Thursday, July 28, 2016

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2016

IndyCar returns to race by the hillside at Mid-Ohio
The 12th round of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Simon Pagenaud's championship lead was reduced to 47 points after Will Power picked up his third victory of 2016 at Toronto. IndyCar heads to Scott Dixon's backyard. The New Zealander has won five times in 11 starts at Mid-Ohio. Dixon's average finish at Mid-Ohio is 3.72 and he has finished in the top ten in his last ten starts at the track. Dixon finds himself fourth in the championship, 83 points behind Pagenaud after being leapfrogged at Toronto by Hélio Castroneves. This year's Mid-Ohio race occurs on what would have been Justin Wilson's 38th birthday. Wilson finished second last year at Mid-Ohio, the penultimate start in his IndyCar career.

Time: Coverage begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday July 31st. Green flag at 2:45 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: CNBC.
Announcers: Brian Till (Leigh Diffey is on Formula One duty), Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 10:00 a.m.-11:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes).
Second Practice: 2:00-3:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Final Practice: 9:45-10:30 a.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying: 2:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Warm-Up: 10:15-10:45 a.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race: 2:45 p.m. ET (85 laps).

Five Races To Complete, Six Proven Drivers Winless
Four drivers who won in 2015 have yet to score a victory this season and two Brazilians haven't won a race since 2014. 

Hélio Castroneves' most recent IndyCar victory came at Belle Isle in 2014 and in the 39 races since that day the Penske driver has seven runner-up finishes, including at Toronto two weeks ago, and three third-place finishes. While Castroneves has been in position to get a victory, those chances haven't come late in the season the last two years. He hasn't finished in the top ten of an IndyCar race after July 22nd since the 2013 season. In 2014, Castroneves' best finish in the final five races was 11th with an average finish of 14.8. Last year, Castroneves' best finish in the final four races was 11th with an average finish of 14.25. Mid-Ohio hasn't been great for Castroneves in recent years, as he has finished 15th or worse in four of the last five Mid-Ohio races. 

Tony Kanaan's drought is a dozen races shorter than his fellow countryman's and he hasn't been on the podium as much as Castroneves since his last victory. Kanaan has three runner-up finishes the last two seasons but while Kanaan hasn't been on the podium, he has been in the top ten. Kanaan has ten top ten finishes in 11 races this season, including six consecutive top ten finishes, and 16 top tens in the last 19 races. He finished fifth last year at Mid-Ohio after two consecutive finishes outside the top twenty at the 2.25-mile road course. Kanaan has never finished on the podium at Mid-Ohio with a fourth in 2007 being his best finish at the track. 

James Hinchcliffe is the top of the in the championship drivers who won last year and are still searching for victory in 2016. Since the Canadian's most recent victory at the rain-shortened NOLA race, he has finished on the podium twice, including a third at Toronto two weeks ago. If history tells anything about Hinchcliffe is the Canadian won't be victorious in the Buckeye State. Of Hinchcliffe's four victories, three came after finishes outside the top ten and Hinchcliffe has never finished on the podium in successive races and only three out of ten times has Hinchcliffe finished in the top ten after a podium including a seventh in the 100th Indianapolis 500 after a third in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

Like Hinchcliffe, Carlos Muñoz's victory in 2015 came in a rain-shortened race and the Colombian has only one podium, a second in this year's Indianapolis 500, since his maiden IndyCar victory came at Belle Isle. Muñoz heads to Mid-Ohio after finishes of 12th and 17th at Iowa and Toronto respectively. The Colombian has finished fourth and ninth at the track in his only starts. Muñoz hasn't had multiple podiums in a season since his rookie year when he has three third-place finishes. However, none of Muñoz's six podiums have come on a natural-terrain road course with three occurring at 2.5-mile ovals and three on street circuits. 

Graham Rahal won last year at Mid-Ohio but the Ohioan has not been victorious since he pleased the hometown crowd. He finished second after a tough battle with Simon Pagenaud and lapped traffic at Barber and he finished third at Road America however Rahal enters after two consecutive finishes outside the top ten. He hasn't had three consecutive finishes outside the top ten since the he failed to finish in the top ten in the final three races in 2014 and first race of 2015. Rahal could join his father Bobby, Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Alex Zanardi, Hélio Castroneves and Scott Dixon as drivers to win in successive years at Mid-Ohio. He could also join Bryan Herta and Max Papis as the only drivers to win in multiple seasons at Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay won two of the final four races last year and he enters Mid-Ohio with two podiums and six top ten finishes, one off his total all of 2015 with fives races remaining. After an engine failure at Iowa and a 12th at Toronto, Hunter-Reay is looking for his first victory of 2016 and a somewhat elusive victory at Mid-Ohio. Mid-Ohio was the sight of Hunter-Reay first career podium in 2003 and the American driver has nine top ten finishes in ten starts at the track. He has also started in the top ten nine times at Mid-Ohio. Hunter-Reay's last four victories have come on ovals with Barber 2014 being his most recent victory on a natural-terrain road course. 

Youth Springs at Dale Coyne Racing
RC Enerson will make his IndyCar debut in the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. The Floridian started 2015 in Indy Lights but his season ended after the Freedom 100. In the first eight races, Enerson's best finish was third at Phoenix. Last year, Enerson finished fourth in the Indy Lights championship behind Spencer Pigot, Jack Harvey and Ed Jones and Enerson won at Mid-Ohio to cap off a season that saw him score 15 top ten finishes from 16 races. Enerson also won at Mid-Ohio in U.S. F2000 in 2014. 

Enerson could become the first American driver to make his IndyCar debut with Dale Coyne Racing since Geoff Boss at Laguna Seca in 2003. Dale Coyne Racing had hired Rocky Moran, Jr. to race at Long Beach last year but Moran, Jr. was unable to make his IndyCar debut after he broke a wrist in practice and Conor Daly substituted for him. Should Enerson start Mid-Ohio, he will become the 11th youngest at 19 years, 4 months and 25 days old. Enerson will be the first driver with a last name starting with the letter "E" to start an IndyCar race since Tomáš Enge raced at Motegi in 2006. 

Mid-Ohio is the only race scheduled for Enerson at this time but there is a chance he is entered for Watkins Glen and Sonoma. Gabby Chaves will return to the #19 Honda to complete Texas. No driver has been announced for the Pocono race. 

Road to Indy
Ed Jones continues to lead the Indy Lights championship and the Emirati driver extended his championship lead to 24 points after Toronto. The Carlin driver has 268 points while Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' Santiago Urrutia on 244 points. Andretti Autosports' Dean Stoneman dropped to 31 points behind Jones after he had a mechanical issue keep him from participating in the second race from Toronto. Félix Serrallés is a point behind Stoneman after a victory at Iowa and a second in race one from Toronto. After three consecutive sixth-place finishes, Kyle Kaiser scored a pair of thirds at Toronto and has 233 points. Zach Veach rounds out the top six on 221 points. 

Felix Rosenqvist swept the weekend at Toronto but the Belardi Auto Racing driver will not be at Mid-Ohio as he will be competing in the 24 Hours of Spa as a Mercedes-Benz factory driver. André Negrão, Shelby Blackstock, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Dalton Kellett, Neil Alberico and Garrett Grist round out the entry list. Juan Piedrahita is not entered with Team Pelfrey after 43 consecutive Indy Lights starts. 

Indy Lights will race at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:20 p.m. ET on Sunday. 

Pato O'Ward and Aaron Telitz are tied atop the Pro Mazda championship at 297 points. O'Ward has six victories to Telitz's five victories but Telitz has nine podiums to O'Ward's eight podiums. Telitz has won the last four races, which follows a stretch where O'Ward won five consecutive races. Last year, O'Ward finished seventh and sixth at Mid-Ohio in Pro Mazda while Telitz finished third, third and second in the three U.S. F2000 races. 

Nico Jamin and Will Owen are tied on 207 points with Jamin finishing on the podium in the last three races, including runner-up finishes at Road America and Toronto. Owen finished third in both Road America races and fourth in both Toronto races. Owen's best finish was second in the first race on the IMS road course. Jake Parsons round out the top five in the championship with 177 points, seven ahead of Nicolas Dapero. TJ Fischer finished sixth in both Toronto races. Bobby Eberle, Bob Kaminsky and Kevin Davis are three national class entries for Mid-Ohio. 

Race one for Pro Mazda will be at 8:35 a.m. ET on Saturday with race two at 6:00 p.m. ET Saturday.

Twenty-two cars after entered for the U.S. F2000 triple-header at Mid-Ohio. Canadian Parker Thompson enters as the championship leader on 270 points. Twenty points behind the Canadian is Australian Anthony Martin. Both Thompson and Martin have four victories this season but Thompson has eight podiums to Martin's six podiums. Third in the championship, on 228 points, is Victor Franzoni, who won at Toronto and has seven podiums this season. Australians Jordan Lloyd and Luke Gabin round out the top five in the championship on 199 points and 179 points respectively. Lloyd won the first race of the season at St. Petersburg and he has three runner-up finishes since then, including a second at Toronto. Gabin's best finish is a second at Barber. 

Yufeng Luo sits sixth in the championship on 164 points but hasn't been on the podium since his victory in race two from St. Petersburg. A point behind Luo is Robert Megennis, the top American in the championship. Megennis has finished third twice this season but not since Barber. Nikita Lastochkin sits on 116 podiums, a point ahead of Ayla Årgen. Årgen missed the Toronto round but returns for Mid-Ohio. Garth Rickards rounds out the top ten of the championship on 106 points, one ahead of Dakota Dickerson, who finished fourth at Toronto, his best finish of the season. 

U.S. F2000 will race at 1:00 p.m. ET on Friday. Race two will be at 1:45 p.m. ET on Saturday with the final race occurring at 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday.

Pirelli World Challenge
After a month off from the most recent round at Road America, Pirelli World Challenge returns to competition at Mid-Ohio. Two-dozen cars are entered for the GT/GT-A/CUP race while there are 17 entries in the GTS class.

K-PAX Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente leads the GT championship with 1,147 points, 52 points ahead of Wright Motorsports Porsche's Patrick Long. Parente was four victories and has 12 top tens from 13 races this season while Long sits on three victories and has finished in the top ten in the last 11 races. Cadillac drivers Michael Cooper and Johnny O'Connell are the next two drivers in the championship, with the younger Cooper leading the elder statesman on 1,029 points to O'Connell's 961 points. O'Connell has finished outside the top ten in four of the last six races while Cooper has won podium since his victory at Barber. Kyle Marcelli rounds out the top five in the championship on 925 points. The CRP Racing Audi driver is one of three drivers to have three consecutive podiums along with Parente and O'Connell.

James Davison has 898 points but has only one podium from the first 13 races. Last year, Davison finished second in both races at Mid-Ohio. The Nissan driver is ten points ahead of Acura's Ryan Eversley, who swept the weekend at Road America last weekend. Adderly Fong finished third and second at Road America, the first podiums of the season for the Bentley driver. Fong is a point behind Eversley. Nissan's Bryan Heitkotter hasn't had a podium since finishing second in the first race of the season at Austin.

Michael Lewis returns for his second round with Calvert Dynamics Porsche. K-PAX Racing's Austin Cindric and Colin Thompson haven't had top five finishes since St. Petersburg and Austin respectively. Jon Fogarty has five top tens from 13 races but the Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren driver's lone podium was in the second race of the season at Austin. Spencer Pumpelly replaces Peter Cunningham at RealTime Racing Acura. Cunningham missed the Lime Rock Park round but finished second and fourth in his return at Road America.

The GT races will take place at 4:35 p.m. ET Saturday and 11:00 a.m. ET Sunday.

In GTS, ANSA Motorsports KTM Brett Sandberg leads the championship with 995 points, 35 points over Blackdog Speed Shop Camaro's Lawson Aschenbach. Sandberg has two victories, one fewer than Aschenbach but the New Jersey-native has four runner-up finishes while Aschenbach has two runner-up finishes. Aschenbach was also penalized 27 points for avoidable contact at Mosport. Ginetta driver Parker Chase is third in the championship on 917 points with four podiums but still looking for his first victory of the season. Roush Racing Ford's Nate Stacy is fourth in the championship on 863 points. SDR Motorsports Lotus driver Scott Dollahite has three podiums and eight top five finishes from ten starts and sits fifth in the championship on 784 points despite missing the St. Petersburg round.

Jack Roush, Jr. swept the weekend at St. Petersburg but the Ford driver has only had one podium in the last eight races and is sixth in the championship on 721 points. Maserati driver Mark Klenin has 625 points, seventh in the championship, and has one top five finish this season. Racers Edge Motorsports SIN driver Jade Buford has won three of his six starts and had five top five finishes this season. Buford's teammate Scott Heckert has two podiums and six top five finishes from eight starts. Tony Gaples is looking for his first top five finish of the season in the second Blackdog Speed Shop Camaro.

The first GTS race will be at 5:00 p.m. ET on Friday and 10:45 a.m. ET Saturday.

Fast Facts
This will be the eighth IndyCar race to take place on July 31st and the first since Bryan Herta won at Michigan in 2005.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won ten of 31 Mid-Ohio races. Team Penske has seven victories in 31 Mid-Ohio races.

Honda has won three of the four Mid-Ohio races in the DW12-era.

Last year's podium of Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud started 13th, 14th and 15th respectively.

Simon Pagenaud has four consecutive top ten finishes at Mid-Ohio, including three podiums in his last four starts. Pagenaud has finished 22 consecutive races dating back to the 2015 Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Will Power has completed 610 laps of a possible 610 laps in his seven career Mid-Ohio starts. Power hasn't led a lap at Mid-Ohio since 2012.

Josef Newgarden's average finish in four Mid-Ohio starts is 15.0 with his best finish being 12th. His average starting position is 8.5.

Juan Pablo Montoya's average finish in four Mid-Ohio starts is 11.75 after a victory, a 24th and two 11th-place finishes. His best start at the track is eighth.

Mikhail Aleshin has finished fifth and sixth in his last two starts. He has never had three consecutive top ten finishes in one season. He score four consecutive top ten finishes from the end of 2014 to this year's season opener at St. Petersburg when he finished eighth and seventh at Milwaukee and Sonoma in 2014, finished 10th at Sonoma in last year's season finale and fifth at St. Petersburg.

The average starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner is 3.77 with a median of two.

The first 29 Mid-Ohio races were won from within the first four rows of the grid.

The last two Mid-Ohio races were won from 22nd position and 13th position.

Mid-Ohio could join Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the only active IndyCar track with three consecutive winners starting outside the top ten.

The Milwaukee Mile had three consecutive winners from outside the top ten from 1959-1960. Rodger Ward won from 19th in the August 1959 race. Ward then won from 11th on the grid the following June. Len Sutton would win the August 1960 race from 11th on the grid.

The average number of lead changes at Mid-Ohio is 4.45 with a median of four.

The average number of cautions at Mid-Ohio is 2.033 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 7.9 with a median of 8.5. 

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon needs to lead 19 laps to pass Bobby Unser for sixth all-time in laps led.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 6 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 46 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 49 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon gets his sixth victory at Mid-Ohio and Simon Pagenaud's championship lead will shrink after this race. Josef Newgarden finally gets a top ten at Mid-Ohio and not only does he get a top ten but he finishes in the top five. Graham Rahal will be the top Honda qualifier. Conor Daly will be the top Dale Coyne Racing qualifier. Ryan Hunter-Reay gets a top ten finish. Max Chilton finishes in the top fifteen. At least one podium finisher starts outside the top ten. The final lead change will occur in the final ten laps. Sleeper: Alexander Rossi.