07 August 2009

Tempering Expectations

I hate being the wet blanket. I really do. Especially coming off a race in Kentucky that had the following:
  • Side-by-side racing
  • Lack of domination by any one team
  • Green flag racing from start to finish (Justin Wilson's engine trouble aside)
  • Photo finish
Now, time to be the wet blanket: do you see any of those four things happening at Mid-Ohio? Let's break down each of those four points:

Side-by-side Racing:
The road/street courses have never been known for their side-by-side racing throughout, it's just not a characteristic of too many road/street courses. Now, there will be some side-by-side action in certain passing zones, but overall, there won't be the exciting lap-by-lap, side-by-side racing that you can see on an oval (and that everyone watched last week). It may be unfair to criticize Mid-Ohio for this, but coming off of Kentucky, people will be disappointed by the lack of side-by-side action this week, more than likely.

What could help the side-by-side racing? The push-to-pass button. It added strategy and energy to last week's race, and drivers will have 15 pushes for 20 seconds each this week (per Trackside). Along with some of the aerodynamic changes that helped racing last week, there is hope for a more exciting race at Mid-Ohio.

Lack of Domination by One or Two Teams: Last week was notable because Ed Carpenter, the All-American boy (as my wife said after the race while watching Ed do an interview) and relative also-ran for most of his career, went toe-to-toe with the big boys, falling short of the win by 5 feet.

While Carpenter's car was dialed in at Kentucky (and in truth he's been fairly solid on the short ovals in his career), on the road and street courses, Team Penske and Target-Chip Ganassi Racing have dominated the series, winning four of the five events thus far (a big tip of the cap to Justin Wilson, once again).

Given that Ryan Briscoe won at Mid-Ohio in 2008, with Scott Dixon taking the checkered flag in 2007, Penkse and Ganassi know how to win at the track already. As long as they don't butcher their car setups, they should run near the front once again.

Maybe their is room for Justin Wilson to run up front, as he has done on most of the road/street circuits this year, or maybe Newman/Haas/Lanigan gets the hometown favorite, Graham Rahal onto the podium. Hell, Mike Conway could run up front, if he could get out of his own way in the first 10 laps of the race.

Regardless, after a rare week in which only one of the four "red" cars on the track made the podium, it would not be surprising if all four of them return to the front of the field.

Green Flag Racing from Start to Finish: Ok, this might happen. It took place at Edmonton, and if not for Tomas Scheckter, the Rexall Edmonton Indy would have become the first IndyCar race run under the green flag from start to finish.

With the changes made at Kentucky, combined with a lack of practice time, could have made for chaos during the 200-lap race. But the drivers, to their credit, raced each other clean throughout the evening, putting on the second-quickest race in series history. Only Justin Wilson's engine letting go brought out the caution in the Bluegrass State.

So, if the clean racing continues and the field can get through the first lap and corner, this might happen. But that's not really a reason to watch a race, unfortunately.

Photo Finish: Of the 10 closest finishes in IndyCar history (note: Kentucky was the 11th-closest), there is one thing all those tracks have in common:
They all came on ovals.
So, looking for a photo finish at Mid-Ohio is akin to finding the needle in a haystack. Based on what I could find online (I don't have an IndyCar Media Guide, though that would be nice), the closest road/street course finish in IndyCar Series history is .6007 second, coming in the 2007 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg when Helio Castroneves "held off" Scott Dixon.

For comparisons sake, .6007 seconds is similar to Arie Luyendyk's 1997 Indianapolis 500 margin of victory - and we all remember that thrilling finish, right?

In other words, don't hold your breath looking for a similar finish as last week.

Look, I'm still going to watch the race. Other intangibles - racecar setup, tire selection, push-to-pass, new driver-team combinations (Servia at NHL; Doornbos at HVM; Tracy at KV subbing for Moraes) - will make this an interesting, if not exciting, race to watch. Just don't turn on Versus at 1 p.m. on Sunday expecting to see a repeat of Kentucky from a competition standpoint.

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