With starting spots to crucial this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it meant that the focus during the 75-minute NTT INDYCAR Series practice session on Friday was full bore to prepare yourself for Saturday’s qualifying round (2:45 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).
14 out of the last 15 races (93%) on natural road courses were won by a top 7 starter. To go even further with this, 6 of the last 7 races at Mid-Ohio were won by a front row starter. 6 out of the last 7 races on natural road courses overall were also won by a front row starter.
For Mid-Ohio, 5 of the 6 were from the pole. We’ve seen 3 straight winners here from the pole and 4 out of the last 5 at that.
That’s why it’s none to shocking to see Josef Newgarden sitting on top of the timing charts after the opening practice session to the weekend. Newgarden went 1:07.0549-seconds in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet to pace the 27 car field around the 2.258-mile Ohio road course on a steamy Friday afternoon.
The Tennessee native won this race from the pole just one year ago and also qualified on the front row for the last race at Road America a couple of weeks back. Newgarden has 8 top 5 starts in his last 9 Mid-Ohio tries including his worst qualifying effort since 2014 being 9th in Race 2 of 2020. He also has 2 straight front row starts on the season and was 7th at Barber, 3rd at Indy and 2nd at Road America.
“The car feels really good,” Newgarden quipped. “I think the temp definitely made the track grip low. It felt very difficult to drive the car today, to bring it up to temperature. Firestone has a new tire here from last year, and it’s tougher to bring up to temp. Feels like a little less grip.
“I think some of that is also just the ambient and the track temp that’s causing that, but I’m relatively happy. I think our car was good off the truck, relatively.”
He certainly has to be a pole favorite on Saturday and for the race win in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
So is Alex Palou. The defending series champion was P2 in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda with a lap of 1:07.2610-seconds. Palou qualified 20th, 4th and 7th respectively in his 3 starts at Mid-Ohio but also 3rd, 2nd and 3rd on like tracks this season too.
Felix Rosenqvist (1:07.3171-seconds) was third in his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet while his teammate Pato O’Ward (1:07.5263-seconds) was sixth in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet. The Arrow McLaren SP duo were joined Chip Ganassi Racing with Palou (2nd) and Marcus Ericsson (4th) as the only pair of teammates represented in the top 6 at the end of the session. Ericsson went 1:07.3720-seconds and enters this weekend as the points leader. The Swedish driver also came home runner-up to Newgarden here last July 4 after starting in 3rd. He qualified on Row 2 (4th) in the last race at Road America as well.
Colton Herta (1:07.4998-seconds) rounded out the top five in his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. Herta has 2 straight front row starting spots here including 3 of his 4 Mid-Ohio races being started from a top 7 spot. He qualified 5th in Road America.
The only red flag of the session came at 4:04 p.m. ET when Takuma Sato got off course in Turn 1. He’d later return to the track without much damage.
Natural Road Course Trends
The same top 7 from the qualifying results from Road America was in the top 7 in the opening practice at Mid-Ohio. While the two tracks aren’t exactly alike, both are natural terrain road courses with some elevation changes.
You can typically correlate one to the other which is why the guys that were fast in Road America have been fast so far this weekend in Mid-Ohio. That’s especially concerning for the hometown teams of RLL and MSR. Both struggled in terms of pace at Road America and did so again on Friday.
MSR was 13th (Helio Castroneves) and 18th (Simon Pagenaud) while RLL had all 3 cars 20th or worse with Graham Rahal being 20th, Jack Harvey 22nd and Christian Lundgaard in 24th.
Foyt also had Dalton Kellett (23rd) and Tatiana Calderon (25th) back there again but Kyle Kirkwood was an impressive 11th.
I also like to give a callout to Simona de Silvestro who was consistently 3 seconds off pace in her 1st INDYCAR start on a road course in 7 years last time out in Road America. Just 1 race weekend later, she’s a little over a second back meaning she cut 2+ seconds off her deficit and was ahead of Tatiana Calderon and Jimmie Johnson.
Vegas Landed Betting Odds Right So Far
The favorite to win Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 entering this weekend? Josef Newgarden. He was quickest in session 1. The 2nd best odds? Alex Palou. He was 2nd in practice. Vegas has hit the early odds so far but that’s not too shocking in a sense that the point above rings true.
Don’t Get Too Carried Away From Friday
One thing about Friday is, speed charts are somewhat hard to base everything off of in a sense that this place is tricky to get a clean lap. Everyone is checking up to get some clean air which slows up cars behind too. As a result, some guys don’t get full clean laps which affects their pace.
“Traffic seems to be a big problem with getting clean laps and putting down a good lap time,” said Colton Herta. “Luckily my red run was relatively clean. I was happy with that. And then every other run was pretty messy.”
Another factor is the weather itself. Temps were 8-10 degrees warmer today than what they’ll be the rest of the weekend as a cold front moves in overnight. That plus more rubber getting put down as the weekend goes on keeps teams on their toes each day.
“I think overall we’re slower than last year,” Josef Newgarden said. “If you’re looking at the black times, most were about an eight-zero, so that would have probably been eight-tenths slower than last year’s time. I think some of that’s down to the Firestone tire difference, and I think a lot of it is down to the ambient. The ambient and track was really elevated today, and I think tomorrow you’ll see that ease, and you’ll probably see people happier with their cars because the grip is just going to go up.
“But yeah, I think we’re probably maybe a little bit slower than last year, maybe mostly due to the tire change, but I think ambient, we’ll see where we’re at tomorrow.”