Thursday, July 31, 2014

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2014

IndyCar returns to Mid-Ohio for the 30th time
The penultimate road course and fifteenth round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Hélio Castroneves enters with a thirteen point lead over his Team Penske comrade Will Power. Ryan Hunter-Reay is third in the championship, sixty-nine points back and Simon Pagenaud is two points behind the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner in the championship standings. Juan Pablo Montoya makes it three Penske drivers in the top five. The Colombian trails the Brazilian by 105 points.

Time: Coverage begins on Sunday August 3rd at 3:00 p.m. ET with green flag at 3:50 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs, Townsend Bell, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast, Marty Snider and Robin Miller.

Championship Contenders at Mid-Ohio
Hélio Castroneves has two victories at Mid-Ohio. They came in 2000 and 2001. Since 2007, Castroneves has been able to tally three more podiums to bring his Mid-Ohio total to five. The Brazilian has struggled qualifying at Mid-Ohio in recent years, having qualified fifteenth, twenty-third and fourteenth in the last three visits.

Will Power has never won at Mid-Ohio but has two second place finishes and two fourth place finishes. His worst finish at Mid-Ohio is fourteenth while averaging a starting position of fourth. Last year was the first time Power did not lead a lap in a Mid-Ohio start. He has led 87 laps in his five starts at Mid-Ohio.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has two podiums, four top fives and seven top tens in eight Mid-Ohio starts. He has seven top ten starts at Mid-Ohio. Like Power, Hunter-Reay has yet to break through and get a Mid-Ohio victory. Hunter-Reay started from pole last year, his second career front row start at Mid-Ohio. He started second in his first start on the 2.25-mile road course in 2003.

Simon Pagenaud has only three starts to his name at Mid-Ohio and he wasn't even scheduled to race there in 2011. The Frenchman was a last minute substitute after Justin Wilson fractured a vertebra after going off the road in practice. Pagenaud was able to finish thirteenth that day. Since joining Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, Pagenaud has two podiums in two Mid-Ohio starts including an thrilling drive last year only to be beat by Charlie Kimball.

Juan Pablo Montoya has the least amount of Mid-Ohio starts out of the top five of the championship. He won at the track after leading the final 28 laps en route to his 1999 championship. He started eighth that day, matching Al Unser, Jr.'s win in 1995 as the furthest back on the grid a Mid-Ohio winner has come from. He finished twenty-fourth the following year after running out of fuel.

Scott Dixon's House
The Kiwi holds the record for most IndyCar wins at Mid-Ohio at four. He has five podiums, seven top fives and eight top tens in nine Mid-Ohio starts. His worst starting position since Mid-Ohio returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2007 is sixth. An ironic fact about Dixon is he has won every Mid-Ohio race he has led a lap in and has led a total of 156 laps at Mid-Ohio.

If Dixon has any hope in defending his IndyCar championship, he is going to need to pick up his fifth victory at Mid-Ohio as he finds himself sixth in the championship, 146 points back of his championship rival from last year Hélio Castroneves. If he doesn't win the title, he is in prime position to make in three consecutive season in which the defending championship has finished seventh in the championship the following year. Dixon is only three points ahead of Carlos Muñoz in seventh. Muñoz is the top rookie in the 2014 championship.

We Don't Need No Stinky Cautions?
The last two Mid-Ohio races have gone wire-to-wire without a full course caution. The last full course caution to occur at Mid-Ohio was on lap 57 in 2011 when Danica Patrick and Graham Rahal got together, beaching Rahal in the keyhole gravel trap. The caution lasted three laps and there have been 201 consecutive green flags run at Mid-Ohio in IndyCar competition since then.

The nonstop action hasn't stopped guys coming from the back of the field. In 2012, James Hinchcliffe went from 15th to 5th, Tony Kanaan from 18th to 6th, Graham Rahal from 21st to 11th and substituting for an injured Charlie Kimball, Giorgio Pantano went from 24th to 14th.

Last year, Charlie Kimball and Simon Pagenaud let it all hang out on three stop strategies to pick up the top two positions while the likes of Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon dropped from contention for the victory sticking to two stop strategies.

Hometown Woes
The Ohioan Graham Rahal has never faired well at his home track. In six Mid-Ohio starts, Rahal has only two top ten starts and only one top ten finishes with an average finish of 16.16. The 2014 season has been a disaster for the 25-year old. Outside of a second in Belle Isle 1, Rahal is eighteenth in the championship, only one point ahead of Carlos Huertas and twenty-one points back of Jack Hawksworth who missed a race after an accident forced the Brit to sit out at Pocono. To make matters worse for Rahal, he has not had a top ten finish on a natural-terrain road course since finishing fifth at Sonoma in 2012.

Pirelli World Challenge
Johnny O'Connell retained the points lead after Toronto and is 108 points clear of Mike Skeen in second. Mid-Ohio is the site of Skeen's first career PWC victory which was also Skeen's first career start in 2010. O'Connell's Cadillac teammate Andy Pilgrim is still winless in 2014 and is third in the championship. Andrew Palmer and Anthony Lazzaro round out the top five in the GT championship.

Last year, Alex Figge swept the Mid-Ohio weekend. Ryan Dalziel returns to PWC driving the #31 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3. Nick Tandy won at Toronto driving the #31 Porsche. Making his PWC debut in the #12 CRP Racing Chevrolet Corvette will be 2010 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Alex Lloyd. Lloyd made one IndyCar start at Mid-Ohio. He finished thirteenth in 2010 after starting twenty-first.

Seven different drivers have won in ten GT races this season.

In the GTS championship, Mark Wilkins took thee points lead after winning the second race at his home weekend in Toronto. The Kia driver leads Mustang driver Dean Martin by 142 points. Wilkins' Kia teammate Nic Jönsson is third in the championship, 175 markers back. Jack Baldwin and Jack Roush, Jr. round out the top five with defending GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach in sixth.

Last year, Wilkins and Aschenbach split the Mid-Ohio weekend. U.S. F2000 driver Austin Cindric makes his PWC debut driving the #55 Ford Mustang Boss for Capaldi Racing in efforts to raise awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Indy Lights
Gabby Chaves leads Zach Veach by twenty-one points heading into a doubleheader at Mid-Ohio. Jack Harvey is forty-eight points back in third with Matthew Brabham sixty-two points back. The most recent winner in the Indy Lights series, Alex Baron will not be at Mid-Ohio, despite being fifth in the championship. He will be replaced by Zimbabwean Axcil Jefferies who finished seventh at Mid-Ohio last year on his Indy Lights debut.

Chaves picked up his first career Indy Lights victory at Mid-Ohio last year while Veach finished fifth. Matthew Brabham swept the Pro Mazda doubleheader at Mid-Ohio in 2013.

Pro Mazda
Spencer Pigot holds a fifteen point advantage over Canadian Scott Hargrove as Pro Mazda have their own doubleheader at Mid-Ohio. Pigot won at Mid-Ohio in U.S. F2000 in 2012. He finished fourth and fifth last year at Mid-Ohio in Pro Mazda. Scott Hargrove had two second place finishes last year in U.S. F2000 at Mid-Ohio. Third in the Pro Mazda championship Neil Alberico won two of three U.S. F2000 Mid-Ohio races in 2013. Alberico is three points ahead of Shelby Blackstock in the championship with Kyle Kaiser eight points back of Alberico in fifth. Indianapolis Raceway Park winner Garrett Grist is sixth in the championship and won at Mid-Ohio last year in U.S. F2000.

U.S. F2000
The penultimate round of the 2014 U.S. F2000 championship features a triple header at Mid-Ohio. Frenchman Florian Latorre took the points lead after R.C. Enerson had a mishap in Toronto race two costing him what looked like a definite victory. Latorre is fifteen points ahead of Jake Eidson and twenty-two ahead of Enerson.

Enerson had two podiums and a fourth in the Mid-Ohio triple header last year while Latorre finished fourth, seventh and twenty-second in the three races.

Fun Facts
The average starting position for a winner at Mid-Ohio is 2.82.

The pole sitter has won eleven of twenty-nine races at Mid-Ohio. Outside of row one has produced six winners.

This will be the first race on August 3rd since Bruno Junqueira won at Road America in 2003.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 65 laps to become the twenty-seventh driver to join the 1,500 laps led club.

Mike Conway's average finish at Mid-Ohio is 22.333 in three starts at the track.

Should he take the green flag, Graham Rahal will be making his 125th IndyCar start.

Remember more facts can always be found at the Telemetry Center.

It's Scott Dixon's house. But Ryan Hunter-Reay breaks into victory lane. Dixon gets a podium, as will Simon Pagenaud. Penske doesn't get a car in the top five. Mike Conway doesn't get a top ten. Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan's struggles continue. Jack Hawksworth is the top finishing rookie. Sleeper: Ryan Briscoe.