After a layoff of three full weeks, the IZOD IndyCar Series returns with its annual trip to Ohio for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Along with a title battle that’s heating up, there are some new faces and twists since the open wheelers all gathered together. With only five race weekends left, some teams are looking to make a last-minute charge—while others are desperately trying to salvage something in the races that are left.
Regrettably, I’ll be missing out on the Mid-Ohio trip, which is rough, but I’ll be following along as best I can. Whether you’re a couch warrior or credential-holding attendee, here are some of the big storylines for the weekend:
Red-Hot Racing Streak: Scott Dixon is coming off three straight victories, and he’s won three out of the last four at Mid-Ohio. To say he’s a favorite this weekend would be a bit like saying ESPN likes covering Danica Patrick. If Dixie wins here, he’ll not only erase a bit more of that championship lead Helio Castroneves is fighting to protect. There’s no drivers in the series right now looking as confident or as consistent as Dixon, and he looks poised to continue what’s been an absolutely brilliant run (and a resurgence for Honda, one might add).
Too Late For RHR?: After a disappointing string of races, Ryan Hunter-Reay finds himself fighting to stay in the title fight. He’s now 69 points behind Helio Castroneves, and that means his margin of error for the rest of the season has dwindled rapidly. He led the Mid-Ohio test, but it remains to be seen if he can catch fire in the same way as he did last season and jump back to the front of the championship brawl.
Look At All Those New Faces: James Davison makes his IndyCar race debut with Dale Coyne this weekend, while Luca Filippi gets his long-awaited shot in the Team Barracuda #98. Oriol Servia is a familiar sight, but he’s also returning to action this weekend for Panther Racing. This gives Mid-Ohio a “tryout” sort of feeling. Keep an eye especially on Filippi, who looked fairly sharp in this week’s open test.
Seabass Finding His Groove: Sebastien Bourdais looked great at Toronto, and he was quick in the open test at Mid-Ohio. For a struggling program like Dragon, having Bourdais grabbing a victory would be absolutely huge. Is he going to be able to make it happen this weekend? It’s a tall order, but it’s also great to see Bourdais finding some of that old form again after a brutal start to the year.
Rahal’s Home Race: I think we’re ok with calling Graham Rahal’s first season with his dad’s team fairly disastrous so far, aren’t we? Well, Rahal’s back in his home Buckeye State this weekend, and I’m sure he and the team would really like to get going in front of a supportive home crowd. Graham really hasn’t had a great finish at Mid-Ohio (outside of a P8 back in ’09), so he’ll have his work cut out for him.
Mazda Road to Indy Update: For only the second time this year, we’ll have more than 10 entries for Firestone Indy Lights. That’s thanks to the debut of Axcil Jeffries (with Bryan Herta Autosport), Belardi Auto Racing fielding a third car for Venezuelan driver Giancarlo Serenelli, and young owner/driver Matthew DiLeo returning for another round. You don’t want to be one of only two drivers on the season to finish outside the Top 10. Up front, Carlos Munoz holds an 8-point lead over Sage Karam. This is the first time Indy Lights has been to Mid-Ohio in a few years, so it should be interesting to see who has a knack for this course.
As far as Pro Mazda goes, Matthew Brabham was looking invincible before Spencer Pigot and Shelby Blackstock both grabbed victories in Toronto to stop his winning streak. Brabs still has a strong lead in the standings, and was quickest in the July Mid-Ohio test. If a driver like Blackstock or Diego Ferreira want any shot at the Pro Mazda title, they’ll need a perfect weekend—and some help from Brabs. Looking over at USF2000, Scott Hargrove still leads, but prospects like Danilo Estrela and Florian Latorre are stepping up their game as of late. All in all, the weekend is going to be chock full of Mazda Road to Indy action.
Livery Watch: Panther Racing will again have pink mixed into the #4 car’s color scheme, in honor of female soldiers (thank you, ladies!). Dario Franchitti will have a purple-and-blue GE Reveal car this weekend (it’s unique, I’ll give it that). Helio returns to the black, blue, and white PPG livery (I’ve always liked that), while Tristian Vautier is in green and yellow for Angie’s List in the #55 car. James Davison will make his debut in the red-and-white Sonny’s BBQ livery for Dale Coyne’s #18. All in all, it might be a slightly confusing weekend.
Pole Prediction: Will Power. It’s about time.
Winner Prediction: Scott Dixon, until someone else besides the Kiwi proves they can win here.
Dark Horse Prediction: I suppose it really wouldn’t be a surprise if Simon Pagenaud won, so I’m going with James Jakes to get Rahal a backyard victory.
Also, don’t forget to get your Fantasy Racing picks in ASAP! Have a great weekend, and we’ll meet back Monday to discuss all the weekend’s action.