Three red flags make for an eventful practice. Thankfully, no injuries or serious damage was reported, but it could foreshadow a wild weekend ahead of us. These kits are definitely able to throw a wrench into the plans of these drivers, as everyone tests their limits at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course over the next three days.
Matheus Leist, one of the first drivers to take to the track after the installation laps, went off track in Turn 5 and caused the first red flag. The AMR Safety Team responded quickly as always and got the No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevy back on it’s way to pit lane.
Robert Wickens mentioned earlier that the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda crew had found a setup that they liked when testing last week, but there still looks to be some work to do as he was the reason for the second red flag, going off track at Turn 2 and trailing smoke only 2 minutes after the second green flag of the session. Just prior to the red, I was walking through the pits and saw his team working feverishly on the engine, so it seems they were already unhappy with how it had rolled off the truck before the red flag happened. This could be a longer weekend than they expected. Wickens is strong on permanent road courses though, with a finish of P4 at Barber and P5 at Road America.
The third and final red flag was caused by the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy, Will Power, as he spun in Turn 9 and came to a stop on the track. Behind that, and it’s unclear if it was it’s own incident or a reactionary situation to the Power spin, Charlie Kimball (No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Racing Chevy) got into the back of Tony Kanaan (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda). I saw Kimball’s car as it was headed back to the garages but the nose barely had a scratch on it, so it looked like the impact wasn’t all that significant. Regardless, the combination of everything in addition to the timing, led race control to fly not just the red, but also the checkered for the session, cutting it 2 minutes shorter than anticipated.
The green time on track yielded mixed engine results across the top of timing and scoring, with Sebastien Bourdais charging ahead of the pack in his No. 18 Seal Master Dale Coyne Racing Honda with a fast lap of 1:05.5784. He started from pole at the Honda Indy 200 in 2014 but remains winless in Lexington, OH. It’s worth noting however, that he is not winless in the state of Ohio – having won the Grand Prix of Cleveland twice in the Champ Car days. Hmm, are those days they are referring to when they say “the good old days of racing”? I think maybe. Because, Cleveland.
Sorry, I will try not to go down any rabbit holes this weekend. I can not guarantee it though.
Moving on… the cars with the next best times are a couple of 2018 championship contenders. Josef Newgarden (No. 1 HItachi Team Penske Chevy) was second quickest with a 1:05.9167 lap – just four-tenths of a second behind Bourdais. Mr. Mid-Ohio himself, Scott Dixon, clocked a 1:06.2157, with an even smaller gap between his No. 9 PNC Ganassi Honda and Newgarden. Dixon currently leads the race to the Astor Cup. A win this weekend would certainly help in giving him a larger lead, but even if he didn’t start his 300th race (yes, 300th) on Sunday, he would still be leading the points race by approximately a dozen points. Yeah, he’s just that good.
We still have one more practice session today, so let’s see if some of these teams come out of the gate with a better idea of how the kit is handling this track. Maybe a few less reds and some more green time to get the data they are all going to want for qualifying? Expect to see those test runs happen this afternoon as the track temps and weather conditions will be similar to tomorrow afternoon when the field will battle for the Verizon P1 Award.