Simon Pagenaud got back to winning ways at Mid-Ohio as most of his championship challengers hit more trouble. I rate the heroes and zeroes from the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
Mid-Ohio Indy 200 heroes 2016
Heroes – Fans at Mid-Ohio
Bumper crowds for the race day were a welcome antidote to the doom and gloom that surrounded the Target sponsorship announcement this week. A big thumbs up to the fans for coming out to support the series at one of the iconic venues on the calendar.
As IndyCar finalises the schedule for 2017, take note – go where the fans are.
Hero – Simon Pagenaud
The erosion of a commanding lead in the standings typically results in one of two reactions from a driver: it either knocks their confidence for the rest of the season or it galvanizes them. Championship leader Pagenaud looks set to do the latter.
It was important for the Frenchman to halt the growing momentum of teammate Will Power. Mid-race it looked like Power was going to keep his hot streak alive but Pagenaud got his elbows out and fought his way past. With only 4 races remaining, the 2016 title is Pagenaud’s to lose now.
Hero – Mikhail Aleshin
Strategy got Aleshin to the front of the pack but outright speed kept him there. The Russian could have won the Indy 200 race if it had not been for an over-eager pit release, which speared him in to the side of Josef Newgarden. The resulting penalty and front wing damage wrecked any chance he had of taking a surprise maiden IndyCar win.
Despite the end result it was superb to see Schmidt Peterson racing at the front following James Hinchcliffe’s podium in Toronto. Smaller teams mixing it with the big boys is, and has to remain, one of the hallmarks of IndyCar racing.
Hero – Conor Daly
Dale Coyne called a brilliant strategy for the rookie but Daly once again had to demonstrate his speed to secure a 6th place finish, after starting dead last. As the American scampered away from the field to lead 22 laps at the conclusion of the race it made up for another disaster of a qualifying performance.
Daly can mix it with the big boys; he just needs to iron out the mistakes in qualifying to give himself a chance. If he can manage that in the final 4 races of the 2016 season, he can still take Alexander Rossi to the wire for Rookie of the Year honors (despite Rossi’s bumper points haul from his Indy 500 win).
Mid-Ohio Indy 200 zeroes 2016
Zero – Marco Andretti
Whilst team leader Ryan Hunter-Reay was mixing it in the top 5 in practice and qualifying, Marco was qualifying dead last. Despite the moves up the field gaining 8 places, Marco still finished a lowly 13th.
By contrast Carlos Munoz ran a strong strategy race to finish 3rd and Ryan Hunter-Reay was challenging the top 5 for most of the weekend. The time must be ticking on Andretti’s time with his father’s eponymous team.
Zero – Scott Dixon
A build-up of frustration from a difficult season and weekend spilled over on lap 16. A questionable move resulted in contact with Castroneves and a last place finish for Dixon. The accident dealt a likely fatal blow to his championship challenge.
Following the announcement of his primary sponsor – Target – leaving at the end of the season, this was the last thing Dixon or Chip Ganassi Racing needed. For the neutral fan, it is a big disappointment to see the master of the late comeback running out of races to overcome a 127-point deficit.
Zero – Aleshin’s crew chief
As is so often the case when the small teams mix it with the big boys, the pressure of a big opportunity on race day results in costly mistakes.
With a genuine shot at winning the race, Aleshin’s crew chief waved him away from his pit box and right in to Josef Newgarden, taking out one of Juan Pablo Montoya’s pit crew in the process. Thankfully Vance Welker – tire changer for Montoya – emerged unscathed. The front wing damage and subsequent penalty for hitting Welker put Aleshin and Schmidt Peterson firmly out of contention.
Zero – Juan Pablo Montoya
It has been a pretty dramatic fall from grace for the 2015 Indy 500 winner and season runner-up. Eclipsed by teammates Pagenaud, Power and Castroneves, the Colombian has really struggled to find the same speed and consistency this season.
The accident between Aleshin and Newgarden in the pits wrecked his chances of progress further up the field. But despite leading 9 laps off strategy and looking racy in the opening laps, Montoya never seemed on a par with Power and Pagenaud. The 1999 rookie Indy 500 winner still has plenty of speed but needs to iron out the mistakes in the remaining races to set himself up for what will (hopefully) be another season with Team Penske.
Race Rating – Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio
2.5 out of 5 – some thrills and spills and feisty battles between Power and Pagenaud aside, no one really likes a fuel-strategy race.