Sunday, August 2, 2015

First Impressions: Mid-Ohio 2015

1. Now the championship is interesting. Graham Rahal wins at home, at Mid-Ohio and trails Juan Pablo Montoya by nine points with two races to go. He caught a break with a caution but won from 13th and got the two bonus points for most laps led by leading one more lap than Scott Dixon. Rahal made some passes in the early going of the race and had to use strategy to get himself in contention but he held off challengers in the final laps including holding them off on two restarts to get a massive victory.

2. Four Andretti drivers have finished on the podium this year as Justin Wilson finished second. He used strategy just like Rahal to get to the front but he was able to run with the big boys. He gave Rahal a run for his money but he could make a pass. This is a big result for Wilson who wasn't given a full-time ride. He deserves it and he might just earn it if he can get another podium in the final two races. 

3. Simon Pagenaud got his second podium of the season in what has been a tough first year with Penske. It's a step in the right direction though and the top three finishers started 13th, 14th and 15th. The first 29 Mid-Ohio races were won from within the top eight. The last two have been won from 22nd and 13th and today's race had the podium swept by drivers who started outside the top ten. And people say you can't pass at Mid-Ohio.

4. Mr. Mid-Ohio, Scott Dixon led today but for the first time he led at Mid-Ohio and did not win. He got caught by two cautions. The first vaulted Montoya ahead of him and the second benefitted him in that he got back ahead of Montoya but bit him in that Rahal, Wilson and Pagenaud were all able to pit and get out ahead of Dixon. He is still in the championship picture, trailing Montoya by 34 points but he lost two points as Rahal nipped him for most laps led by leading the final lap. He is still alive and has won at both Pocono and Sonoma. Don't count Dixon out.

5. Tony Kanaan was quiet all day but got up to fifth thanks to pitting before the penultimate caution for a Sage Karam spin. It's a good finish for Kanaan but he wasn't a factor in this one.

6. Tristan Vautier finished sixth from 24th, last on the grid. He worked strategy to his favor and just like the six drivers in front of him he benefitted from Karam's caution. He kept his nose clean, led some laps during a pit cycle and got a respectable finish.

7. Ryan Hunter-Reay came home seventh, which seems like a fair finish. He started seventh, race just on the edge of the top five for most of the first stint. Got caught out by a caution during the first pit cycle, got caught behind Sage Karam during the second pit cycle, caught a break with the Karam caution and it appears it all even out for him.

8. Jack Hawksworth had a really good weekend. He finished eighth after starting 11th. He has one of the fastest Honda's all weekend. Hawksworth has the talent to be a front-runner and if A.J. Foyt Racing gives him time and a better teammate than Takuma Sato, he might be able to contend for victories on a weekly basis.

9. Carlos Muñoz finished ninth after starting 23rd. To be honest, Muñoz wasn't mentioned at all during this one. He kept his nose clean, made some passes and this is what he gets.

10. Another top ten for Marco Andretti. People love to bash Marco Andretti and it's true he hasn't won in a while but he now has 11 top ten finishes, tied for most this season with Juan Pablo Montoya. He has a ride because he is a competent driver who can bring the car home in one piece.

11. Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th. At first, it appeared Montoya caught a break during the first pit cycle when a caution came out while he was on the pit lane. However, on the final pit cycle, Rahal was on the pit lane while Montoya was still on the track. He was able to pass Gabby Chaves and was fortunate that Luca Filippi ran out of fuel on the final lap. It could have been a 13th place finish and a 7-point championship lead but two points could be crucial when it is all said and done at Sonoma.

12. To round this out: Good finish for Gabby Chaves in 12th. Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Hélio Castroneves all had better days than 13th, 14th and 15th show. 

13. The Karam incident. It is suspicious. However, DTM had a controversy earlier today where two-time DTM champion Timo Scheider might have been told "schieb ihn raus" or "push him off" and then run into the back of Robert Wickens, who then took out Pascal Wehrlein. DTM are kind of embracing the controversy. And they excluded Scheider from today's race from Austria. IndyCar should embrace this controversy. That doesn't mean ignore it or not punish anyone if punishment is necessary but IndyCar needs a little on-track controversy, not boardroom controversy. 

14. Two races to go. Round one of Astor Cup August went to Graham Rahal. Will he be able to take the fight to Juan Pablo Montoya in the final two races? Can Scott Dixon make a challenge? Will one of the other two Penske drivers try to knock Montoya off his perch? Find out in three weeks when IndyCar heads to the tricky triangle of Pocono Raceway.