Nestled in the rolling hills of Buckeye country, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with its 13-turn layout is the next stop on the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series circuit.
After a two-week break since the last race at Road America, the stars of IndyCar will roll into Ohio ready to tackle the natural terrain course with its sweeping turns and changing elevation in an 80-lap race on Sunday, July 2. It will be the 40th running of the Honda Indy 200.
The hottest driver on the grid is 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou, who has blitzed the field since the start of May, winning three of the last four races – and has been untouchable for most of his competitors.
But now that the series heads into the hot summer stretch, will his 74-point lead in the standings grow or be chipped away after this weekend’s race?
Can Anyone Stop Palou?
The Spaniard is on a stretch of three wins and seven top fives over the last seven races, a streak which hasn’t been matched in the Dallara aero kit era which started in 2012. Others have won three races and collected six top-five finishes in that span, but nothing beyond that. What the driver of the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda is doing is maximizing consistency and leaving the rest of the field clawing to catch up in the process.
Unfortunately, this weekend may not offer much hope to the paddock, as Palou finished second and third, respectively, in his last two races at Mid-Ohio. Another top five will continue to seal his championship hopes in iron.
Dixon Trying to Grab Win No. 1 This Year
The six-time series champ Scott Dixon has yet to win this year, which isn’t too surprising. In nine of his 21 American open-wheel series seasons he has won his first race of the year the seventh race or later. The Kiwi has been known to come on strong in the middle of a championship run, and his previous titles show he may be on to something.
He heads into Mid-Ohio as a six-time winner at the track, and hasn’t finished outside the top 10 there since 2016 when he came home 22nd. Oh, wait a second, that’s only his second finish outside the top 10 at Mid-Ohio, in 19 attempts. Wow. Don’t count him out. And if the Racing Gods are good to the motorsports world, they will pit Dixon against Pato O’Ward in the closing stages of the race.
Team Penske Four-Peat
In the last three IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio, Team Penske has had wins by each of their current stable of drivers. The 2022 series champion, Will Power, won in 2020, then Josef Newgarden grabbed his first win of 2021 at the circuit, and the team’s newest driver, Scott McLaughlin, is the defending winner. McLaughlin won earlier in the year at Barber, a track with a similar layout featuring elevation change and high speed corners. The Kiwi’s two teammates are looking to jump into the title race (while hoping for some misfortune for Palou) with good runs.
Drivers Trying to Get Good Results
As the half-way point of the season peaks, the drivers in the field suffering from bad results are going to hope to turn things around this weekend. Romain Grosjean is first on that list, suffering mechanical and balance issues with his car at Road America. Since his back-to-back runner-up showings at Long Beach and Barber, he’s not had a top 10 and has fallen to 13th in points. Last year at this track, he had a memorable run-in with then-teammate Alexander Rossi which put him out of contention.
Jack Harvey has a 13th place finish as his best result, and nothing would feel better than to get a top 10 at his boss Bobby Rahal’s former home track. Rookie Sting Ray Robb has finished just three races this year, could this be a race where he finally runs in the top 15?
Rinus VeeKay has seen little positive come out of the year except laps led at the Indianapolis 500, but even that featured the misfortune of contact with Palou in the pits. His teammate Conor Daly was let go from his ride, and new teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay soldiered home to a 17th at Road America. Perhaps two weeks off will revitalize the team for the run to Laguna Seca.
The Sneaky Swede Chasing Palou
Marcus Ericsson is in the middle of a contract negotiation that has not been locked up yet. The emotions of dealing with a future in IndyCar while competing for the championship are not easy tasks to handle, just look at his teammate Palou last year.
But the Swede hasn’t let off the gas and is in the hunt for the title – sort of. The 74-point lead for Palou is no joke, especially not in a series as close as IndyCar. Without a playoff system like NASCAR has, there is no reset that will magically erase the deficit. All that will do it is good, old-fashioned hard work and driving, especially getting top fives, which is his Achilles heel versus Palou. Ericsson’s three top fives are overwhelmed by Palou’s seven, which includes three wins.
Good news is, Mid-Ohio is a good course for him. He was close to winning it in 2021 as Newgarden conserved tires and fuel to make it to the finish and he has three straight finishes of sixth or better. But what he will want on Sunday is a podium or better.
Frontstretch Race Prediction
Well, look at that. At Road America the prediction was Palou, Newgarden and Dixon. Had two of the three, and Dixon finished fourth. The confidence is growing. Let’s see if it holds up.
- Alex Palou – Honestly, why not?
- Marcus Ericsson – How rough would it be getting a top-five result but still losing ground to his teammate?
- Will Power – He’s irritated from Road America and this is a Team Penske toss-up.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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