The IZOD IndyCar Series made its annual stop at the technical, demanding Mid-Ohio Sports car course, a track notorious for discouraging passing and excitement. But that was on the old Dallara and the Dallara DW12 proved at Barber Motorsports Park that on the tightest of tracks it could provoke fans to arise from their seats and cheer as the cars went by. Not only is the DW12 faster, in general, than its predecessor, it has shown incredible ability to create passing opportunities where there were none before. Mid-Ohio featured the 2012 debut of the Push-To-Pass horsepower boost feature on a permanent road course venue. Added to the drivers calculations was a five second delay from when he/she pushed the button to when the turbocharged engines would give the extra boost making the drivers plan ahead when planning their attack on the car ahead. The purpose being to encourage use of Push-To-Pass in a more offensive manner rather than defensive.
Team Penske began the weekend building on the momentum gained from Helio Castroneves’ victory at Edmonton City Centre Airport two weeks earlier. Weather conditions wreaked havoc on the preparations for the race and Helio Castroneves suffered a bruised wrist in the morning practice before qualifications where the Brazilian failed to transfer to the second round of qualifying resulting in no better than 13th Place starting position. Castroneves’ race got exponentially more difficult when Team Penske elected to change the Chevrolet engine in the No. 3 Penske Truck Rental DW12 resulting in a ten-spot grid penalty as per the IZOD IndyCar Series Rule Book meaning Castroneves would start 23rd. Castroneves’ Team Penske teammates fared better on Saturday qualifying with both Briscoe and Power making the top-6 shootout for the Pole. Briscoe held station qualifying in 6th right behind Scott Dixon. All Will Power did was shatter the IndyCar track qualifying record on the way to netting his third Pole Position start of 2012 eclipsing Dario Franchitti’s fast lap by two tenths of a second. The top six was Power and Franchitti followed by Pagenaud, Tagliani, Dixon, and Briscoe.
Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay entered Mid-Ohio Sports Car course with the points lead and looked to continue momentum gained from three straight wins at Milwaukee, Iowa, and Toronto and a 7th Place result at Edmonton. Very early in the race, Hunter-Reay’s team became concerned that something inside the No. 28 DHL/SunDrop Pelonia Chevrolet was amiss and may cast a dark cloud over their day. Hunter-Reay remained stationed in the top-10 for much of the early portions of the race, but coming to the last round of pit stops the car began sounding, according to Jon Beekhuis, very sour and ill and Hunter-Reay fell sharply off the race leaders’ pace. Eventually, Hunter-Reay was called to pit lane inside ten laps to go marking the first time Hunter-Reay was not running at the finish since Texas in June. The silver lining in this is Hunter-Reay’s engine will be regarded as a mechanical failure during the race so no grid penalty will be assessed at Sonoma.
Looking at IZOD IndyCar Series history, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could have Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s name stamped on it, driver Scott Dixon’s in particular. Since the first IndyCar Series Race at the storied facility, Dixon had won three of the five races. His only blemishes, a third place in 2008 and fifth in 2010. Dixon just has a knack for this course which, due to its tight nature and minimal passing opportunities, requires strong qualifying efforts, tire and fuel management, and flawless pit stops to achieve the top step on the podium when the checkers fall. Dixon excels at all of these factors giving him essential ownership of the IndyCar Race on this circuit.
Race day began ominously as the course was drenched by overnight and morning rainfall making the morning warmup almost useless to determining a race setup just because of the uncertainty surrounding the conditions for the 85-lap event. The race began in insanity as a huge pack of 25 DW12 IndyCars fought for the same piece of real estate causing Justin Wilson to spin and continue, but losing precious positions. Common in IndyCar Series races, varying pit strategies became a game changer. Teams had the option to select a three-stop or two-stop pit strategies. Those toward the back opted to go for the three stop strategy hoping that the yellow caution flags would wave in their favor. The one problem with this strategy was, for the second consecutive race, there were no cautions and the race was run under green from start to the checkered flag. This race was won on the final pit stop when Scott Dixon, who stalked the rear wing of the Verizon Team Penske car of Will Power for the first two fuel stints, benefitted from a clear pit entry giving Dixon a faster pit stop by the smallest of margins, but it was enough. Dixon’s crew was able to insert the fuel probe just milliseconds faster than Power’s resulting in the change of position. Then Dixon went to work driving away from Power to Victory Lane for his second win of the season also pulling Dixon back into the heat of the points race with tough days for Castroneves and Hunter-Reay.
CONGRATULATIONS TO SCOTT DIXON AND TARGET CHIP GANASSI RACING: WINNERS OF THE HONDA 200 @ MID-OHIO
R.I.P. DAN WHELDON