The halfway point of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season is upon us, with movers and shakers still to be determined. A championship is to be won over the next nine races, and a Rookie of the Year title is at stake. Who will surge? Who will emerge?
The answers to the questions begin with this weekend’s The Honda Indy 200 Presented by The All-New 2023 Civic Type R at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, holds a 27-point lead over Team Penske’s Will Power, but one of Power’s teammates – Josef Newgarden – is one to watch.
Thirty-two points out of the lead, Newgarden tops the series with three race wins and is coming off a dominating performance in the most recent race, the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR. And many of Newgarden’s best tracks are yet to come on this schedule.
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As many as 11 drivers are still solidly in contention for this year’s Astor Challenge Cup awarded to the year’s champion. While none of the rookies are expected to challenge for the crown, they have an interesting Rookie of the Year race to decide.
Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing leads David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 17 points with Kyle Kirkwood of AJ Foyt Racing, Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing and Devlin DeFrancesco of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport not far behind.
The remaining schedule is balanced, with Mid-Ohio one of four permanent road courses left to be contested. The Honda Indy 200 at Toronto on July 17 is one of two street circuits still to come, and the Hy-Vee-sponsored July 23-24 doubleheader at Iowa Speedway represents two of the three oval events left.
With five races in July, the upcoming stakes are high. Hardware is in the offing.
Given that, here are Five Things to Watch as the action begins Friday at Mid-Ohio:
Mid-Ohio: Dixon’s Track
There is only one track on the current NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule – Toronto’s Exhibition Place – where one driver has won more races than Scott Dixon has at Mid-Ohio.
Dixon has gone to victory lane six times on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course, the most recent in 2019. The driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda won his first in 2007 as part of five wins in eight years. No other driver has won more than two NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at Mid-Ohio.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has staged 16 races at Mid-Ohio since 2007, and Dixon has finished in the top five on 12 occasions. And don’t be too concerned with where he qualifies in NTT P1 Award qualifying Saturday. Dixon has only won from the pole once (2011) and came from the back once (2014). His average starting position in his wins is 7.3.
Dixon enters the weekend sixth in the standings, 69 points out of the lead. But with this being a track where he excels, he could make a big dent in the deficit this weekend.
For the curious, Michael Andretti won seven times in Toronto. Al Unser Jr. recorded six wins in Long Beach, California.
Ganassi’s Track, Too
Yes, Dixon has led Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio, but he isn’t the only team driver to reach victory lane. Dario Franchitti did so in 2010, and Charlie Kimball earned his only series victory there in 2013. In all, the team has 11 wins at the track, the first three in the previous INDYCAR era.
In 2019, Dixon held off then-teammate Felix Rosenqvist (he now drives the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) for the victory by .0934 of a second, the closest 1-2 finish in event history. Kimball’s victory is the fastest race at the track (117.825 mph over 90 laps).
Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda) and reigning series champion Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) finished second and third, respectively, last year.
Even former Ganassi drivers have done well at Mid-Ohio. Graham Rahal surely used some of the experience he learned to take Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to victory lane in 2015. Rahal is entered this weekend in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda.
Most Recently: Team Penske
For all CGR’s dominance, Team Penske has been strong lately at Mid-Ohio. Josef Newgarden (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet) won last year from the pole – he also won in 2017 -- and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) has led all drivers with five career poles at the track. He won from the pole in the first race of the 2020 doubleheader.
Simon Pagenaud, who now drives the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for Meyer Shank Racing) also won for Team Penske in 2016.
Power and Newgarden are poised to make a run at Ericsson’s points lead should he stumble. Newgarden has eyes on a strong second half of the season. He has race wins at five of the remaining eight tracks, with a combined six wins at the two oval tracks (Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway). He also has won twice at Toronto and once on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, site of the Gallagher Grand Prix on July 30.
Power has combined to win six races at the tracks left on this schedule. He has won three times in Toronto and once each at Mid-Ohio, World Wide Technology Raceway and Portland International Raceway.
Andretti Autosport drivers Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) and Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian) are the other former Mid-Ohio race winners in this weekend’s field. They won in 2018 and 2020.
Twenty-seven car-and-driver combinations are entered, including Simona De Silvestro (No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevrolet), who tested last week on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Kirkwood One to Watch
Of all the NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookies, Kyle Kirkwood (No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) has enjoyed the most success at Mid-Ohio, winning three of last year’s four Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races. Kirkwood is third among rookie drivers in the standings, 47 points behind Christian Lundgaard (No. 30 Hendrickson Honda).
This will be the 10th series race for Lundgaard, and he has posted two top-10 finishes in his past four starts. He also figures to benefit from a team test earlier this week at Sebring International Raceway. David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda) qualified sixth for last month’s race in Detroit, so he will be one to watch here. Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) finished eighth in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Linus Lundqvist, who drives the No. 26 entry of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing, won last year’s other Indy Lights race at Mid-Ohio, the season finale which was contested in the rain. and he is on the verge of building an insurmountable lead in the series standings. The 23-year-old native of Hedensted, Denmark, leads Andretti Autosport’s Sting Ray Robb by 82 points.
Busy Weekend Schedule
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES highlights what will be a full weekend of track activity in Lexington, Ohio. The schedule includes all four levels of open-wheel racing, including USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
The first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice is Friday at 3:30 p.m. (ET). Teams may use one set of alternate Firestone Firehawk tires during the session, returning them after it. Saturday’s second practice is at 9:30 a.m. Both sessions air live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s streaming service.
Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award featuring three rounds will be at 2:45 p.m. Saturday, also on Peacock Premium. A final practice will be held at 9:45 a.m. Sunday, live on Peacock Premium.
The green flag for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R is scheduled for 12:53 p.m., with live coverage on NBC starting at 12:30 p.m. The INDYCAR Radio Network broadcast will begin at noon on network affiliates, SiriusXM 160, racecontrol.indycar.com and the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA.
The 35-lap Indy Lights at Mid-Ohio race will start at 10:35 a.m. Sunday, live on Peacock Premium.