Thursday, July 1, 2021

Track Walk: Mid-Ohio 2021

IndyCar makes an early summer trip to Mid-Ohio

The tenth round of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season will be at Mid-Ohio, and it falls on Independence Day weekend. This is the earliest a Mid-Ohio race has fallen in a given year. The previous earliest was IndyCar's first Mid-Ohio race on July 13, 1980. There have been seven different winners in the last seven Mid-Ohio races, the longest stretch of different winners for the circuit. The previous longest streak was five different winners. On seven different occasions has a driver won consecutive Mid-Ohio races. 

Time: Coverage begins at noon ET on Sunday July 4 with green flag scheduled for 12:05 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell will be in the booth. Kevin Lee and Kelli Stavast will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule 
First Practice: 2:30 p.m. ET (45 minutes)*
Second Practice: 9:05 a.m ET (45 minutes)*
Qualifying: 12:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped coverage at 8:00 p.m. ET)*
Final Practice: 3:30 p.m. ET (30 minutes)*
Race: 12:05 p.m. ET (80 laps)

* - All practice and qualifying sessions are available live on Peacock.

Can Palou Takeover Dixon's House?
Chip Ganassi Racing finds itself on top of IndyCar entering Mid-Ohio, but it is Álex Palou leading the way instead of Scott Dixon. The two Ganassi drivers are first and third in the championship respectively. Palou picked up his second victory of the season in the most recent race at Road America and he has five podium finishes this season, including four in the last five races.

Dixon has not been on the podium since his victory in the third race of the season at Texas. His fourth-place finish at Road America is his only top five result in the last five races after opening the season with four consecutive top five results.

Palou sits on 349 points while Dixon is 53 points back. They are the top two drivers in average finish with Palou at 5.8889 and Dixon at 6.4444 and the duo is heading to Dixon’s best track.

The New Zealander has six victories, 11 top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes in 17 starts at the track. His 261 laps led are the most at Mid-Ohio. Dixon also has led 396 laps this season, the most in IndyCar and this is his most laps led since he led 456 laps in 2012. While Dixon is on top of laps led, 369 of those 396 laps led were between the two Texas races. He has led only 20 laps on road and street courses this season and the only other track where Dixon has led double-digit laps was 16 laps in the first Belle Isle race.

Palou has led 108 laps this season, fourth most this season, and he has led seven of nine races. He has led six laps or fewer in five of those seven races. Fifty-six of his 108 laps led were in his victory at the Barber season opener.

While Dixon had 17 Mid-Ohio starts, Palou's only two starts were last year when the track held a doubleheader. Palou started 20th in the first race and worked his way up to 12th as one of the final cars to make a pit stop on the final stint. In the second race, Palou qualified fourth, but the Spaniard was caught up in the opening lap accident when then-teammate Santino Ferrucci went off course in turn five and came back onto the track, making contact with Palou, who in turn hit Felix Rosenqvist.

As one of two drivers with multiple victories, Palou has a chance to pick up his third victory of the season. The first to three victories has been a good sign in recent seasons. In five of the last six seasons, the champion was the first driver to three victories.

On top of Ganassi's 1-2 punch, Marcus Ericsson was fifth in the second race of last year's Mid-Ohio doubleheader. Ericsson has three consecutive top ten finishes, including his maiden IndyCar victory at Belle Isle. Palou and Dixon are tied in the head-to-head battle Ganassi. Each driver has been the top finisher four times, while Ericsson’s Belle Isle victory is his lone time leading the way. In qualifying, Palou holds the edge four to three over Dixon.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won 11 times at Mid-Ohio, but the last driver not named Scott Dixon to win at the track for the team was Charlie Kimball in 2013. Nine of Ganassi's 11 Mid-Ohio victories have come in the last 15 Mid-Ohio races.
This is Team Penske's Weekend, Right?
In the last three races, a Team Penske driver has lost the lead in the final five laps of a race, and in each race Team Penske has lost the victory later than the one before it. 

Will Power's car failed to restart when the red flag was lifted with five laps to go in the first Belle Isle race. Josef Newgarden was passed with three laps to go in the second Belle Isle race when Patricio O'Ward took the top spot into turn seven. At Road America, Newgarden's gearbox issue reared its ugly head on the restart with two laps to go, as Newgarden entered turn one. 

Team Penske has not won one of the first nine races of a season for the first time since 1999 when the team went winless. Unlike 1999, when Team Penske was in the middle of a two-year drought and struggling with developing its own chassis, the team has been knocking on the door in practically every race this season. 

Besides the last three races, Team Penske has had the runner-up finish in five races this season. The team has put a car on the podium in seven races and it has had a car in the top five of eight races. 

Newgarden is the top Penske driver in the championship on 261 points in fourth. He has won pole position in the last two races, and he has three runner-up finishes this season. The only other time Newgarden has had three runner-up finishes in a season was 2017, his first championship season, when he had four. Newgarden has never won three consecutive pole positions. 

While he has yet to finish second, Simon Pagenaud is fifth in the championship on 255 points. Pagenaud's third-place finishes at St. Petersburg and the Indianapolis 500 are his only top five results this season. The only time Pagenaud has been the top Penske finisher this season was when he was third in the Indianapolis 500. Pagenaud has not been the top Penske finisher on a road/street course since last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which was held on July 4. 

Will Power and Scott McLaughlin are both just outside the top ten in the championship. Power is coming off his second podium finish with a third at Road America while McLaughlin has four consecutive finishes outside the top ten. 

Power still does not have a pole position this season. This is the longest he has gone without a pole position to open a season since he did not win a pole position in the 2008 season. 

Mid-Ohio is one of Power's better tracks, and he picked up his first victory there last year. Power led 66 of 75 laps in race one from pole position. He has started on the front row in nine of 13 Mid-Ohio starts with five pole positions. His average finish of fifth is actually better than Scott Dixon, whose average finish is 5.764. 

Team Penske has won three of the last six Mid-Ohio races and each of the team's three veteran drivers have a victory. Prior to this stretch, Team Penske had only one victory in the previous nine Mid-Ohio races. Team Penske's 10 Mid-Ohio victories has the team second to only Chip Ganassi Racing.

Where are the Americans?
It is Independence Day weekend, and nine American drivers are entered at Mid-Ohio, but through nine races the American contingent combine for only one victory this season. 

Americans had only two victories through the first nine races last year, both at the hands of Josef Newgarden, but Americans had five victories through the first nine races in 2019 and four through the first nine of 2018. American drivers have won at least five races in four consecutive seasons, and in five of the last six seasons at least three different American drivers have won a race. 

Colton Herta is currently the only American winner in 2021 after he won at St. Petersburg. Herta is only seventh in the championship as his results have been streaky. While he has four top five finishes, he has finished outside the top ten in five races, three of those have been finishes outside the top fifteen and he has finished 22nd twice this year. 

Graham Rahal is the third of three Americans in the top ten in the championship, as Rahal is ninth in the championship. He has five top five finishes this year and he was third in the second Texas race. Rahal won the 2015 Mid-Ohio race, and he has eight consecutive top ten finishes at his home track. Six of those finishes are top five results. 

Alexander Rossi's best finish is seventh this season and he has finished seventh in three races. Rossi's season has bounced back and forth with the 2018 Mid-Ohio winner not finishing in the top ten in consecutive races yet this year. He has been in the top ten of every odd-numbered race this year, but he has finished outside the top ten in the four even-numbered races, three of those have been finishes of 20th or worse. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay has one top ten finish this season, a tenth in the second Texas race and if Hunter-Reay does not get a top five finish this weekend it will be the first time since 2005 he will not have a top five result through his first ten starts in a season. Hunter-Reay does have top five finishes in his last three Mid-Ohio starts and he has 14 top ten finishes in 16 Mid-Ohio starts.

Conor Daly has yet to finish in the top ten this season, but Daly has been the top Ed Carpenter Racing finisher in the last two races, something he had not done in his first 14 races with the team. Daly still does not have a top ten finish at ECR, and he was 13th and 16th in the Mid-Ohio doubleheader last year. He was sixth in his first Mid-Ohio start in 2016 with Dale Coyne Racing and he was tenth in 2017 with A.J. Foyt Racing.

Jimmie Johnson will spend his first Independence Day weekend in IndyCar making his Mid-Ohio debut. Johnson's only victory on Independence Day weekend was in 2013 at Daytona. He did not race last year on Independence Day weekend as COVID-19 protocols kept him from starting the Brickyard 400. He was second on Independence Day in 2009 behind Tony Stewart in the 400-mile NASCAR Cup race from Daytona. That was the only time Johnson raced on July 4 in his NASCAR Cup career. 

Reflecting on Romain
Though he is not competing for the championship, Romain Grosjean has had an impressive six races to start his IndyCar career. 

The standout performance was the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where Grosjean started on pole position and led 44 of 85 laps before finishing second to Rinus VeeKay. Grosjean opened the season with a tenth at Barber and he was fifth at Road America. 

Grosjean has started seventh or better in five of six races with 18th at St. Petersburg being the one blemish this season. Grosjean has been the top Dale Coyne Racing qualifier in all six of his starts and his average starting position is 6.8333, which is third best among the drivers to have started majority of the races this season. He is behind only Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden. 

The Frenchman did have a rough Belle Isle weekend. Despite starting third and fifth in the doubleheader races, he retired from both races. An accident in turn eight took him out of race one and a brake fire ended his second race. 

Despite starting only two-thirds of the races so far in 2021, Grosjean has 125 points, two behind Conor Daly who has started all nine races. Grosjean is five points ahead of his Dale Coyne Racing teammate Ed Jones, seven points ahead of James Hinchcliffe, 38 points ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, who has started eight of nine races and 39 points ahead of Dalton Kellett. 

Grosjean is average 20.8333 points per race, which is 0.8333 points better than fellow rookie Scott McLaughlin's average. Grosjean's average also does not factor in a double points race, unlike McLaughlin as McLaughlin ran the Indianapolis 500 and scored 20 points for his 20th-place finish, instead of the normal ten. If McLaughlin had only earned ten points from Indianapolis, Grosjean would be averaging 1.944 more points per race. 

Shuffling the Deck Again
Another IndyCar race and another set of moving pieces on the IndyCar grid. 

The good news is we will see Rinus VeeKay and Felix Rosenqvist both return as they each missed Road America due to injury. VeeKay remained sixth in the championship despite missing the race. The Dutchman did drop to 106 points behind Palou. VeeKay was eighth and 11th last year at Mid-Ohio. Rosenqvist has yet to finish in the top ten this season. He has finishes of second, sixth and 22nd in his three Mid-Ohio starts. Damaged suffered on the start of the second race last year ruined his fifth place starting position. 

We are seeing a few additional entries on the grid this weekend and the Mid-Ohio entry list will boast 26 cars, the largest grid at the 2.25-mile track since 27 cars started the 2011 race. 

Santino Ferrucci is back in the #45 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Ferrucci has finished in the top ten in all three of his starts this year. He was 14th in both Mid-Ohio races last year and he was 12th there in 2019. 

Ryan Norman will make his IndyCar debut in the #52 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Norman is from Aurora, Ohio and he made six starts at Mid-Ohio in Indy Lights from 2017 to 2019. He has two podium finishes and four top five finishes at the track. Norman has spent the last two seasons driving in IMSA's Michelin Pilot Challenge series. He has been driving for Bryan Herta Autosport and he won the TCR championship last year in the #33 Hyundai with Gabby Chaves. 

Road to Indy
It will be a busy weekend at Mid-Ohio as there will be seven Road to Indy races. 

Eight points cover the top three in the Indy Lights championship with David Malukas on top with 235 points and Kyle Kirkwood and Linus Lundqvist are tied on 227 points. These three are the only race winners this season. Malukas and Kirkwood each have four victories while Lundqvist has won twice. 

Malukas and Kirkwood split the Road America weekend, but both drivers had a poor result in the other race. Malukas was seventh in race one while Kirkwood had a mechanical issue drop him from a podium position to 12th in race two. Lundqvist has seven consecutive top five finishes and nine top five finishes in ten races. 

Toby Sowery had a spell of five consecutive top five finishes snapped in the second Road America race. Sowery is 64 points behind Malukas. Robert Megennis is coming off his best weekend of the season after he finished third and second at Elkhart Lake. This lifted Megennis to fifth in the championship on 156 points, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Devlin DeFrancesco. DeFrancesco has one top five finish in the last six races. 

The battle from fifth to ninth is tight. Alex Peroni is a point off of the Megennis-DeFrancesco scrap. Danial Frost was on pole position for both Road America races and he is on 153 points with Benjamin Pedersen on 152 points. 

Sting Ray Robb rounds out the top ten on 119 points, ten ahead of Antonio Serravalle, 13 points ahead of Christian Bogle and 15 points ahead of Nikita Lastochkin. None of the bottom four in the championship have a top five finish this season. 

Indy Lights will race at 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday July 3 and at 10:00 a.m. ET on Sunday July 4.

Christian Rasmussen has won five of the last seven Indy Pro 2000 races and he leads the championships with 256 points, 18 points clear of Ohio-native Braden Eves. Rasmussen has four victories in eight U.S. F2000 starts at Mid-Ohio. Eves has finished seventh or worse in all five starts at his home track between U.S. F2000 and Indy Pro 2000. 

Reece Gold has six podium finishes and eight top five finishes from the first ten races, and yet Gold has yet to taste victory. The 16-year-old has 220 points, 20 points clear of Artem Petrov. Petrov won at Mid-Ohio last year. Hunter McElrea rounds out the top five in the championship on 180 points, but McElrea has finished outside the top five in five of the last six races.

Manuel Sulaimán scored his first victory of the season at Road America, and he has 170 points. Jacob Abel picked up a pair of top five finishes in Wisconsin and is on 150 points while Kyffin Simpson was third in the second Road America race and Simpson has 140 points. Wyatt Brichacek and James Roe round out the top ten in the championship on 105 points and 104 points respectively.

The first Indy Pro 2000 race will be at 10:50 a.m. ET on Saturday July 3 with race two at 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday July 4.

Kiko Porto took the U.S. F2000 championship lead after he won his second race of the season at Road America. Porto leads the championship with 220 points, as U.S. F2000 heads into its second triple-header of the season. Porto did not have great success at Mid-Ohio last year. In six starts at the track, his best finish was seventh and his best qualifying effort was eighth.

Yuven Sundaramoorthy has finished outside the top five in the last three races, and Sundaramoorthy is 15 points behind Porto. Josh Pierson picked up another podium finish at Road America and he sits on 192 points, one ahead of Michael d'Orlando 

Christian Brooks rounds out the top five on 182 points while Prescott Campbell has fallen to sixth on 150 points. Spike Kohlbecker was third in the first Road America race, his first podium finish of the season. Kohlbecker has 147 points, five more than Josh Green. Thomas Nepveu won the second Road America race, and he is on 137 points in ninth. Jace Denmark rounds out the top ten on 118 points. 

U.S. F2000 will race all three days this weekend. Race one closes Friday's festivities at 4:20 p.m. ET. Race two will be at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Race three kicks off Sunday's action at 8:05 a.m. ET. 

Fast Facts
This will be the 55th IndyCar race to take place on July 4 and it will be the second consecutive year with a race on July 4. Scott Dixon won last year in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

This will be only the fifth IndyCar race on July 4 since 1982. 

Mid-Ohio will become the seventh consecutive different venue to host a IndyCar race on July 4. Pikes Peak, Michigan, Cleveland, Kansas, Watkins Glen and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course are the first six tracks in this stretch. 

Seven different drivers have won the last seven July 4th races. Those drivers are Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Gary Bettenhausen, Bobby Rahal, Buddy Rice, Will Power and Scott Dixon. 

For Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Bobby Rahal, those July 4th victories were first career victories. 

The last driver to win on Independence Day and go on to win the IndyCar championship was Kelly Petillo in 1935. Petillo won at the Minnesota State Fair Speedway in St. Paul. He had also won the Indianapolis 500 five weeks earlier. 

The only driver to pick up a first career victory at Mid-Ohio was Charlie Kimball in 2013. 

There have been four first-time winners through the first nine races in 2021. The last season with at least five first-time winners was the 2002 Indy Racing League season when Jeff Ward, Airton Daré, Alex Barron, Tomas Scheckter and Felipe Giaffone were the first-time winners. 

Each of the last three winners have led five laps or fewer. 

The fewest laps led for a Mid-Ohio winner is ten by Bobby Rahal in 1986. In only four Mid-Ohio races has the winner led fewer than 20 laps (Johnny Rutherford 1980, Rahal 1986, Roberto Guerrero 1997 and Al Unser, Jr. 1995).

The average number of laps led for a Mid-Ohio winner is 48.1235 with a median of 46. 

The last seven races have not been won from the front row. This is the longest stretch without a front row winner since there were 14 consecutive races from the 2015 Indianapolis 500 through the 2016 Grand Prix of Long Beach where the winner started off the front row. 

The average starting position for a Mid-Ohio winner is 3.5405 with a median of second. 

The pole-sitter has won four of the last six Mid-Ohio races. 

The average number of lead changes in a Mid-Ohio race is 4.7027 with a median of five. 

In the DW12-era, the average number of lead changes at Mid-Ohio is 5.7 with a median of six.

There has been at least one lead change in every Mid-Ohio race.

The average number of cautions in a Mid-Ohio race is 1.8333 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 7.1388 with a median of seven. 

Five of the last ten Mid-Ohio races have been caution-free. Only two of the first 26 Mid-Ohio races were caution-free. 

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is one victory away from tying Mario Andretti for second all-time with 52 victories.

Scott Dixon is one podium finish away from his 125th podium finish.

Will Power is one victory away from the 40-victory milestone.

Alexander Rossi is one podium finish away from his 25th podium finish. 

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 2,700 laps led milestone.

Ryan Hunter-Reay needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 1,600 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 19 laps to reach the 800 laps led milestone.

Graham Rahal needs to lead 46 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Third time is the charm and Josef Newgarden gets his first victory of the season with at least 50 laps led from a front row starting position. Alexander Rossi gets his first top five finish of the season, but he is not the best Andretti Autosport finisher. Scott Dixon finishes at least five positions ahead of Álex Palou. At least seven different teams are represented in the top ten. Santino Ferrucci's top ten streak ends. Felix Rosenqvist returns and gets his best finish of the season. Rinus VeeKay returns and falls at least two positions in the championship. Ryan Norman will finish in the top 18. All cars will stay on the track in the opening three corners at the start. Someone will be unhappy about the television window. Sleeper: Sébastien Bourdais.