This Independence Day there will be fireworks all across the United States, but perhaps none more exciting than those that will be seen at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as the NTT IndyCar Series comes to town for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. After a dominant win at Road America two weeks ago, Alex Palou leads the championship with 349 points and a 21-point lead over Patricio O’Ward in second. Palou’s teammate, Scott Dixon, sits in third place with 296 points, waiting for one of the young guns to make a mistake as the season begins to wind down.
This weekend will mark the highly-anticipated returns of Felix Rosenqvist and Rinus Veekay from injury, as well as the return of Santino Ferrucci with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It will also mark the series debut of former Indy Lights and current IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge driver Ryan Norman as a part of Dale Coyne Racing.
One of the most physically taxing tracks on the calendar, the 3.634 km course will demand the most out of the drivers and should produce exciting racing for the fans. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Mid-Ohio was made a doubleheader event last year. Race one saw Will Power take the pole and dominate from start to finish, leading 66 laps of the 75 lap race. Power led all the way up until the pit cycle when he pit on lap 21, switching from the alternate red-wall tyres to the harder black-wall tyres. Alexander Rossi, who started on the harder compound, inherited the lead.
After he made his pit stop on lap 26, Power dominated the next stint, pulling away from teammate Josef Newgarden and the rest of the pack behind. Power pit from the lead on lap 47 as others pit around him and was able to leave pit lane with his lead intact, cruising home to his first ever win at Mid-Ohio.
Newgarden finished second and Rossi finished third on his alternate strategy, claiming his second podium of the year and first of five straight towards the end of the season. Then-championship leader Dixon started deep in the field in seventeenth, but had a stellar drive to pull himself back up to tenth as Newgarden continued to slice into his points lead.
The second race saw action right from the drop of the green flag, as Colton Herta led the field to green alongside Ferrucci. As the field barreled down to what would normally be turn four, Ferrucci was pushed wide into the grass and dangerously re-joined the track in turn five. This caused contact with his then-teammate Palou, who collided with Rosenqvist to bring out the first caution of the afternoon. The day was over for Palou and Rosenqvist before it really began, and Ferrucci was handed a penalty for avoidable contact.
Herta led the field to green again on lap five, chased down by the veteran Dixon. Herta was able to stretch his lead from the six-time champion all the way until another caution was brought out on lap 16 as Dalton Kellett went off-track in turn one. Teams immediately made a move to pit lane before a caution was thrown, and IndyCar waited until pit stops were complete to throw the yellow as there was no immediate safety concern for Kellett.
Most of the field pit for the primary black tyre, but Herta’s Andretti Autosport teammates Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay pit for the softer reds, giving them an advantage from the restart. The race went back to green on lap twenty and Rossi was able to make the pass on lap twenty one to take second place. On lap 22, Dixon made a rare but crucial mistake, spinning in turn one after hitting a curb that was still wet from rain in the morning. Luckily, Dixon was able to keep the car from stalling but he plummeted down the order to twentieth.
On lap 45, Rossi was the first to pit for his final pit stop, going to another set of blacks while Herta responded the next lap by switching to fresh reds to the end. Rossi tried to hunt down his teammate at the end of the race, but it was not to be as Herta took the win with Rossi second and Hunter-Reay third to complete an all-Andretti podium. Dixon recovered from his spin to finish a brilliant tenth place, while Power and O’Ward recovered from qualifying spins to finish seventh and ninth respectively.
You can read the full report on Race One here.
You can read the full report on Race Two here.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?
Qualifying has been absolutely vital to a strong performance at Mid-Ohio in recent years, as three of the last four races have been won from the pole and five of the last six have been won from the front row. Qualifying ace Power has had no issue starting on the pole in his career, and has nine front row starts at Mid-Ohio with six podium finishes as well as the best average finish at Mid-Ohio in the field of fifth.
Power showed that he can win despite Team Penske not putting together the results expected of them so far this year and would have won had it not been for issues with the heat in the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit, but this could be his best shot yet at giving the team their first win of the year.
Another factor to keep an eye on throughout the field will be starts and re-starts. IndyCar starts the race on the straightaway leading to turn four, and keeping clean into the heavy braking zone could save some races. However, some drivers may get bold here, since it is one of the best overtaking spots on the track, but it should produce exciting action all day.
Also worth watching will be the returns of Rosenqvist and Veekay from injury. Rosenqvist is back in the car after suffering a scary crash in race one at Detroit, and Veekay was cleared to race on Wednesday following a fractured clavicle after a biking accident. At one of the most physically demanding tracks, it will really test if the two drivers are still race fit.
The debut of Norman will be exciting to watch, as the former Andretti Autosport prospect finally gets a shot at the series. In six races at Mid-Ohio in three years of Indy Lights, Norman hasn’t finished outside of the top ten and four top fives in his last four starts. While driving a proper IndyCar will be a whole different test for the 23-year-old American, it will be exciting to watch him live out his dream and see what his future holds.
And finally, with how dominant Chip Ganassi Racing have been this year, you can never count out Dixon at his most successful track. Across his nearly two-decade long career, IndyCar’s “Iceman” has six wins at the track. This could be his chance to turn the championship into a real three-way fight.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THIS WEEKEND?
Friday 02 July
1430 EST / 1930 BST – Practice 1
Saturday 03 July
0905 EST / 1405 BST – Practice 2
1200 EST / 1700 BST – Qualifying
1530 EST / 2030 BST – Final Practice
Sunday 04 July
1200 EST / 1700 BST – Race
WHERE CAN I WATCH?
Coverage in the UK for the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.
In the United States, coverage for practice and qualifying will be broadcast on the Peacock streaming service, with the race being broadcast on NBC.
HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?
You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions. You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.