Mid-Ohio: Steph’s Saturday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on August 6, 2011 5:41 pm

Despite the relative lack of track activity today, it certainly felt busy for the INDYCAR folks at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Of course, the biggest story of the day was the disappointing news that Justin Wilson suffered injury to his back in a rather innocuous-looking crash in morning practice. Roughly halfway through the session, Wilson went off-course at the exit of turn 1, clipped the tire barrier, then went airborne in the grass and came down on a section of asphalt that’s used in an alternate track configuration. The car was completely undamaged, which is good news for the team but bad news for the driver since all of the energy of the impact was absorbed by him instead. He’s being held at the hospital overnight in the nearby town of Mansfield and will be transported to Indianapolis tomorrow to be assessed by Dr. Terry Trammell.

In the meantime, Simon Pagenaud qualified the 22 car in 19th position today and will compete for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in tomorrow’s race. Fortunately, Pagenaud had just tested here with Sam Schmidt Motorsports last week, so he should get up to speed fairly quickly. But unfortunately, he didn’t have his race gear with him, so the team had to canvas the paddock to suit him up. According to Versus, his helmet came from Wilson, his firesuit from Sébastien Bourdais, his shoes from JR Hildebrand, his HANS Device from James Jakes, and his seat from Vitor Meira. You’ll never hear a story like that coming out of Europe, folks.

The only real surprises from qualifying came in group 1 of the first segment when Charlie Kimball advanced to the Fast 12 for the first time this season while Helio Castroneves did not. Dixon and Briscoe are both no doubt enjoying the fact that they’ll each be starting on the front row ahead of their teammates, Franchitti and Power, who have been fighting out the championship and stealing the spotlight all season. Dixon, having just gone through all of the Peak Performance Pole Award ceremonies for the first time this season, even had a dig at Power in the post-qualifying press conference. When Power walked in wearing his street clothes, polesitter Dixon flashed him a smile and said, “Hey, you had time to change.”

All six of the drivers in that press conference noted at the time that the track was still dirty and that it was very difficult to find grip. Ryan Hunter-Reay mentioned that it feels completely different out there this year for some reason. Dario Franchitti noted that there are several corners where drivers are putting the tires over the curbs on the inside and kicking dust back onto the track, specifically mentioning turns 4, 6, and 9. (Turn 4, by the way, is the entrance to the Esses, which by all appearances is where the restarts will take place tomorrow, though there’s been no official word on that yet.) Scott Dixon later added that in several of the high-speed corners, the marbles aren’t balling up and rolling away as the usually do but are instead flattening out and sticking to the asphalt.

Of course, the weather may change things. A system of storms was close enough to the track that it looked as though it might add some drama to qualifying. It could clearly be seen toward the end of the first segment, and several of the teams that had moved on called for the rain tires to be prepared. In the end, though, that system skirted by to the south, and conditions stayed dry for the rest of INDYCAR qualifying. However, another huge storm made a direct hit during the ALMS race later in the afternoon, so it appears that the INDYCAR drivers will be arriving a green track tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how that affects the grip issues that have been plaguing the teams all weekend.

As for the goings-on around the track, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the vibe around the track feels different this year in the hands of Green Savoree. It’s not a good different or a bad different — just different. There are personnel here who we generally only see at St. Petersburg and Toronto, and seeing them here seemed out of context at first. And there are a couple of minor changes here and there, such as a large IZOD IndyCar Series logo painted on the grass inside the Carousel, marching bands in the infield, a ferris wheel, that sort of thing. The important things still feel roughly the same, like the vibe among the campgrounds, the variety of track food available, and the helpfulness of the staff.

One thing that’s come up in discussions of Green Savoree’s plans for the facility is to revamp the pit lane tower and the garage area. This is necessary but very sad. Everything is built in a rustic-looking wood finish right now that gives the place a very charming club track sort of feel, and it’s a shame to lose that. Also, the garages are some of the most interesting on the INDYCAR schedule in that they have a second-level observation deck where fans can look down on the cars as the teams work on them. But the garages are definitely on the small side, which makes things difficult for the teams, and none of the buildings are set up effectively for things like wireless internet access, air conditioning, and other modern conveniences that are necessary in a working motorsports environment these days. The side of me that enjoys nostalgia will be very sad to see all of these charming things go, but the practical side recognizes that, as much as we may not always like it, time marches on.

I’ll be back tomorrow to wrap up the weekend’s INDYCAR events at Mid-Ohio. Please check in here for the final daily summary and follow @MoreFrontWing on Twitter for live updates all day long!

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