(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)
Well, day one at Mid-Ohio has drawn to a close, and it’s great to be back. This place offers a unique experience as compared to other tracks on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule in that it has a quaint village club track sort of feel (which makes perfect sense — that’s exactly what it is). Everything about the facilities here is much smaller and more rustic than the usual Series destinations, right down to the solid wood finish in the garages and the operations center. It’s charming, and it creates a somewhat different atmosphere than that which usually surrounds the IICS spectacle.
The garage area is a particularly excellent highlight of this place. Each group of garages has a raised platform that fans can look down from to watch the work being done by the crews. I’m told that there are other race tracks in North America that use garages of this configuration, but the IICS doesn’t visit any of them. It’s a unique vantage point for getting a closer look at the cars and teams as they prepare for each session.
A smaller facility, though, also comes with its challenges — and this weekend, that’s especially evident through how cramped it is in the pit lane. The IndyCar pit boxes are much smaller than usual and are interspersed with the ALMS setups, which is making for a lot of elbow-rubbing. By Sunday, of course, the ALMS equipment will be packed up and the teams will have a bit more breathing room behind the pit wall. However, the drivers will still need to contend with the short pit boxes in race conditions. Graham Rahal mentioned in his post-practice interview today that he expects it to be an issue throughout the weekend: he noted that he’s seen the tight pit lane here become a factor many times before (and he’s in a position to make such a statement, given that he more or less grew up at this place), and shortening the pit boxes is making it hard to even get the cars to line up with the pit wall, let alone maneuver around one’s neighbors. Pit lane contact on Sunday would therefore not be a surprise in the least. It should mean that the pit stop windows are interesting if nothing else.
Speaking of Graham: he was brought in for a post-practice interview because… he was fastest in practice! The combination of an excellent knowledge of this track and an apparent re-gelling with the crew at Newman/Haas has paid off in spades early in the weekend — great news for him as he performs for his hometown crowd. And he wasn’t the only young American to do well in the sole practice session of the day: J.R. Hildebrand also posted a very solid-looking seventh fastest time in his first race weekend behind the wheel of an IndyCar. It’s encouraging to see new faces and a diverse group of teams mixing it up early. There were six different teams represented in the top 10 today (and, notably, TCGR was not one of them).
Toward the back of the field, there were surprises to be found as well. Jay Howard and the #66 Service Central car from Sarah Fisher Racing were well off the pace today — so much so, in fact, that Jay’s fastest time was a full two seconds slower than that of Milka Duno. Jay was out of the car and talking to his engineers well before the end of the session, so they knew fairly early on that something was completely off and that there was no point in trying to wring anything more out of it. It will be interesting to see if they’re able to make the overnight changes that are clearly needed.
Despite not being the slowest, however, Milka was still able to make her mark on the session. There was a period of time where she had a train of cars behind her being held up as they searched for a suitable place to overtake. Mid-Ohio is well-known for lacking in suitable passing zones for IndyCars, so it was a discouraging bit of foreshadowing to watch that trend continue.
Quickly, a couple of rumors that were tossed around today: first, there’s word that several drivers organized a meeting that took place after the conclusion of the day’s events that was to be attended by drivers only. This lends some credence to the theories we’ve been hearing about the drivers looking to form a union of sorts to allow for unified representation of their interests before Series officials. And second, there are whispers that Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course may be up for sale. If true, the potential for speculation on what it could mean for the future of this event is endless. (Or perhaps it would mean nothing at all. It depends entirely on who the buyer might be.)
And a couple of other notes that will be useful information to a very limited number of people but that can be considered interesting nonetheless: for one, I confirmed last night my suspicion that the drive time from Toronto to Mid-Ohio is nearly identical to that of Toronto to the Glen. One would never think this to be the case from looking at a map. However, the trip here is almost entirely on highways and Interstates, whereas getting to the Glen involves taking some State Roads and back routes through small towns, which adds to the driving time much more than one might think. Secondly, I finally picked up a U.S. prepaid phone this weekend and decided to go with Verizon (in no small part due to their support of the IICS). While many others are complaining of their spotty cell reception at the track thus far, mine has been flawless — a point worth noting if you’re shopping for a cell provider and spend any amount of time in rural areas.
This is normally the part of the post where I’d tell you that I’ll have more for you tomorrow, but I actually have a couple more things for you tonight. Keep an eye out here for further updates.