For many reasons, both personal and professional, I’ve always enjoyed the IndyCar weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Some years the race is predictable and and processional, sometimes there’s some exciting action, and there’s always Scott Dixon showing everyone else how to run a race lap at the course. There’s also the fried bologna sandwiches! (stop laughing) In addition to the Verizon IndyCar Series, the entire Mazda Road to Indy program was present as well as the GT, GTA, and GTS classes of SCCA Pro Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge. There was not a moment of empty track from 8:00am through 6:30pm! Fans definitely get their money’s worth. This year brought Chamber of Commerce weather for the entire weekend with temperatures in the 70s and low 80s and partly sunny skies. It was a perfect weekend for motor car racing!
[singlepic id=47 w=300 float=right]In spite of some recent successes, Honda has no hope of contesting the manufacturers’ championship this season. As a result, the only thing that matters at this point are race wins and Honda desperately wanted one this weekend. Honda has a big presence in Ohio with their Marysville plant and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is treated as their home track during the IndyCar weekend. They always have a large hospitality presence, but this year, they pulled out all the stops. It was a storybook ending to the weekend when native Ohioan, Graham Rahal, ran well all weekend long and won at Mid-Ohio 30 years after his father, Bobby Rahal, won his first CART race at this undulating circuit. It was an ending that tapped all the feels even if you aren’t a Rahal or Honda fan.
LED Position Panels
[singlepic id=103 w=300 h=200 float=left]INDYCAR introduced new LED panels for the air box of the cars to indicate position, whether push-to-not-be-passed was used, and the pit-stop time. While I didn’t have the opportunity to see how the panels worked in the pits, they performed great on track. During the race, it really helped as we watched Dixon claw his way back through the field after an unfortunately timed pitstop and full-course caution. The application method looked a bit rushed and ill-conceived, that method being liberal application of packing tape. It’s a great idea, and a good step forward in helping the casual race fan keep track of where their favourite drivers are.
Attendance and viewership numbers were strong
At first, the TV viewership numbers looked abysmal as the IndyCar race was shoved onto CNBC in favour of the NASCAR race which aired on NBCSN. According to an article on Racer.com, only 172k people tuned in. Fortunately for INDYCAR and all of the sponsors, the viewership for the reairing which immediately followed the NASCAR race was a whopping 666k viewers. That’s more than double last year’s numbers and a record rating for IndyCar on NBCSN.
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Although the attendance at Iowa and Milwaukee weren’t spectacular, they were decent and an order of magnitude (literally) than the handful that bothered to show up for the Fontana race. The attendance at these ovals pales in comparison to the track attendance at the natural-terrain road courses on the calendar. While I didn’t get around to the entire course during the race, and I haven’t seen the broadcast yet, the crowd in the infield, especially in the Esses, was huge. Even the grandstands were full! I’m sure the forecast helped, but the event has steadily been gaining traction every year recovering the attendance lost when the American Le Mans Series stopped sharing the race weekend.
No breaks for Kimball
[singlepic id=150 w=300 h=200 float=right]In 2013, Charlie Kimball drove a masterful race. While his pit strategy put him in position to lead the race, he made prime use of the opportunity by turning lap times that were faster than anyone else on the circuit that afternoon. This year, he was poised to demonstrate again how well he knows this track and the fast way around it, but thrice during the race he was punted off track and thrown to the back of the grid. The problems started very early as Will Power went off into the grass outside of Turn 4. Power made contact with Kimball as he came back on track at the exit of Turn 5 which resulted in Kimball being beached in the gravel trap outside of Turn 6. From there, his day just got worse. It’s a real shame as he had shown great pace in qualifying by making the Firestone Fast Six and out qualifying his teammates Tony Kanaan and Sage Karam.
Sato’s 100th ends in tears
[singlepic id=101 w=300 h=200 float=left]Takuma Sato started the IndyCar portion of his driving career on the streets of Sao Paulo. Brazil in 2010. The race at Mid-Ohio this past weekend was his 100th race start in the Verizon IndyCar Series and his fans were out in droves to celebrate. Unfortunately, Sato still has a habit of being hard on equipment and after tearing off his second rear aero assembly, the team retired the car. It’s shame as both AJ Foyt Racing cars have struggled this year. Sato has had four DNFs this season and only one top-five finish, a P2 at Detroit. Unless Sato and Hawksworht put up some serious results in these final two races, AJ may be looking for a new driver line-up.
The Karam witch hunt continues
Sage Karam has struggled to find a full-time home in IndyCar. His long-time relationship with Chip Ganassi Racing is starting to pay off as he’s had the opportunity to compete in more races this year than in previous seasons. His races are not without controversy, however. Most notably, he was called out by Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal after his IndyCar career-high third-place finish at the Iowa Speedway. [singlepic id=161 w=300 h=200 float=right]The racing on the 7/8-mile oval was close and hard, and Sage was chastised for being too aggressive. We can debate this in the comments section, but in my opinion, the way he raced Carpenter at Iowa was no different than the way Carpenter raced his own teammate, Josef Newgarden at Milwaukee.
Fast forward two weeks and you still see and hear criticisms of the 20-year old Pennsylvanian. In the later stages of the race, Sage had an awkward spin in the Esses, bringing out a full-course caution. The timing of the caution allowed Karam’s teammate, Scott Dixon, to make up a significant amount of track position that he’d lost in the previous FCY. The conspiracy theory is that Sage was ordered to take a dive for the team. (Does this story sound familiar?) No orders were delivered over the radio, unless they have some complex code, and given Karam’s part-time position in the series, he needs to post results, not DNFs. Having known Sage for the past six years since his start in the USF2000 series, I cannot believe that this was a purposeful spin. Yes, he is an aggressive driver, but I’ve never found him to be the type of person that would intentionally compromise the integrity of a race like this. I know others disagree.
So what did YOU think of the race? Do you think Graham can close the nine-point gap to Juan Pablo Montoya at Pocono? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Photos of the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
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