Honda Indy 200 review, heroes and zeroes

Josef Newgarden schooled the entire IndyCar field at Mid-Ohio as he won the Honda Indy 200.

Hot on the tail of his win last time out in Toronto, victory plus troubles for the likes of Scott Dixon moved the Penske driver to the top of the point standings.

Newgarden dominates at Mid-Ohio

“This was a really fast car. I mean, reds, blacks, it didn’t matter. Our car was fast” commented Newgarden after leading 73 of 90 laps.

Despite a late full course caution with 20 laps to go, Newgarden held off teammate Will Power to win by over 5 seconds. A margin the 26-year old had held over Power throughout the course of the race.

Josef Newgarden Penske Chevrolet IndyCar Mid-Ohio Honda Indy 200
Josef Newgarden wins at Mid-Ohio (Image: Skibinski/IndyCar)

Newgarden pulls off the move of the season

Polesitter Power led  until lap 13. Newgarden then pulled a brilliant over-under move on the former series champion. Caught cold by one of the moves – if not the move – of the season, the Australian had no chance to respond to Newgarden’s ballsy overtake in the PPG-sponsored Chevrolet.

Newgarden then checked out to lead the rest of the race. His win now puts him at the top of the Verizon IndyCar series championship by 3 points over teammate Helio Castroneves.

Penske the team to beat as Ganassi have one to forget

Penske were the team to beat as long-time championship leader Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing had a race to forget.

Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves all finished in the top 10. For Castroneves, a 7th place finish was enough to keep him in 2nd place in the standings.

Bad day for Dixon

Meanwhile Scott Dixon – a 5-time winner at Mid-Ohio – struggled with handling problems all day. An air-gun failure during his penultimate pit stop further delayed the NTT-Data car. Dixon recovered to finish 9th but slipped to 3rd in the point standings.

Gutierrez gets in Power’s way

Will Power had looked set to challenge Newgarden for the win as the race resumed after the only caution period of the day. Instead the former champion was left frustrated and  unimpressed with rookie Esteban Gutierrez.

Will Power Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar Mid-Ohio
Will Power was unimpressed by rookie Esteban Gutierrez. (Image: Skibinski/IndyCar)

The Dale Coyne driver was the meat in the Newgarden/Power sandwich at the final restart. Fighting to stay ahead of Power, the Mexican held the Verion number 2 Chevrolet and Graham Rahal’s Steak ‘n’ Shake Honda in 2nd and 3rd respectively. Having burned up their tires trying to pass Gutierrez, neither was able to close back up to Newgarden.

“I backed off because I was going to make a mistake trying to get someone who was not even in the race” explained a frustrated Power.  Power once again called in to question IndyCar’s policy on back markers and the relaxed approach to blue flags.

Rossi and Hunter-Reay get too close for comfort

Andretti Autosport enjoyed another much needed strong performance as Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished in the top 10. This was despite Rossi and Hunter-Reay coming together on lap 18.

Rossi squeezed Hunter-Reay to the apex as he tried to pass the DHL car around the outside. Contact was inevitable but the stewards took no action on the move that left Hunter-Reay far down the field.

Conor Daly continued his recent upturn in form at Mid-Ohio by rounding out the top 10. With 7 laps to go the AJ Foyt driver passed lame-duck James Hinchcliffe for 10th place.

Canadian Hinchcliffe had used all his push-to-push and was easy pickings for Daly who put his teammate Carlos Munoz in the shade through qualifying and the race.

2017 Honda Indy 200 – heroes

Hero – Josef Newgarden

Newgarden dominated Mid-Ohio in a style quite reminiscent of Scott Dixon . The move on Will Power to take the lead made the 2014 champion look like a rookie, which is no mean feat.

Newgarden’s race was one of those days when all the boxes were ticked. Fast, tidy, aggressive when he needed to be and smart when it counted. Penske’s latest recruit led the most laps and set the fastest lap of the race to underline his dominance.

Calm and quick following the one and only full course caution, Newgarden gapped  Power and Rahal comfortably. Albeit with the help of a mobile roadblock in the shape of Esteban Gutierrez it was a perfect illustration of his complete control.

Nashville’s greatest racing export now has confidence and momentum at a key point in the season. Forget Castroneves or Pagenaud, with 4 races to go Newgarden is Penske’s main man for the title now.

Hero – Scott Dixon

Finishing 9th and some 18 seconds behind the race winner does not typically get you hero status. But for Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing this was another well-executed damage limitation exercise worthy of note.

Scott Dixon IndyCar Toronto 2017 Honda
Scott Dixon (Image: Owens/IndyCar)

Dixon pitted on lap 33 with major handling issues. Major front wing adjustments improved the issue slightly but dropped the Kiwi to 17th. Fast stops by the Chip Ganassi team and smart moves in the closing laps brought him a valuable 9th place.

Mid-Ohio should have been a strong weekend for Dixon and Ganassi. Instead it was the stuff of nightmares. But in typical fashion, IndyCar’s own ‘Iceman’ pulled a result out of nowhere.

With the Pocono super-speedway coming up next on the schedule, it would be foolish to write-off Dixon for a 5th Verizon IndyCar crown just yet.

Hero – Alexander Rossi

Spinning teammate Hunter-Reay out early in the race was a clumsy move that had Rossi heading for the zeroes list. Thereafter the American redeemed himself as he moved  through the field to be contending for a podium by the mid-point.

Rossi struggled late in the penultimate stint, unable to keep pace with the Penske cars, Rahal and Sato. The former Indy 500 winner started 6 places behind teammate Takuma Sato but followed the Japanese home in 6th place.

Alexander Rossi Andretti Autosport IndyCar Honda Mid Ohio
Alexander Rossi enjoyed a strong race at Mid-Ohio despite contact with Ryan Hunter-Ready. (Image: Kelley/IndyCar)

After a stunning rookie season in 2016, Rossi has been stronger in 2017 than his results suggest. A stronger qualifying performance at Mid-Ohio and avoiding tangles with teammates could have put Rossi on the podium this weekend.

Hero – Conor Daly

2017 has been miserable for Daly, teammate Carlos Munoz and the whole AJ Foyt Racing team. Unable to unlock the previously dominant Chevy package, Daly and Munoz have spent most of the season propping up the field.

Making it in to Fast 12 gave Daly a much better shot at a strong race day performance. Starting 11th and finishing 10th looks like a fairly unspectacular return. But in context of Daly’s season so far and the fact competition in the top 10 was fierce all day, this is a result to celebrate.

2017 Honda Indy 200 – zeroes

Zero – Dale Coyne

With Guiterrez separating race leader Newgarden and 2nd placed Power on the restart, Dale Coyne made a bad call. Instead of suggesting the Mexican let the chasing pack through, he instead encouraged the former F1 driver to try and unlap himself by passing Newgarden.

Gutierrez then held up Power and Graham Rahal for several laps following the restart before pitting. The decision allowed Newgarden to pull out what became an unassailable lead.

Gutierrez was never going to pass the dominant Newgarden. No one probably was. For Dale Coyne to suggest the rookie stick around to try and do just that was a seriously poor decision.

Zero – Ed Jones

Jones was confident going in to Mid-Ohio having tested there last week. Race day however was an unmitigated disaster for the Dale Coyne driver.

A self-inflicted spin on lap 67 to bring out on the only full-course caution of the day dropped him to the back of the field where he remained to the checker.

It is an indication of the quality of Jones’ performances this season that this was a really disappointing race. The downside of stand-out performances in your rookie IndyCar season is that they start becoming expected.

Zeroes – Chilton, Kimball and Kanaan

Whilst Dixon was salvaging what he could from a very difficult Sunday afternoon, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates were conspicuous by their absence at the sharp end of the field.

A 13th place finish for Kimball, 15th for Chilton and 16th for Kanaan was all that the team could muster by the end of 90 laps. For the winningest team in IndyCar history at Mid-Ohio, this was a very poor return.

Their struggles could not even be attributed as a ‘Honda problem’ considering the podium for Graham Rahal, Sato’s impressive 5th place and Dixon in 9th.

All 3 drivers need to impress in the final 4 races of 2017. Otherwise it would not be a surprise to see none of them driving for Chip Ganassi in 2018.

Race rating – 3.5 out of 5

The first 45 laps of the Honda Indy 200 were IndyCar racing at its best. Bold moves, close racing and incidents galore. The old adage that it’s impossible to pass at Mid-Ohio was thrown out the window.

Thanks to Josef Newgarden and a lack of real speed variation between the black and red Firestone tires, the final 45 laps were much duller. Even the race’s single full course caution and restart could not spice up the second half.

There may have been overtakes for position late in the race but they were pretty artificial. Watching drivers mug James ‘no-push-to-pass-left’ Hinchcliffe on the straits was just not that thrilling.

2017 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio – race result

RANK DRIVER STARTS LAPS LAPS LED PIT STOP
1 Josef Newgarden 2 90 73 3
2 Will Power 1 90 14 3
3 Graham Rahal 4 90 3 3
4 Simon Pagenaud 7 90 3
5 Takuma Sato 3 90 3
6 Alexander Rossi 9 90 3
7 Helio Castroneves 5 90 3
8 Ryan Hunter-Reay 10 90 3
9 Scott Dixon 6 90 3
10 Conor Daly 11 90 3
11 James Hinchcliffe 8 90 3
12 Marco Andretti 14 90 3
13 Charlie Kimball 13 90 3
14 Mikhail Aleshin 21 90 3
15 Max Chilton 18 90 3
16 Tony Kanaan 17 90 4
17 JR Hildebrand 19 90 5
18 Carlos Munoz 20 89 4
19 Spencer Pigot 16 89 5
20 Esteban Gutierrez 12 89 4
21 Ed Jones 15 88 4
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