then come into play once the cautions start to fall. I know the core of racing is to cover the most distance in the least time, but I want to see all the drivers wheeling that car has hard as they can for at least 90 minutes and not just the first and last laps of a fuel stint. I’ve spoken more on this idea here.
Engines – After two straight caution free races, the question of which engine has the edge seems to be: neither. Honda and Chevy, single turbo and double turbo, multiple generational upgrades throughout the season, two straight up races to the end, two totally different tracks, Honda 1,3 at Mid-Ohio and Chevy 1.3 at Edmonton; there isn’t really much to choose between the two manufacturers. My gut says that Honda has had just slightly worse reliability, but either way it goes one is not leaps and bounds behind the other. Lotus… is Lotus. My biggest fear during the closing races is the possibility of the championship being determined by a string of failures and therefore starting grid penalties. However, the 500 miles of insanity to come at Fontana? All bets are off.
The only word that has been running through my mind since the green fell at Edmonton is: refreshing. It has been refreshing to see true road racing do down at the highest levels of American racing. Our drivers were fast, clean and sane for two events in a row; that is something to be proud of. I felt as if I was watching the evolution of American open wheel racing happen right in front of my eyes. I have often felt the twistie events were the step-child of the series since its introduction in 2005. It finally feels like the paddock is taking the events seriously and the results have been amazing. Conversely, I was left with a feeling of: what if they could have pushed the entire way? Would the result have been different, or the action on track any better? Once teams can do that, then we will know road course racing in indycar has finally returned.