LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Three consecutive podium finishes by Ryan Hunter-Reay, including his second victory of the season, in June closed the gap on championship front-runner Helio Castroneves to nine points.

Three consecutive finishes out of the top 15 in July and the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series lost 60 points in the title chase entering Round 14 of 19 this weekend. Hunter-Reay, who's third in the standings entering the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, is undaunted.

“We’re trying to defend the championship and that’s how it’s been all year," said Hunter-Reay, who topped the time chart with a best lap of 1 minute, 05.6358 seconds on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn course in the No. 1 DHL car for Andretti Autosport in the Open Test on July 31.

"We’ve been right there second in the points pretty much the whole year, we have two race wins, but we’ve just had a string of bad races recently. Hopefully we’ll be getting over that soon, and there’s no better place to turn that around than Mid-Ohio.

“You hear past champions talk about that in a championship run year things tend to go your way and you get on a hot streak and things fall into place. I thought we were on that earlier in the year and we still can be on it. We’ve come back from bigger deficits than this so I’m optimistic. From Pocono to Toronto – eight days – we had a terrible run and we’re ready to turn that around.”

Hunter-Reay finished 24th at Mid-Ohio last August (mechanical) followed by an 18th place at Sonoma, but went on to win on the streets of Baltimore on Labor Day weekend and finish fourth at Auto Club Speedway in the season finale to secure the title by three points over Will Power of Team Penske.

He's looking forward to the challenging road course, where he competed for the first time in 2003 in CART.

"Mid-Ohio has a flow to it that no other racetrack has," Hunter-Reay said. "It’s a track that when you get it right it’s so rewarding because you’re hanging it out on the edge and you can feel the risk is there. It has elevation changes, braking zones, fast corners; it has everything you’d want in a racetrack.

"It’s going to be a tight competition here this weekend. IndyCar is always tight, but this is going to be a real shootout."

De Silvestro really gets into her role

Simona De Silvestro visits AEGIS workshopKV Racing Technology’s Simona De Silvestro drove home the importance of science, technology, engineering and math to more than 30 middle-school students July 30 in the Ohio Energy Project’s Activating and Energizing Girls’ Involvement in Science (AEGIS) program in Columbus, Ohio.

De Silvestro, who drives the No. 78 Chevrolet-powered Nuclear Clean Air Energy IndyCar, spoke about the connections between racing, clean energy and engineering. She also participated in the hands-on activities, including donning the protective safety clothing used by nuclear energy facility personnel during outage service activities.

"They call it the banana suit, which was pretty funny," De Silvestro said during a break at the Open Test. "I think my driving suit is a lot more comfortable.

"It was awesome to see the girls take a interest in the program and what's available. I told them that in racing I wouldn't be fast if I didn't have engineers behind me to make the car go fast and the same thing is in the nuclear clean energy business. The other thing is the teamwork we have so it all kind of ties together."

Andersen Promotions adds to Indy Lights team

Andersen Promotions has created new and expanded roles within its management team in preparation for the licensing and operation of Indy Lights beginning in 2014. Indy Lights is the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder that includes Pro Mazda and USF2000.

Jason Penix, director of grassroots Initiatives for INDYCAR, has joined Andersen Promotions in a shared arrangement with INDYCAR to focus on the operation, planning and promotion of the three Mazda Road to Indy series.

Tony Cotman, president and founder of NZR Consulting and former vice president of competition at INDYCAR, will be the project manager for the new equipment package and will oversee and advise on all chassis, engine and tire options.

A new Indy Lights chassis will debut in 2015 and the series will utilize an updated car for the 2014 season with enhanced technology and performance.

Of note

Firestone Racing took advantage of the morning rain at Mid-Ohio by having Hunter-Reay compare the current spec and new-for-2014 wet tires on the road course. … James Jakes, driver of the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, celebrates his 26th birthday on Aug. 4 (race day). ... Justin Wilson turned 35 on July 31. ... Dallara has produced new aluminum steering arms made available for Mid-Ohio for teams that placed an order. ... Ryan Briscoe will join Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell in the NBC Sports Network broadcast booth for the Mid-Ohio race.