Monday Musings – 2017 Honda Indy 200 At Mid-Ohio

By Dylan Reynolds, The Open Wheel

My post-race feature for The Open Wheel continues with a collection of random thoughts following the INDYCAR weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

  • Newgarden Wins On His Own To Take Championship Lead – Josef Newgarden already had two Verizon IndyCar Series wins in 2017 entering Mid-Ohio, but each came largely as a result of strategy and good fortune. However, Newgarden used a brilliant pass on teammate Will Power to go on to dominate a race from start-to-finish for the first time in 2017 and now leads the championship because of it. He’s won the last two races in the series and has avoided the issues that have plagued most drivers in their first year with a new team. He’s now finished in the Top 4 in five of the last seven races and is absolutely going to be in the championship fight until the end.
  • Rahal Continues Second Half Surge – Graham Rahal was brilliant all weekend long at Mid-Ohio. He was in the Top 10 in every practice session and posted the fastest time in qualifying (unfortunately for him in Round 2). He was strong throughout the race and earned a deserved podium finish in P3. He’s just 58 points back of Newgarden for the championship lead and he’s been as fast as anyone in the second part of this season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continues to amaze with their speed and Rahal’s race craft every single week.
  • Rare Mid-Ohio Weekend Where Dixon Struggles – Scott Dixon has won five times at Mid-Ohio and is typically near the top of every session at the circuit so it was surprising to see him fail to lead a session and struggle for race pace. It cost him the championship lead and he’s now finished between P8-P10 in four of the last five races (though the “other” was a win). Granted, a P6 qualifying performance and a P9 finish isn’t awful but that’s not what you expect from Dixon at arguably his best track. His crash in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is still his only non-Top 10 of the season so the consistency has been there but Dixon hasn’t been at the top of the order as much as he’d like lately. “It obviously wasn’t the way we wanted the race to go today for the NTT Data car. I really wasn’t 100 percent happy after we tested here last week and in qualifying. I don’t think we ever had the balance right where we wanted it. It felt like something broke on the car and we made some major front wing adjustments in the race.”
  • Kaiser Maintains Sizable Lights Lead Despite Awful Weekend – Kyle Kaiser had seemingly stamped his authority on the Indy Lights title fight with a dominant weekend in Toronto but he finished P12 in each of the two races at Mid-Ohio. However, despite those two dismal finishes, Kaiser’s championship lead only shrunk from 51 points to 42 due to the struggles of those immediately behind him in the title fight. Matheus Leist struggled for speed all weekend and Colton Herta spun from the lead on Sunday so each missed out on opportunities to further close the gap on Kaiser. However, Santi Urrutia put himself right back in the mix with a win on Saturday and a P2 finish on Sunday. He’s now tied for second in the championship race with Herta with two races to go at Gateway and Watkins Glen. Leist is now 48 points back and will be a considerable favorite to win and likely dominate at Gateway. However, drivers can only earn a maximum of 33 points per race (including a bonus point for pole, most laps led, and fastest race lap) while last place in the final races should earn 6 points at Gateway (15 cars with Chad Boat) and 7 points at Watkins Glen (back to 14 full-time cars) so the opportunity to significantly cut into Kaiser’s lead is very limited.  If Kaiser can simply stay out of trouble, this championship race should be over.