Palou in Control: The Honda Indy 200 Grand Prix of Ohio Preview

IndyCar returns this weekend for the tenth round of the season at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course just outside of Lexington, Ohio. This is, of course, the Honda Indy 200 Grand Prix.

This iconic 203.22-mile race will host the 44th running of the Grand Prix which has seen iconic winners such as Emerson Fittipaldi,  Brian Redman, Al Unser Jr, and Helio Castroneves, to name but a few.

Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon has the most success with six wins to his name, the Kiwi winning in Lexington for the sixth time in 2019 when he held off former teammate Felix Rosenqvist.

That being said, Dixon’s current teammate Alex Palou, enters the weekend with a 28-point-lead over closest rival Patricio O’Ward. Defending champion Dixon, is a further 25 points behind Pato in third.

Furthermore, it is not Dixon who has the momentum going into this race, that privilege firmly sits with Alex Palou who has claimed two wins this season at both Alabama and Road America.

The battle between Palou and O’Ward has been the story of the season, with both drivers trading championship blows every other race. O’Ward also has two wins this season at both Texas, and Detroit and will be looking to deliver a good old-fashioned serving of revenge this weekend.

However, that may be easier said than done with both Chip Ganassi (13 wins) and Honda  (15 wins) with a significant history of success at this track. This year, Chevrolet has the edge over Honda in qualifying trim, so we expect Penske and Arrow McLaren to be a factor in the Fast Six Shootout, but do not be surprised if they begin to slip down the order on race day.

PENSKE STUCK IN NEUTRAL?

Will Power sits 11th in the IndyCar championship with two podiums, but no wins. Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens.

On Penske, if they did not have bad luck, they would not have any luck at all. In the past three consecutive occasions, both Will Power and Josef Newgarden have been denied wins on the final few laps of the race.

Power’s race win at Detroit was all but assured with three laps to go, that was until an overheated ECU promptly ended the Australian’s chances. An unfortunate strategy call and a late-gearbox issue caused the demise of Newgarden’s races at both Detroit, and Road America. The latter may well have been going into this race in contention for the championship lead in what will be a bitter blow to the two-time champion.

Their problems were highlighted during the Indianapolis 500 when Power, one of the greatest qualifiers in IndyCar history, failed to seal his spot in the 33-car field on Saturday’s first day of qualifications. He would later, secure his spot on ‘Bump Day’, but it was a close call for a team that should be comfortably competing at the front.

This situation may be given even further context with Penske failing to win either the championship or Indianapolis 500 in 2020. This may not seem like such a big thing given the competitiveness of the IndyCar Series. But when you’ve won over 20 titles and 18 Indy 500s like Team Penske has, and win neither in a season for the first time since 2013, it starts to feel like the walls are caving in.

You get the feeling Josef Newgarden’s 2021 breakthrough is yet to happen. But the question on everyone’s lips is, when?

HOME SWEET HOME FOR RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN 

Graham Rahal, Road America. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will return to what is considered their home track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The team, based 60 miles from the circuit in Hilliard, Ohio has finished inside the Top Ten every year since 2013.

Graham Rahal has sweet memories of this circuit, himself taking victory in 2015 after an incident-filled race with four cautions. Scott Dixon led from the pole that day.

Is it beyond the realms of possibilities for a similar result? No. Unlikely? Yes.

But Rahal has flown under-the-radar this season finishing in the Top-Five on five occasions, the only drivers to better that are both Alex Palou and Patricio O’Ward.

He even led the Indianapolis 500 only to be denied a brilliant result after pitting on Lap 118, but was released without his rear left tyre properly secured.

Graham Rahal has arguably been one of the most consistent performers in the IndyCar field this year, and I would not be surprised if he was to achieve a great result at the team’s home race.

DEBUT AND DRIVER CHANGES

Ryan Norman makes his IndyCar debut for Dayle Coyne Racing. Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens

Former Indy Lights driver Ryan Norman is to make his IndyCar debut this weekend at the Honda Indy 200 with Dayle Coyne Racing.

Four other drivers have already made their IndyCar debuts this year: Romain Grosjean, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Magnussen, and Cody Ware.

Norman is the 2016 Atlantic Championship champion and previously raced for Andretti Autosport in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 Indy Lights championship.

He finished in a career-high fourth place in the championship standings in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons and earned one win each year. He won at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in 2018 before winning at Road America in 2019.

He has also picked up two podiums in Indy Lights at Mid-Ohio, one of which, in 2018, where he split two notable Indy Lights champions, Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward.

It is still unclear as to whether Rinus VeeKay will make a return for Ed Carpenter Racing, but some early reports in the media suggest his recovery may have gone much faster than previously anticipated. Last week, Oliver Askew stood in for the Dutchman and would be expected to do so again if called upon.

Felix Rosenqvist also missed Road America following his heavy crash at the Detroit Grand Prix. Kevin Magnussen stood in for the Swede, but it is also unclear as to Felix’s recovery. He is understood to be aiming to return to the series as soon as possible.

But it may well be a long wait as we saw with Oliver Askew in 2020, who suffered a concussion during the Indianapolis 500. After hiding his symptoms for two race weekends he eventually missed the penultimate race at the Harvest Grand Prix and only returned for the St Petersburg finale in October, almost two months after the accident.

Cody Ware is expected to relinquish his Dayle Coyne Racing with Rick Ware entry after his solid debut performance last week at Road America.

The Honda Indy 200 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will take place across Friday 2nd, Saturday 3rd, and Sunday 4th July. Qualifying will get underway on Saturday at 7:30pm (BST) while the race will take place at approximately 9:00pm (BST).

You can follow the race in the UK on Sky Sports F1, while ThePitCrewOnline will be reporting live on events across Twitter.

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