Home race. That’s Mid-Ohio for me. It seems to have a special meaning to most people. Maybe this is where they grew up during the summers – watching race cars from multiple series tear around the course, training their ears to differentiate engines from the age of 5 months. Or it’s where the infield became a playground with siblings and cousins. This might be the first place they witnessed a car crash with their own eyes, for the first time, watching from the hill atop the keyhole as someone braked far too late.
Mid-Ohio is where a carousel is far more exhilarating than make-believe horses that twirl in a circle. It’s where thunder valley is free of storms but there is no shortage of deafening rumbles. And it’s where China Beach has nothing to do with water, but rather, it’s full of gravel that reminds you to “slow your roll”.
Spectators are not the only ones with lifelong ties to this place. RLL Racing driver Graham Rahal confesses, “This is where I fell in love with Indy car racing.” His win at this track, his home race as well, is admittedly the highlight of his career. He is hoping for that magic to happen again, as the No. 15 team has been struggling as one of only two single-car teams this season. He has two podium finishes this season, at Barber Motorsports Park and Road America. Given the similarity in terrain road-courses and his previous success here at Mid-Ohio, it’s not out of the question that he could find more success here this weekend. If we end up with rain to contend with, as is predicted, it could prove to be an equalizer and make for an unpredictable contest on Sunday.
Unpredictability however, is the name of Scott Dixon’s favorite game. He won the Honda Indy 200 in 2014 from a starting position of P22. Yeah, at Mid-Ohio, a track that is notoriously difficult for passing. But hey, Dixon didn’t get his nickname (one of many), Mr. Mid-Ohio for nothing. He’s dominated this track in different ways and five times over. It helps that it is in the second half of the season as well – his favorite time to charge. He was fastest in the first practice, unofficially breaking the track record set by, you guessed it, him, last year. No one can really feign surprise when Dixon achieves these feats though. Afterall, according to a sarcastic yet truthful James Hinchcliffe, “Dixon can do anything. He’s infuriating.”
Is this another Dixon weekend in Lexington, Ohio? Without the oddly timed yellow two weekends ago, he could have likely gone from pole to checkered flag in Toronto. He won the Verizon P1 Award at Mid-Ohio last year, setting that aforementioned record. If he were to get it again tomorrow, he would tie Michael Andretti for most poles at Mid-Ohio – Andretti achieved his in consecutive years, starting in 1990.
That pole position that Dixon grabbed in Toronto was the first road & street pole of 2016 that was not won by a Team Penske driver. And Will Power is looking to keep it that way. (He’s going for his third pole at Mid-Ohio as well.) Power was second quickest in Friday morning practice, with his best lap also clocking a better time than Dixon’s record. No one else was able to accomplish that in the AM session but with cloud cover moving in, that could change for the afternoon practice session. That is, as long as those clouds don’t open up…
Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio:
Friday, July 29:
Practice #1 – 10:00 – 11:15 a.m. ET
Practice #2 – 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 30:
Practice #3 – 9:45 – 10:30 a.m. ET
Quals – 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 17:
Warm Up – 10:15 – 10:45 a.m. ET
Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Race – 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. E.T.
The Honda Indy 200 Practice #2 and Qualifying will be broadcast live on NBCSN. The race will be broadcast live on CNBC. Practice sessions #1 & #3 will be livestreamed via IndyCar. All links to livestream, plus information on radio coverage is available here.
Feature photo: Chris Owens / IndyCar