Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course gave the Fourth of July weekend its first dose of fireworks.
With good, hard racing seemingly at every corner, the action intensified when Andretti Autosport drivers got together on several occasions. The race also featured a significant amount of attrition, foremost of those impacted being NTT P1 Award winner Pato O’Ward. The combination of situations kept the drama high in The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the All-New 2023 Civic Type R.
Twenty-seven cars, six cautions, three avoidable contact penalties and an event-record number of total passes and passes for position were a lot to put into an 80-lap race. So, let’s get after it with today’s Fifth Gear report.
Kudos to McLaughlin, Palou and Power
Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Odyssey Battery Team Penske Chevrolet) did his family proud – for the first time they saw him win a race in this series – and he became the second driver with multiple victories this season. The other driver is teammate Josef Newgarden (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet), who has three wins.
McLaughlin gained two positions in the standings, to seventh, and drew within reasonable contact of series leader Marcus Ericsson. The separation is 69 points. With eight remaining races, there’s still time for the New Zealander to get squarely in the championship fight.
Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) continued to do what one of the sport’s most consistent drivers does: He delivered another strong performance. The second-place finish was his fourth in the top three in nine races, and last year he reached the podium in half (eight of 16). The difference: Last year he netted three wins; he is still looking for his first of 2022.
What to say about Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet)? Quite simply, he tried every which way to throw this weekend away – penalty in qualifying, starting 21st, spinning on the first lap to fall to last place among the 27 drivers -- before recovering with one of the season’s best drives. He finished third and gained points on Ericsson, who finished sixth.
All three of these drivers, plus Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, who finished fourth in the No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile, and David Malukas, the top-finishing rookie in ninth in the No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD, deserve gold stars for the weekend.
Give a shoutout to ECR’s Conor Daly, who gained nine positions to finish 13th in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet.
Kudos, too, to the thrill of the event. The 183 total passes were 13 more than the event record. The 149 passes for position were 15 more than the previous high.
Difficult Afternoon for Andretti Autosport
There were no celebrations with Michael Andretti’s organization following Sunday’s race. In fact, there was a meeting with the boss that Romain Grosjean (No. 28 ForeverLawn/DHL Honda) told media that “it wasn’t pleasant, but it’s good that he did it.” Further details weren’t provided.
There were many hot spots to discuss. Grosjean and Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/SiriusXM Honda) went off course together in Turn 2 after contact. Grosjean blamed Rossi; Rossi called it a racing incident. Grosjean also knocked Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) off course in that same corner, for which the Frenchman said he would apologize for as he misjudged Herta’s braking level.
Rossi also made contact with rookie teammate Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 29 PowerTap Honda), which like Grosjean in the Herta incident, drew an avoidable contact penalty from Race Control. Rossi and Grosjean each had to serve drive-through penalties, ironically not for the contact between themselves.
If that wasn’t enough, Herta’s crew failed to get him to pit road just before an expected caution period, leaving him on the track as the only car that hadn’t pitted. That effectively ended his chance at a podium finish, and the driver responded by angrily pounding his hands on his steering wheel.
Team tally: Herta finished 15th, DeFrancesco finished 17th, Rossi 19th and Grosjean 21st.
The other teams eager to move on are Arrow McLaren SP and AJ Foyt Racing. Arrow McLaren SP finished 24th with O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and 27th with No. 4 starter Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet), eliminated early with technical issues.
A.J. Foyt’s team entered three cars and saw all three be involved with cautions. Rookie Kyle Kirkwood (No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) went off course, Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-Line/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) got knocked off course by Jack Harvey (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and rookie Tatiana Calderon’s car (No. 11 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) came to a stop on its own. Each finished 22nd or lower in the 27-car field.
Up Next: Exhibition Place
Difficult as it is to believe, it has been three full years since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES raced in Toronto. Need that in perspective? Simon Pagenaud, who won the 2019 race, was still more than two years from leaving Team Penske for Meyer Shank Racing.
As a history lesson, Pagenaud won that race from the pole; he also won the NTT P1 Award as the fastest qualifier in 2017. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing has won three races at the track, including both ends of the 2013 doubleheader. He also won in 2018.
Power and fellow Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden have also been strong on the 11-turn, 1.786-mile street circuit. Power has won three races (2007, 2010 and 2016) and two poles, Newgarden won the race in 2015 and 2017.