Well, that was fun! To say the absolute least.
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was the stage for one of the best races of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, and the best Indy car race at Mid-Ohio that this lifelong fan can remember. Side-by-side racing, tons of passes, fast laps being set throughout the field, surprises in tire degradation, a slew of strategies across mileages, pit windows, and according to Robert Wickens, “a cheeky start”!
That opinion aside, the caution-free 90-lap contest seemed to fly by, given that we were all captivated by the 24-car field’s maneuvers around this flowing 13-turn permanent road course.
There was really only one incident to speak of and that’s when Max Chilton, with his best start of the year, made contact with Takuma Sato. Chilton was issued a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact after spinning Sato 180 degrees at the entrance of the esses. Sato was able to continue on without issue, avoiding the waving of any yellow flags after driver’s behind him were thankfully able to avoid him as well.
According to third place finisher, Will Power, it was very difficult to race on the blacks today, and the reason for that was strongly tied to the cooler temperatures today. He admitted post-race that maybe he should have ‘pushed a bit more, a bit earlier’, expanding on that to say,
“We had a strong finish but so did every other championship contender. That seems to be how it goes now, all the guys you’re racing later in the season are also on top of their game. The same thing happened last year. This series is so hard to win now. You’re pushing constantly in the car, there’s no time to rest.”
Robert Wickens, with his 4th podium finish of this rookie season, expanded on that level of competition, mirroring what many others have said: “Anything can happen.” And this next part is something I’m particularly fond of, because coming from a guy like Wickens, who we label a rookie in this racing series, is far from a rookie in the world of racing. After the race, in a discussion about how the rest of the season might play out, he added to why that aforementioned unpredictability is a positive thing, admitting:
“That’s what I love about IndyCar. I love that it’s pure racing, through and through.”
Wickens led 10 laps today, and thought he would have been able to challenge Rossi for that elusive first win if he had had a clear stint, but battling cars in front of him and blue flags that didn’t really mean much in the long run, made that a difficult situation to navigate. Literally.
“The rules are the rules. They’re not going to change this season, right? What they have is what we have to deal with throughout the whole year. I just thought it was comical for my entire third stint, honestly 28 laps, marshals were waving flags every lap I went through. I felt bad for the marshals. Waving flags for no reason. Just don’t do it.
It ruined my race. I understand you can be a lap down, but, I mean, it was just frustrating. The track was pretty hard to overtake on. The fact I would have had to blow a hundred seconds of overtake to try to pull off a move, I wasn’t ready to do that. And I wasn’t interested in going three-wide with them (Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato) when they’re pushing each other in the grass and stuff.
It was kind of a risk-versus-reward type of thing. I saw a win slipping away, but… I waited for a mistake from Sato, capitalized on that, was able to get by T.K. in one lap. It’s a shame. Don’t know what would have happened if it happened a lap earlier.”
Despite that frustration, Wickens was still pleased with a P2 finish from a P5 start.
You know who was the most pleased with their result today? Alexander Rossi. He drove Baby Girl, better known as the No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda, into victory lane for the second time this season.
(Side note: shout out to Mid-Ohio for the brand new victory circle, complete with permanent podium build and backdrop as well as the new paving to bring the car right up in front of the stage. And the location is magnificent! Kudos!)
This was the fourth career win for Rossi, his others coming at Indianapolis in 2016 (who could forget that one?!), Watkins Glen in 2017, and Long Beach in April of this year. One of the most impressive stats, is Rossi’s ratio of pole positions to victories. Three of his wins were obtained from the pole position. The only time he didn’t win from the pole was at Belle Isle race #2 earlier this season.
Rossi fully credits the win today to the team,
“It’s pretty impressive, the evolution of the entire team. It’s been a privilege to be a part of it since day one. This is a fantastic effort from the No. 27 team. It’s the best when you get to just find your rhythm and let your team do what they do. It was a boring race for me, and that’s the best kind of race to have.”
Mid-Ohio remains a track where qualifying is very important for victory, statistically speaking. But, the movement within the field today was impressive with guys like Sebastien Bourdais moving up 18 positions to P6, and Simon Pagenaud moving up 9 positions to finish in P8. Must be a French thing!
Regarding the rest of the season and the battle for a championship, Rossi commented on how this series demands drivers to be top-level at so many different elements, and how each track we come to requires a different approach, a different philosophy, and a different mindset. He also acknowledges that the pressure to beat Dixon for that Astor Cup is entirely on him. With Sonoma being double points, they have to keep chipping away and make the most of the opportunities that present themselves because by no means does he expect Dixon to make a mistake.
Flawless execution. That’s what Rossi is aiming for. And if today is any indication, I would say that Dixon should keep a close eye on his rear-view mirror.