LIVE BLOG: Mid-Ohio, Saturday

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on August 3, 2013 10:26 am
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Welcome to the very first More Front Wing weekend live blog! After battling some technical difficulties early in the day, MFW is finally up and running here at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. This page will be updated with new bits of news and observations all day long, so please check back for updates. For time sheets and statistical information, please visit our Mid-Ohio Event Summary.

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11:25 AM - The USF2000, Pro Mazda, and Firestone Indy Lights series all had track time before the IndyCars took to the track for practice, so the surface had dried off somewhat by the time the green flag flew. The session started with everyone running on slicks, but it took a few laps (and one minor off-track excursion by Takuma Sato) before any meaningful times were being put down.

Charlie Kimball had an issue roughly half way through the session that saw him back into the tires hard in turn 1. He walked away and appeared to be fine, but the rear wing was a write-off and it appeared there would be a need for further rear end repairs as well.

At the end of the session, two on-track incidents happened simultaneously. Will Power, who had already been in the grass once in the session, took a rough ride through the sand trap at turn 1 and lost a rear bumper. At the same time, James Hinchcliffe nosed into the tires in the carousel and tore off the nose cone. Both cars returned to the pits under their own power, and the session ended early under red.

Earlier, in the first race of the weekend and the first of three for the USF2000 series at this event, Neil Alberico won his fourth race out of eight thus far in the 2013 season. The podium was rounded out by RC Enerson and Jason Wolfe.

Now, time to get out and take a proper look around!

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1:32 PM - Just got back from a pre- and post-lunch paddock tour.

I stopped in at James Hinchcliffe’s garage and asked about the damage after his visit with the tires in the morning practice session. The team told me that the only damage was to the front wing and they had no concerns.

Charlie Kimball’s situation, on the other hand, is a different story. While the team won’t need to make an engine change, they did need to go to their backup for qualifying. I walked by there again right before returning to the media center, and the team is still in full thrash mode to get that car ready in time for qualifying.

I had an opportunity to check in with a couple of my Canadian brethren in the USF2000 paddock as well. I spoke briefly with Daniel Burkett of Winnipeg, Manitoba, a spunky redhead who’s driving this year for Belardi Auto Racing and is being coached by soon-to-be IndyCar driver Stefan Wilson. Daniel recently joined us in a partnership to post event blogs after USF2000 event (his most recent post covering the Toronto race weekend can be found here).

I also had a chat with Edmonton native Stefan Rzadzinski. He was unfortunately not looking so cheerful. He’s having a tough weekend — something’s just not clicking, and he can’t put his finger on it — and he’s struggling mightily for funding. The loss of the Edmonton race from the calendar put a serious wrench into support for his program. Stefan only found out this past Tuesday that he had put together enough money to come out this weekend, and as of now he doesn’t have any funding secured for the event at Laguna Seca next month. He’s a deserving talent who came to USF2000 with plenty of success under his belt, but for one underfunded driver in a 30 car field — with eight Candians in it, no less — it’s very difficult to stand out. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him this weekend and hoping his situation improves.

USF2000 race #2 goes green at 3:25 PM today, and race #3 runs tomorrow morning at 9:10.

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1:52 PM - In a relatively uneventful Firestone Indy Lights qualifying session, Gabby Chavez snatched the pole for tomorrow afternoon’s event away from Peter Dempsey on his very last lap. Jack Hawksworth also had a strong final tour of the circuit and will start on the second row, joined by Andretti Autosport protege Carlos Munoz. Tomorrow’s Firestone Indy Lights race will begin at 12:00 PM and will be shown on tape delay at 2 PM on NBC Sports Network leading into live coverage of the Honda Indy 200.

IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone Fast 6 qualifying gets under way at 2 PM under sunny skies and perfect temperatures. Follow us at @MoreFrontWing on Twitter for up-to-the-moment updates.

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3:40 PM - A busy Firestone Fast Six qualifying session saw Ryan Hunter-Reay come away with the pole for tomorrow’s Honda Indy 200. Hunter-Reay missed breaking the track record here by less than two hundredths of a second. He’ll be joined by Will Power on the front row.

Other points of note:

  • In group 1, Ed Carpenter said that James Davison turned right into him while warming up his tires. Carpenter did eventually get back under way, though wound up 12th in the session.
  • Josef Newgarden, the fastest driver in this morning’s practice session, failed to advance out of his group.
  • Charlie Kimball will start fifth after his incident in the morning warm-up. The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team scrambled to get the backup car ready in time for qualifying.
  • In group 2, Luca Filippi left the track in the carousel and caused a red flag, which meant he lost his two fastest laps — a heartbreaking result for him and his new team, Bryan Herta Autosport, as one of those laps would seen him move on to Q2.
  • The Firestone Fast Six was evenly split with three Hondas and three Chevys represented. Chevrolet won the day, however, as their three drivers were first (RHR), second (Power), and fourth (Andretti) to Honda’s third (Dixon), fifth (Kimball), and sixth (Franchitti).

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4:12 PM - Some more key points from each of the Firestone Fast 6 qualifiers:

  • Charlie Kimball was very grateful for the effort put forth by the entire Chip Ganassi Racing team to prepare his backup car for qualifying. “There were as many red shirts from the Target side in the garage as there were orange shirts,” he said. “They kept kicking me out of the garage, telling me to get out of the way. This morning we just got caught out by the track conditions, a little dampness under the bridge.  That was unfortunate, but it was great to bounce back and get a top-five starting spot.”
  • Will Power said his qualifying run was uneventful and that pole-sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay being on new reds in the last segment put an end to his P1 hopes. “I would love to get a win sometime this year if it’s possible,” he added. “I can be quite aggressive because I’m not in the championship and the guys around me are.  I just need to go for it and see what I can get.”
  • Marco Andretti participated in his first Firestone Fast Six of 2013. “I’m still disappointed,” he said, “because I thought we had a little more potential. Even though we haven’t been showing it in practice sessions, I had a decent feel for the car.  I didn’t feel too bad.  Just needed a little more rotation to be quicker.”
  • Scott Dixon said the qualifying session was tougher to progress through than he had anticipated. “I don’t know whether it was the heat or whatever,” he explained. “The balance was kind of tough for me to find.  We had to make a few sort of on-the-spot changes to get through Q1, Q2, to get onto the Firestone Fast Six.”
    He also offered credit to Ryan Hunter-Reay and his team for going through the first two segments of qualifying on a single set of tires. “To have the guts to roll through and attempt that with the competition we have at the moment was pretty ballsy,” he said.
    As Dixon sang the praises of the track, he made a comment that may have been foreshadowing. “It’s a fun little track,” he said. “Hopefully they don’t take it off the calendar.
  • Dario Franchitti confessed that a minor slip in strategy cost the team a better result in qualifying. “We left a little bit late from the box,” he said. “That put us behind. I went off on the one lap I got in the exit on turn one, lost some time there. When we came around and got the checkered flag, we missed the next lap by less than a second.  That was disappointing.”
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay spoke about the strategy call that paid off and won his Andretti Autosport team the pole. “Going with the used reds in the second session was a huge, huge gamble,” he explained. “Michael made the call to do it.  I was skeptical at first, but I kind of just wanted to plug my ears and let them make the decision.”
    Hunter-Reay also addressed what the team needs to do to make a run at a repeat title. “Last year we clawed back from bigger deficits,” he said. “Being late in the season, we need to go like we did last year at the end of the season, which is go for broke.  We’re not interested in banking results right now and going for second or third in the championship because nobody really remembers who finishes second a couple years from now.  It’s all about the series championship.”

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4:29 PM - A note from INDYCAR on the new optional aluminum steering arms that are designed to reduce driver hand and wrist injury and are available for the first time this weekend:

“The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio is the first race that optional road course aluminum steering arms provided by Dallara are available for use by IZOD IndyCar Series teams.

The steering arms apply pressure from the steering rack to the uprights and allow the front tires to turn left and right. Steel steering arms are standard on the 2012 Dallara chassis.

Aluminum steering arms, designed to fail just above the track rod buckling load, could aid in reducing the transfer of energy to the steering rack and into the car upon impact. The steel steering arms have a tolerance 2.5 times the track rod buckling load.

“The aluminum steering arms can help reduce the likelihood of driver hand and wrist injuries in certain circumstances,” said Will Phillips, vice president, technology, INDYCAR. “Dallara continues to try to improve all safety aspects of the car with input from INDYCAR and IZOD IndyCar Series drivers. Currently, the components remain optional for the teams as we continue to collate any incident data.”

Six teams placed an order for the aluminum steering arms.”

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4:38 PM - Sarah Fisher met with the media earlier today and spoke about the decision to run ALMS LMP1 class leader Lucas Luhr in a second entry at the upcoming IndyCar race  at Sonoma Raceway.

“The decision stemmed from our decision with Steve Weirich and RW Motorsports,” Fisher explained. “Steve came on to partner with us to run Bryan Clauson at Indianapolis in 2012. As part of that relationship, we needed to run his car – the third car that we rotate through our stable – at some point during the season. Indianapolis didn’t really look to be the best for that this year for us. As we were talking to Honda about some of the opportunities, Sonoma seemed to fit very well into what we were trying to accomplish.

“We’ve wanted to be two cars from day one and we’ve explored it here and there. It absolutely has to be the right program. For us, (Sonoma) is one more of those weekends to explore what is it going to take, what do we need when we align it and make it happen. It’s really an exploratory venture for us as well as satisfying what we need to do for Steve Weirich and RW Motorsports. Certainly having two cars is very valuable, especially with the changing metrics, changing tires, changing things that are ever evolving in our sport.

“I’ve not spoken with Greg (Pickett, team owner of Luhr’s Muscle Milk Pickett Racing entry in ALMS) a whole, whole lot, but this is sort of an introduction to him and what he does. I’d admire extremely a lot what he’s done in the ALMS and I know he’s a championship-winning owner and driver, too. He put together a great race team. For me, it’s having him on board supporting it, more from a sponsorship standpoint. The ability to give him a headset and see what INDYCAR is all about, rather than coming as a race fan. He has an interest in what INDYCAR does. What the (IZOD) IndyCar Series is overall and who knows where it will go. It’s exploratory on that end as well. We’re just really happy to see more and more partners and more and more people have an interest in our sport. We feel a responsibility to expand the IndyCar Series as owners.”

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4:50 PM - A few personal observations before leaving the track for the day. USF2000 race #2 and Pro Mazda race #1 results will appear here later tonight.

First, I can’t remember a weekend here when the weather has been this pleasant. Mind you, the campers disagree — it apparently rained a deluge overnight, but it always seems to do that here at least once. After the track dried out this morning and the morning humidity burned off, it really couldn’t have been a better day to be at the track.

That said, I came into this weekend being very mindful of the attendance given that this event has been run as a double-header weekend with ALMS for the past four years. I don’t mean to jump the gun and I confess that I haven’t explored every corner of the track, but I would take a guess that attendance numbers for Saturday do seem to be noticeably lower than in previous years. I’ve spied a few empty RV parking spots that would never have been vacant in the past, and the crowd at the esses just didn’t seem up to the usual Saturday standard during qualifying. I haven’t glanced at the general camping area yet, though, and that may tell a different story. This is worth keeping an eye on through tomorrow.

I also have in the back of my mind, though, that several drivers went out of their way to mention in the post-qualifying press conference that they really love racing here. The last time I can recall that tone around a race weekend was at Watkins Glen in 2010, right before that event dropped off the schedule. As noted in the quotes above, Scott Dixon went out of his way to express a hope that this track remains. It’s hard to believe that with all of the Honda employees in this part of Ohio who are typically entertained at this event there might be a risk of it disappearing regardless of attendance, but wheels certainly seem to be turning.

There is one positive side effect to the open-wheel-only schedule this weekend: things are a lot less pressed for space behind the scenes. Pit lane is less cramped because there’s only one set of pit boxes in place; the media centre has a lot more elbow room; the paddock feels a bit more airy. It’s a little easier for the working people who are still here to get their jobs done, if nothing else.

That’s it for me here at the track for today. I’ll catch up with the junior series results later tonight and get things going with the Sunday live blog bright and early tomorrow morning. Thanks for following along!

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8:56 AM Sunday - Quick update on the results of the USF2000 and Pro Mazda races late yesterday: Neil Alberico won his second race of the weekend in the USF2000 series and will look to make it a weekend sweep this morning at 9:10 AM. In Pro Mazda, Matthew Brabham tied a series record for most wins in a season at eight — a record set by last year’s champion, Jack Hawksworth, who is now racing in Firestone Indy Lights. Pro Mazda goes green for its race #2 at 10:05 today.

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