Simon Pagenaud is back in the easily-identifiable Menard’s yellow livery this weekend at Mid-Ohio. It’s a different look than last year’s car, when he ran the PPG colors (on the No. 2 of Josef Newgarden this weekend) and won the Honda Indy 200 for the first time in his career. What is familiar however, is his pattern of running up front at the Lexington, Ohio 13-turn permanent road course. Last year, with a back issue plaguing him, Pagenaud won the Verizon P1 Award in the three-round knockout qualifying format and then showed equal aggression and precision when he led the field to the checkered flag.
He ran 13 laps this morning during the Verizon IndyCar Series first practice, and even though that was the second-to-least number of laps run by anyone in the field, it was enough to give the driver of the No. 1 Team Penske Chevy, the fastest lap of the session. 1:04.9079 was just a few-hundredths of a second quicker than the second quickest driver, Graham Rahal.
Rahal clocked a 1:04.9422 minute lap in the red and black No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake RLL Honda – another familiar and welcome livery in the paddock this weekend. Rahal calls Mid-Ohio his hometrack, having spent so much of his childhood here with it being only 45 minutes from his hometown of Columbus, OH. Rahal won this event in 2015, 30 years after his dad found victory here. He looks to reclaim the title and fight for the very valuable points that are remaining in this season’s championship hunt. He is currently tied in 5th with Will Power, both drivers having earned 359 in 2017.
Rahal has been vocal about his determination to earn a Championship, and proud of the fact that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, as a one-car team, is right in the midst of the battle with “the big guys” like Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.
“I’m proud of where we’ve gotten to in the past few years. We have a lot to look forward to in the future. I’m still young and have a long career left in this sport.”
He also commented on the problems that have kept them from big results this season, while still being able to maintain consistency.
“A lot of places we’ve gone to, we’ve struggled to figure out what the car wants (even though we’re running the same setup as year prior). The balance was a little off (in morning practice) but we got a good lap in and we’ll work on it, move past it.”
Rahal stated that we should see a lot, if not all, of the cars run reds in afternoon practice. Since those are a new compound this year, lap times and overall results could be interesting.
He’s focused and admittedly unable to get his mind out of business-mode, so he’s one to keep an on eye on for smart but stealthy maneuvers and strategy this weekend.
The driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, Marco Andretti, was able to continue the pattern of having great pace in practice this morning. His fast lap of 1:04.9814 was good enough for P3. Sadly, he’s yet to have that pace translate into results in either qualifying or race time. However, I’m wondering if this weekend could be a turning point for the Pennsylvania native? His P4 finish at the Honda Indy Toronto two weeks ago was impressive, not to mention his best result in years. The hope is that the team was able to harness something from that experience that can assist them in finding success this weekend at Mid-Ohio.
You might think I’m reaching, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andretti with a podium finish on Sunday.
In-post photos: Shay Hazen (Rahal) & Chris Jones (Andretti)
Feature photo: Bret Kelley / IndyCar