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IndyCar: Honda Indy 200 Preview

Start of the 2017 Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. [Andy Clary Photo]

by Paul Gohde

The drivers say that to win at Mid-Ohio you must qualify up front. “Qualifying is key to having a good race because it is difficult to overtake,” Sebastien Bourdais explained recently, “There are a couple of places you can do it…but being up front, like anywhere, always makes things easier.” So this weekend, time trials may be more interesting than the race as the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200.

Race Facts: Mid-Ohio brought motorcycle and sports car racing to the Buckeye state in 1962, but it wasn’t until 1980 that USAC Champ Cars arrived as Johnny Rutherford defeated Gordon Johncock and Bill Alsup. The 2.258-mile, 13-turn natural road course has hosted 32 more Indy car events since then with Josef Newgarden leading teammate Will Power to a 1-2 Team Penske sweep last year. Qualifying is important here, and Simon Pagenaud holds that record with a lap of 1:03.870 (127.271mph) in 2016. Charlie Kimball did the 90-lap, 293.2-mile run in a race record 1:43:29.137 (117.825 mph) in 2013. CART and the IRL followed that inaugural USAC event from 1983-2010, while Scott Dixon grabbed the first IndyCar Series event in 2011. Contrary to those who put import on starting up front, but perhaps an outlier one, Dixon won from 22nd on the grid in 2014.

Past Races at Mid-Ohio: Chip Ganassi Racing has found victory lane here 10 times with Penske’s drivers close with nine. Dixon has won here five times with the latest being that drive through the field from the rear four years ago. Josef Newgarden’s win here last year put him into the championship point’s lead for good as he went on to cinch the season’s crown at Sonoma two months later. The Penske Chevrolet driver started second here and led 73/90 laps, relinquishing the front spot only during pit stop cycles. He beat pole-winner Power by 2.258 sec.

2018 So Far: Point standings after 13/17 races: 1. Dixon (464 points/3 wins) 2. Newgarden (402/3) 3. Alexander Rossi (394/1) 4. Ryan Hunter-Reay (373/1) 5. Power (371/2). Other winners: James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais one each. Honda has won seven times to Chevy’s five with four yet to be run after Mid-Ohio.

The Field: Meyer Shank Racing returns to the grid with Brit Jack Harvey at the wheel this week as the team prepares to enter the series full-time, perhaps in 2019. Conor Daly will be in the Harding Racing entry for his second race after finishing 13th for them at Toronto. Pietro Fittipaldi has recovered from early season injuries and will return to competition for Dale Coyne in Ohio as 24 cars will try to qualify.

Notes: TV: NBCSN Qualifying-Saturday,1:30 p.m.ET Live/ Race-Sunday, 3 p.m.ET Live (Re-air Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET)…Previous road/street course winners this season are: Newgarden (2), Dixon (2), Rossi, Power, Bourdais and Hunter-Reay…Power has been on the pole three times here…17 entered driver have raced Indy cars here before, while the MO rookies are Zach Veach, Rene Binder, Matheus Leist, Jordan King, Robert Wickens, Harvey and Fittipaldi…Team Penske has won the last two races here…While some had hoped that IndyCar would move its championship, double-points September finale to a Midwest site in 2019, the signing of a three-year contract with Laguna Seca to replace Sonoma will keep that season-ending race in the San Francisco Bay area and on an iconic road course. Many had hoped it might move to a midwestern oval instead.

Our Take: The season has come down to a two-horse-race between Newgarden and Dixon. Both have won twice on road courses this year and both teams have won multiple times at Mid-Ohio. It’s Chevy vs. Honda with Honda holding a slight road-course advantage. We’ll give Dixon the edge, but Rossi may be the weekend’s dark horse.

Final Word: Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): The track has been very special to not only myself, but to the team over the years. It’s one of those rhythm tracks where if you get into a good groove, then things just take off if everything is working right. You can come from about anywhere to win here as we’ve seen in the past, but it’s a lot easier when you do it from the front. So, a good qualifying run is always important on this style track.”

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”