PREVIEW: 2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Mid-Ohio

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Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

The NTT IndyCar Series returns this weekend for it’s third race in as many weekends with the 2019 Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. The undulating twists and turns of the thirteen-corner, 2.2-mile road course has seen the circuit become one of the favourite locations on the calendar for drivers and fans alike.

What’s more, with just five races remaining until the 2019 champion is crowned, this weekend’s race has all the potential to provide more key moments in what has already been an exciting and interesting season so far. Josef Newgarden enters the race as the championship leader with a twenty-nine point advantage over Alexander Rossi, with Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon realistically the remaining two contenders. Here is everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s race.

What happened in 2018 at Mid-Ohio?

In the first two rounds of qualifying for last year’s race at Mid-Ohio, it looked as though Team Penske were on course to take yet another pole position, with Josef Newgarden comfortably leading the way in both sessions. However, a last-minute lap in the final round from Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi saw the Californian steal pole position for himself, with Newgarden having to settle for only fourth on the grid after suddenly losing his prior speed from earlier runs.

When it came to the race on Sunday, the main plan for the drivers had been to make three pit-stops during the ninety lap race duration. However, Andretti had a different idea for pole-sitter Rossi. Whilst the three-stop strategy runners pitted fairly early on, Rossi was kept out on the race track. Rossi’s early pace and fuel-numbers opened the door for a potential two-stop strategy, which Alexander and his #27 Honda crew duly pulled off to perfection.

Once the field had made their final stops as the race drew to a close, Rossi had a twenty-four second lead over his nearest rivals. As expected, Alexander’s advantage was trimmed in the closing laps as the drivers with fresher tyres ran quicker, but no one was able to bridge the gap enough to put Rossi under threat.

In the end, Rossi would cross the line to take the victory with a margin of twelve seconds over second-place finisher, Robert Wickens, with Penske’s Will Power taking the final spot on the podium. The victory would be Rossi’s second of the season, following on from a similarly dominant win back at Long Beach. Rossi’s only issue during the entire day would come during his attempt at celebratory burnouts, which saw his car get beached off-track.

The win for Rossi saw him decrease Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Scott Dixon‘s championship lead down to fourty-nine points and would begin a run of consecutive strong results for the Andretti driver. He became a serious threat to Dixon in the closing races of the season, but ultimately he would come up short after issues at the season-finale at Sonoma Raceway.

You can read the full race reports from last year’s race at Mid-Ohio by following the link below: 

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

What should I look out for this weekend?

As previously mentioned, we are very much now in the business end of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. Just five races remain until the champion is crowned in September at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, with the series set to visit the ovals at Pocono Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park as well as the road course of Portland International Raceway before the season finale.

Before that, however, we have the matter of this weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio. Heading into the race, there are realistically four drivers in contention for the championship. Penske’s Josef Newgarden, as he has done for the vast majority of this season, continues to lead the championship standings.

After his win last time out at Iowa Speedway, Newgarden now has a twenty-nine point advantage over second-placed Alexander Rossi. Also realistically in the hunt are Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Ganassi’s Scott Dixon, who trail championship-leader Newgarden by fifty-eight and ninety-eight points respectively. Other drivers are still mathematically in contention, but realistically they are highly unlikely to be able to bridge the points deficit in the final five rounds.

As a result of the championship hunt heating up, focus this weekend will continue to be upon the four realistic championship contenders. All four drivers enter the weekend having previously stood on the top step of the podium at Mid-Ohio, with Dixon holding the most previous wins at the circuit having won on five occasions earlier in his career.

However, perhaps the championship contender entering the weekend with perhaps the most confidence will be Andretti’s, Alexander Rossi. His crushing performance in last year’s race saw him and the team take a dominant victory from pole position with an incredible tyre strategy. Rossi demonstrated that he has the speed and his team have the strategies to come out on top in Mid-Ohio and he will be determined to do so again to try and draw himself closer to the championship-leader.

For Pagenaud and Dixon, if this weekend goes to plan then they could very much be firmly back in the championship hunt. However, one mis-step could see them all but eliminated from contention; particularly for Dixon who is almost one hundred points away from the championship-leader. Both will arguably be disappointed with anything less than a podium this weekend as they try to thrust themselves back into contention.

In the other major championship battle, just forty-three points separate the four full-time rookie of the year candidates. After a mixed bag of results throughout the season so far, all four drivers sit outside of the top ten in the overall standings with five rounds remaining, with Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist currently leading the rookie drivers in eleventh place on 255-points. Rosenqvist will be hoping to perhaps break into the top ten after this weekend, with the Swedish driver having previously visited Mid-Ohio during his tests with Ganassi over the last few years.

Dale Coyne Racing‘s Santino Ferrucci is currently Rosenqvist’s closest rival in the rookie standings. Whilst Rosenqvist has struggled to get good results on the ovals this season, Ferrucci has thrived. Both drivers have taken a best finish so far this season of fourth place, but Ferrucci will be hoping to draw on his prior experience of racing single-seaters in Europe to try and get a similarly strong result on the Mid-Ohio road course this weekend so that he can take the fight to Felix.

The remaining rookies of Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson are currently further back in the standings in fourteenth and fifteenth respectively. Both have shown flashes of incredible speed so far this season but have had their rookie season’s somewhat hampered by a few too many issues. Herta, of course, took a memorable victory in only his third IndyCar race at the Circuit of the Americas in March, whilst Ericsson took his debut podium finish at Belle Isle in June.

Sadly, however, Herta has failed to finish inside the top ten in eight of the twelve races so far, with Ericsson also failing to make the top ten on nine occasions. Both will be massively hoping to not add to that unfortunate tally this weekend as they look to put themselves back in contention for the rookie crown by the end of the season.

Finally, keep an eye on three returning drivers this weekend. Meyer Shank Racing‘s Jack Harvey and DragonSpeed‘s Ben Hanley will resume their part-time campaigns this weekend and will be looking to continue what has so far been relatively strong seasons for the pair of British drivers. In the meantime, American RC Enerson will make his IndyCar return after three years as he takes to the track in the #31 Carlin Chevrolet.

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 26 July

11:20 ET / 16:20 GMT – Practice one
15:15 ET / 20:15 GMT – Practice two

Saturday 27 July

10:30 ET / 15:30 GMT – Practice three
14:30 ET / 19:30 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 28 July

15:30 ET / 20:30 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2019 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio?

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to the Mid-Ohio website for more information.

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be shown on NBC Sports.

Further coverage of practice and qualifying will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to Mid-Ohio for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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