Slippery When Wet (MidOhio 2020 Review)

You can choose many themes for 2020. For the NTT INDYCAR season, it’s going to be “Double-Headers”. Given the upheavel in everyone’s lives, the series determined that multiple races would be turned into double-header weekend spectacles. This past weekend, the series had another double-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Much like prior double-headers, fans again were treated to two completely different races. This time, weather was a significant factor.

To get things started, the qualifying format on road course double-headers is different. Unlike regular road/street course races which feature knock-out rounds of qualifying, there are two groups and one round. The fastest overall receives pole, and the field is then set odds and evens based on group number. The driver who was second fastest does receive an extra point in the championship. Truthfully, I myself forgot that until right before qualifications started. It was a fairly quiet qualifying session. Alex Palou caused a yellow and therefore lost his fastest lap (1). Will Power clenched the pole, his 60th in his career, and Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in the other group earning the second spot and a championship point.

Within three laps we had the first incident in the laps. Rinus Veekay got into Simon Pagenaud who spun up towards the keyhole. As a seasoned, and skilled, veteran Pagenaud was able to keep control of the car but that truly hurt his race changes. Another big battle happened mid-pack mid-race where Marco Andretti first battled first with VeeKay and Patricio O’Ward. He then started holding up Max Chilton, Palou, and Zach Veach. Post-race Andretti offered nothing to suggest major problems with the car, only the pitted off-sequence and forced a lot of fuel saving. Ultimately, Will Power won, with Josef Newgarden in second, and – FINALLY – Alexander Rossi rounded out the podium. The last few laps of the race featured a blood pressure rising duel between Graham Rahal and Rossi. Thankfully, Rossi held on!

Sunday morning, I awoke to texts about rain overnight at Mid-Ohio and the track being damp and full of standing water. In fact prior to qualification, the Road to Indy race was red flagged due to track conditions. The water had washed away all grip and rubber from the Saturday races. For INDYCAR qualifications on Sunday, it’d be easier to talk about who didn’t lose complete and total control of their cars. When I say it was like someone threw bananas all over the track in Mario Kart – not exaggerating. In Group 1, only Charlie Kimball caused a red flag due to stalling. In Group 2, Will Power, Jack Harvey, and Patricio O’Ward caused red flags. In case you, like Will Power, weren’t aware of an older rule: if you cause a red flag during qualification you loose your fastest laps and don’t continue (2). Power must not be an avid reader of my blog – otherwise he would have recalled the rule from my discussion back in the beginning of the 2019 season (read that entry HERE). After an eventful qualification, Colton Herta held the pole with Santino Ferrucci in second.

The race started on a track still somewhat damp in palaces. Right at the start, where it did appear Scott Dixon jumped out early, Ferrucci lost control of his car and went off the track. He then made the decision to turn the car back INTO the track where the field, still bunched up from the start, was going by. Ferrucci went right into his teammate Palou who also collected Rosenqvist in the incident. I’m unsure what Ferrucci was thinking, turning back into a track. Comparing it with Marco’s spin on Lap 29, you can see the difference between an impatient driver and a veteran. Andretti kept control of the car, and kept it in the grass, and moving along the track. He only came back onto the track after the cars had passed. The race featured another spin out for Dalton Kellett and Dixon. After an eventful seventy-five laps Andretti Autosport swept the podium. Ryan Hunter-Reay came in third, Alexander Rossi moved up to second, and young Colton Herta won the race. It was a masterful race by the second-year driver. He was on older tires and managed to hold off Rossi for the last handful of laps. Know that any bobble, any mistake, and Rossi would have pounced. Good race Herta!  

Overall this weekend showed how different weather conditions will effect the tires. The race on Saturday was held on an extremely dry track and started off in full sun. That race found the red alternate tires falling off quickly. While they gave grip and speed in the beginning, they did not last. By Lap 18 Jack Harvey, who had started on the alternate tires was nearly begging to come into change tires. Sunday’s race was, as discussed, completely different. The track was cool and damp following the overnight and morning rain. While that gave a whole different host of problems, it did allow the tires to hold on longer. In comparison to Harvey’s eighteen laps, Takuma Sato was able to wait until Lap 32 to come in and change from his alternate tires. This was different then what we saw at Worldwide Technology Raceway where it seemed that in neither race the tires ever wore down.

Finally, it seemed to me that Scott Dixon was more emotional this weekend as a driver. In the first race, Herta had Dixon’s number. Granted, somehow Herta inadvertently hit the pit-speed limiter causing Dixon to get up in the back of his car. Though, prior to that Dixon had been making less calculated and more emotional moves. Not taking his normal time to set up moves. It was similar in the second race. Dixon nearly jumped the start, and by the end of the first lap he was all ready complaining about how Herta started the race. Later on, after serious pressure from RHR and Rossi, Dixon lost control and spun out. That spin threw a wrench his pit strategy, causing him to pit on Lap 59 lap of a seventy-five lap race. It appears that the Ice Man is cracking and a young kid from California is causing it.

We’re left with one more road-course double-header at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the beginning of October, and then the season finale in St. Petersburg. Scott Dixon still holds the lead, with a seventy-72 point gap between he and Josef Newgarden. The lead did slip a bit after this weekend, but with an IMS road course in the future…the championship is Dixon.

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  1. INDYCAR Rule 8.3.5.4 – If a Car causes a Yellow Condition [. . .] the Car’s best-timed lap to that point during that Qualifications segment shall be disallowed, regardless of whether the other Car complied with Rule 7.1.3.2. If the Car does not have a timed lap recorded when causing the Yellow Condition, a Black Flag drive-through penalty will be assessed once the lap on which the Yellow Condition occurred has been completed.
  2. INDYCAR Rule 8.3.4 – If a Car causes a Red Condition in any segment, the Car’s best two (2) timed laps of the segment shall be disallowed, the Car may not continue in the segment, and the Car shall not advance to the next segment.