Team Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Will Power have been on a different level this season, compared to the rest of the competition. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship is looking more and more like it will come down to those two drivers, and if that battle is anything like what we saw today at Mid-Ohio, we’re in for a real treat. The two exchanged on-track pleasantries on more than one occasion today, but in the end it was Pagenaud who scored the win in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, his fourth victory of the season. Power was second, and his finishes in the last five races are 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 2nd. Pagenaud now leads Power by 58 points with four races remaining.
Both drivers were complimentary of the other after the race, and Pagenaud seemed to be managing the pain in his back, despite needing assistance to get out of the car. The two definitely separated themselves from the other two title contenders on Sunday, as teammate Helio Castroneves and Ganassi’s Scott Dixon got together on Lap 15. Dixon finished last (22nd) and Helio came home in 15th after experiencing other issues. Castroneves is 111 points behind Simon in 3rd, while Dixon is tied with teammate Tony Kanaan for the 5th spot, 127 points out of the lead. Carlos Munoz got a much-needed result for Andretti Autosport, and joined the Penske drivers on the podium. Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe rounded out the top five.
Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Box Score
Despite the front row ending the same way it began, there was plenty of drama, intrigue, and heartbreak in Lexington, Ohio. For awhile, it looked as though IndyCar would have its first Russian in victory lane, as Mikhail Aleshin used some sound strategy to take the lead. At one point late in the race, he had more than a 10 second lead over 2nd place Power. Jack Hawksworth brought out a caution with 29 laps remaining, and everyone headed for pit lane. Unfortunately for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team, the crew chief motioned for Mikhail to leave the pits, but Josef Newgarden was entering his pit box, and the two collided. After serving a penalty and replacing a front wing, Aleshin finished in 17th, but led the most laps (33) on Sunday.
Conor Daly also continued to impress, as he found his way up front, and led 22 laps. He was about four laps short on fuel, and had to make a quick splash in pit lane. The talented Rookie still managed to finish in 6th place after starting in last position. Daly has also now led laps in 5 of the 12 races so far this season. Newgarden had all sorts of issues in pit lane and on the track, but still managed to earn a 10th place result. His teammate, Rookie Spencer Pigot, had an even better day, finishing in 7th place.
Juan Montoya and Kanaan weren’t able to break through to the front of the pack on Sunday, and were 11th and 12th respectively. With Montoya and Castroneves struggling, none of the big teams can say they had an all-around great day. Andretti Autosport’s other three cars finished 13th, 14th, and 18th, while the Ganassi cars were 8th, 12th, 16th, and 22nd. RC Enerson was turning heads all weekend, and it continued today. He was running very well, and had just set the fastest lap of the day, when the car ran out of fuel on pit lane, and they had trouble getting it restarted.
Dixon took the biggest hit of the weekend by far. After the mishap in qualifying when the team brought him in because they thought he said it was beginning to rain, he found himself battling in the middle of the pack when the green flag fell. He now has an enormous hole to climb out of if he wants to repeat and win his 5th championship. At the time, it felt like a desperate move, but one that Dixon himself questioned after the fact. “It was definitely an aggressive move, but I should have known better trying that with Helio. It usually ends like this with him.”
Roger Penske reiterated once again after the race that he is going to let his drivers “go for it” and be as aggressive as they need to be. While that is certainly good for the fans, it may not be the best course of action for his organization. The one major difference between the Penske and Ganassi teams, is the depth of their driver lineup. All four drivers at Penske should be capable of winning every weekend, and of course the championship. At Ganassi, it’s Dixon, then the other three cars. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Ganassi has won 6 of the last 9 championships, while Penske has just 1. Who am I to tell Roger Penske how to ruin his business, but it does seem as though the competition and fight going on inside the Penske walls has been costing them in the long run.
There are four races remaining in the 2016 season, but the next one is three weeks away. The next event is at Pocono Raceway on August 21, but teams and drivers will still be busy with testing before then. Most of the drivers will be testing at Pocono on August 4, and at Watkins Glen on August 11. There will be a Firestone Tire Test at IMS on August 8, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, and Juan Montoya. As for the Pocono race, NBC Sports Network will provide coverage, which begins at 3 PM ET on that Sunday.
Race Photos via IndyCar
Juan Montoya: “First, I want to say that I’m really glad that Vance Welker (No. 2 car chief mechanic – outside front tire changer) is OK, after the incident (in the pits between No. 7 and 21 cars) today. Secondly, the Hawk Performance Chevrolet was good all weekend and it definitely had the speed for a podium finish. For the race, we went with a different strategy and it didn’t work out as well as we would have liked. We went with a different set of (Firestone) red tires that we thought would work well for us during the latter part of the race, but the balance was off after that. We have to keep our heads up and look ahead. We just need to go back and look at things this week and see what we can do differently for Pocono.”
Helio Castroneves: “The Hitachi Chevy was consistent. Unfortunately, I don’t understand yet what happened with the No. 9 (Scott Dixon) in Turn 2. Obviously, I went to move to the inside. He was on the push-to-pass. I was on the push-to-pass. Unfortunately, I felt a big hit on the back. I didn’t move anything. It is a shame. Not sure what happened. I have to ask him what happened. We stayed out but the sidepod was a little bit off and the rear of the car was moving a lot, especially in the high-speed section. I believe that is where I went off when I was passing the No. 8 car (Max Chilton), the rear just took off. Looks like some of my competitors had a bad day except for Will (Power) and (Simon) Pagenaud – great job for them. They are probably on their way to a good battle for the championship, but we will keep focused.”
James Hinchcliffe: “It was a solid result for the Arrow Electronics car. We had a really roller-coaster day, starting mid-field and ending up at the back after about mid-distance and then working our way back up to a top five. I have to give the guys a lot of credit. We had a bit of an evil balance in the first part of the race but every stop we worked on it and every stop we made it better. We got back on the (Firestone) red tires in the third stint and it really started to come to us. We picked off some guys in pit cycles and then picked off some guys on track in the last stint. We didn’t catch either of the lucky yellows, we had to earn it, but after falling to the back of the line for a pit-lane speed violation, which was one hundred percent my fault, we raced our way back up to a top five. Great work in the pits and I’m happy for everyone at Arrow, and at Honda at one of their home races. It was a tough break for Mikhail (Aleshin) and the No. 7 crew but it shows that we have the pace as a team and hopefully we can prove that moving forward.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “The car was amazing. The team did a fantastic job to bring the No. 7 SMP Racing car up to speed. No one was really faster than we were. I felt quite competitive up there in the front and I wasn’t pushing like crazy because I was also saving fuel. Everything was going proper, perfect and I was saving fuel but at the same time, I was the fastest car on the track so obviously the car was pretty good. I think the incident (in the pits with the No. 21 car) was unfortunate. I don’t want to discuss it though. I want to just say that sometimes these things happen in the race and we’re ready to win but we just got a little bit unlucky today.”
Max Chilton: “It was a long day in the office. I tried everything I could and I felt that my pace was pretty strong, but around here you have to be really strong to get by even with push-to-pass. It made it even harder with the temperatures, but I really did enjoy it out there this weekend. I learned a lot. It’s one of those things where you need the luck of the draw to do well and we just didn’t have it this weekend.”
Scott Dixon: “Helio (Castroneves) was coming out of the pits on the pit exchange and we were trying to go off sequence. He was off pace and we caught him on the exit of Turn 1. I got alongside him and he kept edging me over until I just had nowhere to go. I braked when I was alongside him and then he just turned in. Had we had a little more room I think we could have gotten through there just fine. It was definitely an aggressive move but I should have known better trying that with Helio. It usually ends like this with him.”
Tony Kanaan: “It was just one of those races where things didn’t fall the way we wanted them to. We made our way up into the top 10 after our last stop and we were in good position to keep it up there, but I was one of the only guys up front on blacks and we just couldn’t move forward or hold our position to the guys on red tires toward the end of the race. We had a really fast car in the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet and we showed it all weekend in practice, but it just didn’t play out for us in the end.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “After a frustrating qualifying yesterday, we managed to find ourselves up front today after a good strategy call. Unfortunately, five laps to the end I felt I had a shot to get into the top four. I haven’t seen the replay, but I guess I just got frustrated and missed my mark on the braking when I was close behind him (Takuma Sato). He braked and I tried to brake later and unfortunately I touched him. My bad to Takuma (Sato). The Hydroxycut car was good and I was growing increasingly frustrated not to be able to make use of it because he was not very fast. It just tipped me over the edge and I made a mistake. I feel bad for the Hydroxycut guys. They did a good job in the pits and deserved a better result. We’ll just have to regroup now and see what we can do the last four races of the season.”
Will Power: “Great strategy by the Verizon Chevy team and we did a great job saving on fuel. It was an interesting battle there. I was sleeping on that restart and I regret that. I should have been on it, then I got marbles on the tires. It was a good, clean battle. It was tough but it sucked finishing second, all the effort you put into that race. But Simon (Pagenaud) did a bloody good job and it’s turning into a pretty good battle. Like Simon said, we’re not racing for 11th place. It’s for a win and for a championship and you have to go for it. It was my bad for not being on it on the restart. I regret that, but he’s got to push. I thought of the team on the last corner when we went side-by-side, I had to back out or we were going to crash. It’s racing. It’s tough.”
Takuma Sato: “Heckuva day. Incredible job from the team. (Strategist) Larry (Foyt) called the perfect strategy even though it was a little bit optimistic when we came to pit. Later on we caught a good yellow and gained track position. Then we were fighting the whole field! It was like qualifying every lap. My ABC guys gave me a super pit stop to get me out on the last stop — then we were fighting for fourth. It’s a real shame what happened at the end (getting hit by Bourdais). We were able to salvage a ninth so still a good result for second straight race. Looking forward to the last part of the season.”
Graham Rahal: “I’m a little bit frustrated we couldn’t be a little better. I wanted to win today but I think we got the absolute most out of this thing. That first yellow kind of hurt us but that’s how racing goes sometimes. We rebounded nicely and got some points. It feels good to get another top five for the Steak ‘n Shake team. We have been pretty strong on the road courses this year. I wouldn’t say luck was completely on our side; that first yellow hurt us, but we rebounded pretty well. I’m really proud of my Steak ‘n Shake guys. We had our backs up against the wall after that first yellow but we kept our heads down. We had a great car today. It was faster than most but it was just hard to pass. It’s always great to come back home. Thanks to everyone who came out to support the Steak ‘n Shake team and the IndyCar Series.”
Conor Daly: “I figured out the car in the middle of the race. We kept locking the right front up so easily and I kept sailing off, even in the race. As soon as I sorted the brake bias, the car was amazing. We had to pit because the right front tire was destroyed. Because of that, we were about seven laps short of making it to the end at that point. We knew we couldn’t make it to the end so why not keep going and pushing. I tried to nail every single lap. We had a good enough car to stay up front and pull the gap that we needed. Sixth is about as good as we could’ve done in that scenario. I was just happy to pull away and lead like that for a stint. These guys kept their faith in me because I have driven the car off course all weekend. I’m just glad we could have a good finish.”
RC Enerson: “We were really quick out there. The guys gave me a great car. We were the fastest Honda so that’s a plus side and we were quick all race but it just didn’t turn out our way. A lot of excitement today, but also a little bit of disappointment because I know we had a good car and we could have done a lot better. But I’m pretty tired, my neck and my hands, so I have to work on that but we’ll keep pushing for it. For my debut, it really couldn’t have gone any better. Of course we would have liked to finish further up, but this was a good start.”
Spencer Pigot: “I was happy with the amount of cars we were able to jump on strategy and pass on track. We moved up to seventh so I was happy with that. We had a good strategy and also really good pit stops so a big thanks to them. I also have to say thanks to Fuzzy’s Vodka, Rising Star Racing, Mockett and everyone that helped me get here. I think we can keep moving forward. If we can qualify a bit better on Saturday, we won’t have to try and save as much fuel and do these alternate strategies. Today it worked out, but hopefully in Watkins Glen we can start by qualifying a bit higher up.”
Josef Newgarden: “It was tough day. I feel bad for my guys because I think we had a good car. (Simon) Pagenaud and (Will) Power would have been tough today, but I think we were a podium car for sure which would have been really good points for us. It’s tough having two races in a row where we have our rear bumper taken off. It’s no fault of our own but it ruins our race, it happened in Toronto and now here. I think it’s probably a question for INDYCAR of how that’s going to be handled. It’s really hard for us to recover after those incidents. We did everything we could, our guys were lightning fast in the pits to get us back out with a new bumper. We tried to do some damage control and got a top 10 out of it, we’ll take that and move on to try and win the next one.”
Simon Pagenaud: “I can’t feel anything right now so it’s all good. My back was fine all race, thanks to INDYCAR Medical. Whew, that was a race there, that was fun. It was an awesome battle with Will (Power) there. I knew that was my chance on that restart, it was time to go. It was a pretty interesting lap, fun driving like that. That’s racing. It was fair, it was clean, it was hard racing and I’m just glad I won, really. The PPG Chevrolet was really good today so when it was time to push it was easy to lay down some fast laps. The red Firestone tires were amazing today on the car. I just pushed as hard as we could and here we are. It’s awesome. Four wins this year.”
Carlos Munoz: “Finally we pitted at the right time – this year we’ve had a lot of bad luck. After qualifying we tried another setup for the warmup and I didn’t like it so we just went back on the setup. It’s nice to be back on the podium – it’s been a long time. Really happy to be third after how the weekend (went). I have to thank my team, Honda, everyone – they nailed the pit strategy. For Andretti (Autosport) it’s been quite a long time without (a podium finish) so it’s nice to be back. We had the track position and we had the pace – it was really physical, especially with the black (tires) I had to push a lot.”
Marco Andretti: “One of these days I’m going to catch a yellow to help us. We worked on strategy and had made it from P21 to P2, but that first yellow killed us. We had pace – after every time somebody pitted, we’d leap frog them and then we had to pit and then you’re green. So it didn’t work out for us in the end.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “I’m so infuriated and frustrated with today’s race. I don’t really want to get into details or discuss it. The DHL car started P4, was strong and should have been on the podium today.”
Jack Hawksworth: “At the beginning of the race we were holding steady but we weren’t great on the used reds (tires). Unfortunately, we decided to stay out at the beginning and the yellow came out and we got hosed and sent to the back. On the new blacks, I was fine running in the pack with Graham (Rahal), (Charlie) Kimball and (Tony) Kanaan. Then we had a bobble on the second stop which was unfortunate because the first stop was very good. For some reason on the new reds the left front tire went away and I had no grip that stint. I was just hanging on at the end of the stint. I think I dropped an outside rear wheel into the grass going into Turn 1 trying to open up the corner and the car snapped when it was in the grass and off I went.”
Charlie Kimball: “I feel really badly for the No. 83 crew – they did such an awesome job in pit lane. They gave me positions in every single pit stop and really gave me the opportunity to go for the podium. I got a little aggressive trying to pass the No. 26 car on that last restart and lost some spots. We ended up eighth which is definitely a fight back from where we were out there in the dirt with 30 (laps) to go. It’s just difficult because the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet was quicker than that today. I’m disappointed, but I have to give so much credit to the guys and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing this weekend.”
Alexander Rossi: “The opening part of the race was quite good. We got up to P8, I think. Then we had an issue in the pit stops. To have issues in the pits when you’re in yellow, you lose all track position. It’s almost impossible to pass and that pretty much sealed our fate. I think we had OK pace, but when you go to the back of the line on a yellow flag, it’s pretty much your day set.”