Colton Herta had a flawless day on Sunday. The second year driver led 57 of 75 laps en route to his third career NTT IndyCar Series victory in Sunday’s Honda 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Herta, qualified on the pole for the fourth time of his career this morning and used that propel him to his first win of the season.
That’s been key here. The pole winner won both races this weekend and three of the last four on this track. Furthermore, five of the last six Indy Car races at Mid-Ohio have been won by a front row starter. On the season, the last six winners have come from a top three starting spot too.
The American had the best strategy by starting and ending on the Firestone Alternates. His middle stint on the Blacks was enough to allow him to go to the Reds on the final stint to run fast enough laps in the No. 88 Honda to keep his Andretti Autosport teammates at bay.
Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay went red-red-black tire strategy but with Herta on the Red’s, they didn’t have enough in the end to get the win. Still, it was Andretti’s day with a 1-2-3 podium sweep — their first in 15 years.
Rossi, finished third on Saturday and now second on Sunday to give him three podiums in his last four Mid-Ohio starts. Hunter-Reay was fifth on Saturday in his No. 28 Honda and third on Sunday. That’s three straight top five finishes for him on this track and five straight top eight’s. In fact, he has eight top 10’s in his last nine Mid-Ohio starts overall.
Graham Rahal was fourth for the second straight day while Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top five in his No. 8 Honda to give Honda a 1-2-3-4-5 day.
Here are my main takeaways.
Herta’s At His Best On Natural Road Courses
Colton Herta has three wins and four poles in his young IndyCar career. That’s impressive for just 29 starts. But, if you look closer, you’d see that the second year driver is at his best on natural road courses.
Herta’s four poles are on them (Road America, Portland, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio).
His three wins are also on them too (COTA, Laguna Seca, Mid-Ohio).
He’s made 12 starts on natural road courses in general and to go along with three wins are seven top fives and 10 top 10’s.
Much Needed Weekend For Rossi
If anything could go wrong in 2020 for Alexander Rossi, it did. From an ECU failing him before the race even started at Texas, the an electrical malfunction in the next race at Indy on the road course, to getting off course a week later in Road America 1, to a penalty on pit road in the Indy 500 which indirectly led to a crash, to an opening lap crash not of his doing six days later at World Wide Technology Raceway, needless to say it was a frustrating season for the Andretti Autosport driver.
He hasn’t won since June 24 of last year. Other than leading 17 laps in the ‘500 on Aug. 23, that’s the last time that he’s led a race.
That’s why this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was so beneficial to him. He qualified sixth and finished on the podium in third in race 1. He even led five laps too. On Sunday, he qualified 10th but quickly charged and finished second for a dual podium weekend. That and a third place run in Road America 2 are his only top five finishes all season. As he said after the race, the championship was gone early, it’s all about going for race wins now.
“I’m just so happy for Andretti Autosport and Michael (Andretti),” said Rossi. “It’s been a terrible year for us, kind of globally. So, to do this … hat’s off to Colton (Herta) and the 88 guys to get the win. But then just to sweep the podium, I’ve heard it’s the first time (for the team) since 2005. It’s very cool for us. The championship went away from us pretty early on, so we’re just focusing on race wins at this point and just trying to build a good foundation for next year, and I think we’re doing that right now. This is a step in the right direction.”
He’s also now had four podiums in his last five Mid-Ohio starts including six straight in the top six.
“Rookie mistake” hurts Dixon but he still charges to 10th, where the points sit now
Scott Dixon came into the doubleheader at Mid-Ohio race weekend with a 96 point advantage over Josef Newgarden and 119 points up on third place Pato O’Ward. His advantage remain similar to O’Ward as he’s 117 points up with three races remaining.
The fourth place gap closed from 142 over Takuma Sato to 128 over new fourth place Colton Herta. Will Power is fifth (-149). It was 166 coming into the twinbill.
But, the one that matters is the gap between Dixon and Newgarden. It’s down to 71. Newgarden, gained 20 points on Saturday and five more on Sunday. Since Newgarden’s win at World Wide Technology Raceway two weeks ago, the gap has shortened 54 points.
That’s why despite there being a 71 point advantage for Dixon over Newgarden now, the title hunt isn’t over with yet. Newgarden warned as much in St. Louis. He said that they gave Dixon three wins already and did so by bad luck. If luck started to turn, watch out.
It’s now started.
Dixon, qualified a bad 17th on Saturday. Newgarden started third. O’Ward and Sato rolled off 15th and 18th respectively too. That’s why Newgarden took another chunk out of the deficit with a runner-up in comparison to Dixon’s 10th place result. O’Ward was 11th with Sato 17th.
On Sunday, Dixon qualified third but made what he said was a rookie mistake when he spun on Lap 22 while running third in terms of the leaders. He fell to 19th as a result. Newgarden, only started ninth, so he had his work cut out for him.
Newgarden would only finish eighth for what he was was just an average day.
“We were just a little too average today,” Newgarden said. “We didn’t really have superior pace, and our starting position didn’t help us out.
“We tried to make some hay in the beginning, and the caution didn’t really work in our favor for what we were planning strategy-wise. We were just kind of stuck where we were all day, to be honest. We just need to work on getting a little more race pace. I think that’s what we were lacking.
“On the car itself, we needed a little better grip and a little more balance. Everything else was solid. I think Team Chevy came with a great engine today. We had what we needed from them, and obviously the support from PPG is always great here at Mid-Ohio, so we just need to work on ourselves a little next time out.”
Dixon, charged back for another 10th place finish in the interim. Dixon’s final stint was why he may win this championship. The gap was below 70 points, but Dixon came from 14th to 10th.
Dixon has won six times at Mid-Ohio and five series championships. None of those happened in the same year together.
Now, it’s to Indy for two races as Dixon won on this track on July 4 and had three runner-up finishes prior. St. Pete wraps it up as they finished 1-2 last year too.
It’s likely down to two drivers now for the title, can Newgarden keep makingup ground?
Qualifying, Radio Problems, Kept Power From A Potential Weekend Sweep
Will Power dominated Saturday’s race. He won the pole, his 60th of his career. It was his third pole in the last four Mid-Ohio including eight front row starting spots in his last nine races there overall. Despite that, he was 0-for-11 during his career on the Ohio road course. He’s always qualifier well, just hasn’t won.
He also had won at least one race every year since 2007. He was winless entering Saturday’s 75 Lap race.
Luckily, Power earned his first Mid-Ohio win and extending his yearly winning streak to 14. The Penske driver dominated in leading 66 of 75 laps.
On Sunday, he was a pole favorite again, but spun on the wet track. That brought out the red flag to retrieve his car, which by having to do so, he couldn’t qualify anymore. As a result, he’d start 17th.
That kept him from a potential weekend sweep. See, Power went from 17th to 12th in one lap. He then found the top 10 quickly after. Power, finished seventh which if he was able to turn a qualifying lap, I have a feeling a win was possible.
All the while, he was having radio issues early, which also hurt him.
“It was actually a pretty solid race for the Verizon Chevrolet,” Power said. “We had some radio issues, so I really wasn’t sure what position we were running in all the time, so I really just followed my teammates and pitted when they did.
“It was pretty smooth sailing from there, but we really couldn’t make up a lot of ground. Obviously, it was a pretty disappointing result in qualifying today, and that was totally my fault. Considering that and the radio challenges during the race, we come away actually feeling all right with a seventh-place result and a pretty good weekend overall with the win on Saturday.”
Still, Power charged up to fifth in the championship standings now which is big for him.
Quiet But Solid Home Weekend For Rahal
Graham Rahal was confident coming into his home weekend at Mid-Ohio. While he had a frustrating last time out at the World Wide Technology Raceway last month with finishes of 18th and 20th respectively, he felt his natural road course pace was strong and that he could be a factor to win on his home track Saturday and Sunday.
Rahal, qualified eighth and finished fourth on Saturday then qualified 12th but still finished fourth again on Sunday. That’s four top four finishes in his last six starts on the season and five top four finishes in his last seven Mid-Ohio starts overall. In fact, he’s not finished worse than ninth here since 2014.
“The Fifth Third Bank car was strong today,” said Rahal. “We were able to pass a few guys on the second stint but didn’t feel great on those reds toward the end. I was struggling a little bit, and I think that hurt us.
“I think we had more pace than those guys (top three), but the track position was hard.
“All in all, I thought our strategy was good, the pit stops were good, and the Fifth Third Bank car was good. Two fourth-place finishes here is not too bad. We would have liked to gain a little more points on the guys ahead, but we’ll take it. I think we closed the gap to some. That was as physical of a weekend as you are going to have. Congrats to Colton (Herta) on a great run.“
Sato’s Momentum Halted In Mid-Ohio
Takuma Sato went from 21st in the standings in his first trip to Indy on July 4 to fourth following his Indy 500 win on Aug. 23. That’s because Sato had a span of five top 10 finishes in six tries. Throw in World Wide Technology Raceway and Sato had seven top 10’s, two of which top two’s in eight tries.
Unfortunately, Mid-Ohio was the spot that halted his streak.
Sato, qualified 18th and only finished 17th on Saturday, then qualified just 22nd on Sunday to finish 18th. He entered the weekend 142 points down in fourth in the standings but leaves seventh (-155) .
Penske-Andretti Cars Shine, Ganassi’s Not So Much
No one had won on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as much as Chip Ganassi Racing. But, this weekend belonged to Team Penske and Andretti Autosport. Penske went 1-2 on Saturday with Andretti putting a car on the podium too.
Four of the top five finishing spots were all Penske and Andretti cars. Graham Rahal broke up the party up front in fourth.
On Sunday, Andretti then went 1-2-3 with Penske being 6-7-8. That’s six of the top eight belonging to these teams as Rahal again broke up the part in the top five.
The best Ganassi car on Saturday was Felix Rosenqvist in sixth. Scott Dixon qualified a disappointing 17th and only came home 10th. Marcus Ericsson started 21st and got to 15th.
On Sunday, Ganassi had two of the top five starting spots, but Rosenqvist was collected in an opening lap crash while Dixon spun on Lap 22. Ericsson was their top finisher in fifth.
VeeKay’s Hot Streak Continues
Rinus VeeKay qualified fourth for the Indianapolis 500. He was a big story as a 19 year old had Chevrolet’s strongest pace. A week later, he finished sixth and fourth respectively at the World Wide Technology Raceway. Now, it was to Mid-Ohio to where VeeKay had never finished off the podium in six career starts in the Road to Indy program. His confidence had never been higher.
He qualified ninth and finished eighth on Saturday then qualified 11th to finish there on Sunday too. That’s four consecutive top 11 finishes as we head now to Indy on the road course for two more races next month. He finished fifth there back on July 4.
Dale Coyne Racing/Chip Ganassi Racing Had A Rough Start
Colton Herta my have won the pole for Sunday’s race, but he had a full mirror of Chip Ganassi and Dale Coyne Racing behind him. Four of the top five starting spots belonged to these two teams. But, after the first corner, two of those four were already out of the race.
Santino Ferrucci had a career best second place qualifying effort on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, Ferrucci went off course in the first corner and while running in the grass, he didn’t want to lose too many spots and forced his way back up onto the track in the next corner. He slipped into his DCR teammate Alex Palou once on track and Palou then got into Felix Rosenqvist after.
Both Palou and Rosenqvist would get into the tire barriers as a result, effectively ending their days early. They’d finish 22nd and 23rd respectively.
Ferrucci, was penalized for avoidable contact and have to go to the back as well. So, instead of having four of the top five spots, they had the bottom three after.
Rough Weekend For Palou
The rookie driver spoke to the media on Thursday saying that he felt like Mid-Ohio was the start of what could be a great end of the season for him. See, Palou was overly confident. That’s because this was the first time of the season that he has raced on a track that he’s been on before. Palou, tested at Mid-Ohio last year which is what helped land him this ride.
Speaking of that, Palou also noted that he is a free agent still for 2021 as he doesn’t have a deal done yet. He hoped that being at Mid-Ohio for not one but two races, then back on the Indy road course in October for two more races, would lead to some top five finishes for him.
He noted that he was very much in the hunt for Rookie of the Year and earning that distinction would help secure funding too in hopes of being able to stay here in the series next year.
Unfortunately, the Mid-Ohio weekend despite all the confidence in the world was frustrating for him. He qualified 20th and finished 12th on Saturday, then qualified fourth on Sunday morning but was pushed off course in a crash with his teammate on the opening lap in the opening turn. He’d finish 23rd as a result.
For a guy that was at peak confidence levels heading into the weekend, he leaves with finishes of 12th and 22nd respectively.
75 Laps Not Ideal, Tire Strategy Only Strategy To Have
First off, I don’t blame IndyCar or Mid-Ohio for this. In a pandemic, they had to do what they could in order to get both races in. See, Mid-Ohio moved from one race to two. But, with such a physical track and one race ending at 7 p.m. ET and the other starting at 1 p.m. ET the next day, there was no way to make these guys race two 90 Lap races. They had to condense them.
So, 75 laps was it.
The problem is, Mid-Ohio doesn’t have a lot of cautions. Saturday went caution free for the first straight year. We only had one yellow in 2017, two in 2016, four in 2015, then none again in 2013 and 2014.
That leads to normally a pit strategy race, but with only 75 laps being run, it’s a race that is easy to do on two stops. With a longer race, you get strategies of guys trying to do it on 2 stops and others on 3 stops.
We saw that happen last year with Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist on opposite strategies but finishing 1-2 in a thrilling photo finish.
Saturday’s race didn’t allow that with everyone going on two stops. Will Power won by over 7 seconds and led 66 of 75 laps.
Sunday’s race had two cautions, but the first was on the opening lap and the second in the middle of when the first pit sequence could begin. So, everyone pit at the same time, minus Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti, meaning pit strategy wouldn’t spice up the race weekend.
The only thing to spice it up was tire strategy. With only two stops, you had to use the Reds and Blacks one time each. How you managed that would shape the outcome of your days.
Colton Herta went red-black-red on his tires. His teammates behind went red-red-black. The Penske’s all elected for reds on their final stint but Josef Newgarden and Will Power went with black’s at the start, reds on the second stint while Pagenaud was the opposite. They still finished 6-7-8.
This is the seventh straight different winner at Mid-Ohio with Graham Rahal starting the streak in 2015, Simon Pagenaud next in 2016, Josef Newgarden 2017, Alexander Rossi 2018, Scott Dixon 2019 and Power/Herta this weekend.