Look at it this way – the Verizon IndyCar Series is nothing if not consistent at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend. Another red flag laced practice session started off with a red flag 10 minutes into final practice when Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 19 Paysafe Honda, Dale Coyne Racing) got stuck in a gravel trap after going off up at the Keyhole (Turn 2). He needed assistance to get out, but was then able to head back to pitlane under his own power, and he continued on in the practice session.
The second red was called for Matheus Leist in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevy for AJ Foyt Racing when he drifted off course after an apparent lock-up, making impact with the Turn 9 barrier.
Then with about 5 minutes remaining in the practice, both Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menard’s Chevy, Team Penske) and Spencer Pigot (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Chevy, Ed Carpenter Racing) went off course in unrelated incidents. Pigot went off course in Turn 1, was restarted, and made his way back to pit lane under his own power. Pagenaud however, took a bit of a bumpy ride off-course, making contact with the barrier in Turn 12 and ending his day. He got out of the car on his own and was transported back to pitlane by the AMR Safety Crew.
Ohio native and 2015 Honda Indy 200 winner, Graham Rahal, ran the fastest lap of the session – 1:05.2067. That’s quicker than the race lap record, set in 2016 by Will Power (1:05.2600) and a good indication that we could see that record broken tomorrow. Not so sure that we’ll see the qualifying record broken this afternoon unless the track grips up more than it did yesterday. That record is 1:03.8700, and it was also set in 2016, but by Simon Pagenaud. With qualifying being run an hour earlier than yesterday’s afternoon practice, I’m not holding out hope for that increased grip.
You know what I am feeling pretty confident about though? Josef Newgarden getting the pole position today. He ran second fastest in the first and last practices, and of the four Verizon P1 Awards he’s earned this year, two of them were at the only other permanent road courses we’ve raced this year so far – Barber Motorsports Park and Road America. He’s definitely suited to this style of track layout – the flow, the elevation changes, the maneuverability and reaction time needed in traffic. Outside of one off-course incident in practice yesterday, he seems to have figured out the new braking zones and acceleration points of Mid-Ohio with this new kit – something that quite a few drivers seem to struggling with even today.
The only thing that raises a red flag (no, not another one!) to me is the fact that all three Team Penske cars have bobbled in practices this weekend. That’s a rarity. So it’s not like they are invincible to errors in qualifying later today, but maybe the fact that they all found that limit and no where not to push to car on track, will actually work to their advantage.
If a Penske car doesn’t claim the Verizon P1 Award for the 2018 Honda Indy 200, my money would be on an Andretti or SPM car. They’ve all shown a lot of promise over the past two days – particularly Ryan Hunter-Reay. He’s on an upswing recently and that momentum could carry him to the front of the field in Firestone Fast 6 qualifying.