The men and women of the IZOD Indycar Series return to racing in the United States this weekend, heading to the heartland for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. After a pair of exciting road courses in Canada, the series hopes to keep the momentum heading into their final two road courses at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma.
The final race in Canada saw an explosive ending in Edmonton. Helio Castroneves was charged with blocking while leading late in the race, resulting in a penalty and loss of his potential victory. Scott Dixon was awarded the win.
While Dixon was partying in victory lane, Castroneves was publicly freaking out on anyone near him. He physically grabbed several Indycar officials while screaming and pleading his case. Castroneves was fined $60,000 and placed on probation for the rest of the year as a result of his actions.
The excitement generated a lot of press, which the series hopes will lead to more eyes on the racing in the future.
With the excitement and drama of the Canadian street races behind them, the drivers will concentrate on a pair of permanent road courses before heading back to ovals to finish the season.
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, OH has featured some of the top road racing in the midwest for the last 30 years. Open wheel racing has been participating at the track since 1980, with Johnny Rutherford winning the first race.
The IZOD Indycar Series began racing at the track in 2007, with Scott Dixon taking two of the three races. Ryan Briscoe was able to win the 2008 event while Dixon scored a third place finish.
The historic course features fifteen turns and runs for 2.4 miles. High speeds can be reached on the sweeping backstretch, and there are a few places to pass, however drivers must truly earn any gained positions. Because of this, qualifying order will be especially important for the drivers on Saturday.
Turn one is a left hand turn after the front stretch that can be a major passing zone during the race. It leads to another straightaway before sweeping into "the keyhole" turn two, a 180 degree hairpin turn. Turn four offers the next best place for passing with a hard right after the fast backstretch. Any other passing on the track will be a bit risky, but can be truly rewarding for the drivers.
The 85 lap event will be featured live on Versus at 2:30 eastern time. A qualifying recap show can be seen on Versus at 6pm on Saturday night, while live qualifying can be seen on Indycar.com at 12:30.
A few new faces will be on the track this weekend, as the field expands to 27. Jay Howard will return with Sarah Fisher Racing in the No. 66 Service Central Car. Graham Rahal returns for Newman Haas Racing in the No. 02 car with National Tire and Battery sponsoring. Rahal's father won back to back races at Mid Ohio in the 1980's. Irishman Adam Carroll returns to Andretti Autosport to drive the No. 27 AFS car. Italian rookie Francesco Dracone will join Conquest Racing, replacing Mario Romancini who ran short on funding.
Finally, JR Hildebrand will make his long awaited debut in the IZOD Indycar Series, driving the No. 24 Roll Coater car for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing. Hildebrand won the 2009 Indy Lights race with AFS and Andretti. His nickname is Captain American, and Hildebrand could be a true star in the making. The series is looking to promote young American drivers, and he could do himself wonders with a good showing on Sunday.
So without further previewing, here at the writer's picks for this weekend.
First to crash: Francesco Dracone
Like the name. I’ll be surprised if he has a good showing.
Dark Horse: Takuma Sato
Not sure if he can be considered a dark horse anymore. I won’t be shocked if he gets a top five finish this weekend.
3rd place: Dario Franchitti
Dario is due for another solid finish. He really needs the points if he is going to catch Power.
2nd place: Will Power
Power has been the class of the field this year, on the road/street courses. I expect this weekend to remain constant.
First place: Ryan Briscoe
He has the best average finishing position of all active drivers in the last three years. A win in 2008, followed by a runner-up finish last year. Look for Ryan to be up front all day.
Win: Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay needs to pick up some championship points before the series heads back to the oval races, and this is a perfect opportunity. He is due for another good showing here after three straight top 10 performances at the track.
Place: Will Power. Power also needs more points before we head to the ovals, and has been the best driver on all road and street courses this year.
Show: Scott Dixon. Dixie has two wins in the three races and really seems to know his way around this course. I would pick him to win, but after basically stealing the win at Edmonton, karma may keep him down.
Dark Horse: Graham Rahal. Rahal is getting back up to speed with his new/old team. He will be extra motivated since this is his home track and his father was very successful here.
First to Crash: EJ Viso. Always seems like a good idea to go with the boys of KV Racing Technologies... Viso is just my pick of the week from their team.
Win: Scott Dixon. When your worst finish at a racetrack is third… (of course, we’re ignoring his CART stats, but that was a completely different platform and Dixon wasn’t yet the driver we know him to be today.)
Place: Will Power. Obviously. Anybody who’s been this dominant on road courses all year is going to make this list somehow.
Show: Graham Rahal. Let’s make it interesting. Anybody else think the part-timer (gulp) might have something to show us on his de facto home track?
Dark Horse: J.R. Hildebrand. Last year’s Indy Lights champion has to be chomping at the bit to show what he can do in an IndyCar.
First to Crash: Marco Andretti. Just looking at the stats here – two out of three times he’s wrecked in this race. No I don’t think lightning will strike three times, especially since nobody had an incident last year, but picking a KV car would just be kind of mean at this point, don’t you think? (ed note: are you calling me mean Chris?)
Control Pick: I chose a young fan here at Mid-Ohio as our control.
Win: Rahal... this kid had more Rahal gear on than I realized they sold.
Place: Danica Patrick. He said she was his favorite driver until Rahal joined up.
Show: Alex Lloyd. The little kid said he was there with his Cub Scout group, which I suppose means that he supported the Boy Scouts Driver.
Dark Horse: If any of the above score top 5's, I'm giving the kid dark horse points. (he did not understand this question)
First to Crash: Ryan Briscoe. Apparently the little guy is still mad about the incident from Toronto.
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