Thursday, August 2, 2012

10 Stories For The Honda Indy 200

Well, now Mid-Ohio, your cousins in Sonoma and Baltimore have announced some changes to help the racing in those locales. Will you be like Barber—a normally staid, by-the-book road course turned white-hot pass-o-rama? We can all hope so. Meanwhile, here are 10 stories to amuse your friends and astound your neighbors heading into the Honda Indy 200:

1) Never Fear, Super-Sub Is Here

Giorgio Pantano looked plenty sharp at times last year, and his chats with Ganassi during the offseason make it not much of a surprise that he’ll be filling in for the injured Charlie Kimball this weekend at Mid-Ohio. Kimball had a good race there last year, and it’s a shame to see him out of the car, but hopefully he recovers quickly to finish out the season. In the meantime, Pantano should be fun to watch on this course.

2) Mid-Ohio: Serious Business.

When is the last time Mid-Ohio enjoyed such a potential impact on the championship points standing? Ryan Hunter-Reay is 23 points ahead of Castroneves in the standings, with Will Power only 26 behind and Scott Dixon still in contention with a 61 point deficit. James Hinchcliffe is still technically alive in the championship, despite being 86 points down, but anything short of an epic string of races (or failures by the three aforementioned drivers) probably dooms his fading title hopes. Mid-Ohio is a chance for Hunter-Reay to either pad that lead, or see it fall to pieces (don’t forget, history says he’ll be trailing Power by a few going into Fontana, so it’s a safe bet we’re in for plenty of drama).

Really, though, Mid-Ohio has been one of Scott Dixon's best tracks. And that's just the sort of thing he needs to hear, because if he has a poor finish from here on out, it could very likely be the end of his title hopes.

Dixon owned Mid-Ohio once again last year.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
3) PTP Changes Afoot

Push-to-Pass has often been criticized in IndyCar as “push-to-defend”. This weekend, cars will have 100 seconds of push-to-pass, but it will be on a 5-second delay, which might cut out some of the immediate, reactive usage of it as a defending mechanism. Instead, an on-track guessing game may well ensue. How well will it work? We’ll soon find out…

4) NBC Talent, ABC Network

Fans who prefer NBC Sports Network’s on-air talent and producton will be in luck this week, as NBC’s Olympic coverage and ABC/ESPN’s NASCAR obligations create a perfect storm. The result? An ABC broadcast with an NBC Sports crew. It’ll be a rough go this weekend against the Olympics and the like, but hopefully there’s a solid broadcast for fans who might usually miss out on the excellent NBC Sports crew.

5) Silly Season? Not Just Yet

We're still a couple of months away from true IndyCar free agency, but don't think the first shots haven't already been fired. With news Graham Rahal is likely moving teams at the end of the year, there's an entire list of drivers and teams with large question marks as to where they'll end up in 2013. Don't doubt for a minute that a lot of next year's groundwork is already being considered. It certainly gives the closing races of 2012 a bit of an audition feel.

6) Can Taku Keep It Going?

After his P3 at Sao Paulo earlier this year, Takuma Sato finished P17, P22, P20, and P22 in his next four races. In a very uneven season, he'll look for to continue his momentum after the best result of his IndyCar career at Edmonton. Taku finished P4 here last year, and could be a dark horse to follow over the weekend.

7) The Herta Hammer

If you read Wednesday's interview with Alex Tagliani, there's a very good chance you'll be cheering for Tag and the Bryan Herta Autosport crew this weekend to finish what they started in Edmonton. The team is qualifying and placing well right now more often than not, and it should be fun to see if they can continue to build on that.

8) The Not Top 10 Battle Continues

I’ve been obsessed with this one since I first noticed it. In the hyper-competitive field we have in this Year of Our Lord 2012, only full-time drivers remain with nary a Top 10 finish to their name: Simona Des Silvestro (fighting with half a car tied behind her back), and Josef Newgarden (so very, very close several times). Smart money is on Newgy getting it done first, but we’ve been surprised before. Is this the week it happens?

9) Mazda Road To Indy’s Turn In The Sun

That’s right, Firestone Indy Lights will be feature in Quebec’s Grand Prix of Trois-Rivieres. Two weeks after Carlos Munoz notched his first win of the season for Andretti Autosport’s Lights effort, Esteban Guerrieri maintains 27 and 28-point leads over Sebastian Saavedra and Tristan Vautier for the championship, respectively. Gustavo Yacaman is 56 points back, and in all likelihood needs a monster weekend to stay alive in the championship hunt.

Lights won’t be alone in Quebec, either. Over in Star Mazda, it’s been all Jack Hawksworth, all the time, with the young English driver up 49 points over his nearest competitor. The American trio of Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves, and Connor De Phillippi all still have hopes of catching him, but honestly, J-Hawk has the look of a champion right now. Unless something changes big-time, and soon, Hawksworth looks to be the recipient of an Indy Lights scholarship in 2013.

Further, after what seems like a scheduling hiatus of 17 months (it's actually been since the end of May), USF2000 returns to the track as a support series at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Cape Motorsports teammates Spencer Pigot and Matthew Brabham are 1-2 in the standings, with Belardi Auto Racing’s Roman Lagudi some 32 points behind the duo. No one has been able to stand against Cape this season, but Lagudi’s been the closest (next closest driver? Fully 28 points behind Lagudi). Further down the standings, Thomas McGregor, Matthew DiLeo, Scott Anderson, and Shelby Blackstock will work to shake things up.

10) Stat Time!

I can’t let a week go without some stats, can I? Here’s a fun one for you. Only six full-time drivers have not led a single IndyCar lap this season. Some of their identities, though, might surprise you. You’d be right in guessing Simona De Silvestro hasn’t led a lap, but she’s hardly alone. Sebastien Bourdais, Ed Carpenter, Mike Conway, Josef Newgarden, and Oriol Servia have all officially led 0 laps. James Jakes has led a single lap. Rubens Barrichello and Charlie Kimball have only led three apiece. One of the most interesting stats belongs to Tony Kanaan, who has led a mere seven laps on the year, yet sits P6 in the standings. As Dan Wheldon showed us in 2011, though, it doesn’t matter how many laps you lead, so long as you lead the last one.

It sounds as if I’ll be heading to Mid-Ohio for my last event of the year (I’d love to make Baltimore, but the ol’ checkbook says no, I think). This will be an old-school, quick n’ dirty, leave-at-3AM sort of dash to the track. Hope to see some of you there!

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