If Pato O’Ward wants to close his points deficit to leader Alex Palou, he’s going to have to rally from the rear in Sunday’s The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline with a 20th starting position.
O’Ward struggled in NTT P1 Award qualifying, putting together a best lap time of 1 minute, 6.8679 seconds in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
The two-time race winner this season said his team struggled to find the right balance between the Firestone primary (black) tires and alternate (red) tires, but he also blamed himself for the low starting position. O’Ward had a big moment in Turn 2, losing control on corner entry. He gathered it back up and narrowly avoiding sending the car off into the grass.
“We’ve had inconsistency from tire to tire,” a frustrated O’Ward said. “I wasn’t the best either, but the car wasn’t even there on lap three, and it should have been. I don’t know what to say, man. We’re starting from the back, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow. I don’t want to point any fingers. I screwed up. We’ve had pace. It sucks – sucks – to be starting so far back.”
Starting from the rear at a track like Mid-Ohio is always frustrating because it’s a course that rewards those who start up front. But with this year’s race at 80 laps instead of the usual 85 or 90-lap race, that means O’Ward and his Arrow McLaren SP team could jump through the field depending on if they choose to execute a different pit stop strategy -- two or three stops.
O’Ward’s situation is amplified by the fact that he is second in the points standings in the closing stages of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. He held the points lead briefly after the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, but he lost it to Palou after Palou won at Road America.
O’Ward is currently 28 points behind Palou, who starts seventh in Sunday's race. Just like at Road America, when Palou started ahead of O’Ward, the Mexican driver will start The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline behind the 8-ball, 13 positions behind Palou.
Palou isn’t worried about where O’Ward is starting. The Spaniard said his focus is always to score the most points and wins possible, regardless of where his closest opponents are.
“It doesn’t change much,” Palou said. “We still want to get points and wins. It always feels super good when you are able to get wins. Every weekend we’ve been able to fight for wins, so we’ll try and continue that. Tomorrow is going to be a bit more difficult starting seventh, but it’s not over. We’re going to be good. The championship still has six or seven races, so there’s a lot of points to go.”
Rossi on Cusp of Best Back-to-Back Races
Alexander Rossi’s back-and-forth season continues this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but the driver of the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda looks poised to put together his best two consecutive races of the season.
With a best lap time of 1 minute, 7.2181 seconds, Rossi qualified sixth for Sunday’s race. It’s his fifth consecutive top-10 starting spot dating back to the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and sixth of this season. But his results haven’t been as consistent.
The Andretti Autosport driver has failed to put together two consecutive top-10 finishes this season. His best finish is seventh, which he has done three times, most recently at the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America June 20.
Statistically speaking, Rossi is due to finish outside the top 10. But if his consistent run this weekend at Mid-Ohio continues, it appears that trend will come to an end.
Rossi has shown speed throughout the weekend. He was fourth fastest in Friday’s practice session and although he was 14th on Saturday morning's speed chart amid cool conditions, Rossi continued to show he has speed in the car with a solid qualifying performance.
Rossi almost didn’t get the opportunity to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six as a late session spin by Jack Harvey in Group 1 of qualifying hindered his last lap and saw him sit seventh on the board. However, because Harvey caused a local yellow, he lost his fastest lap, which put Rossi back in the top six and allowed him to advance to the second round of qualifying.
Mid-Ohio has been good a good racetrack to Rossi, having won here in 2018. In six starts, he has five top-10 finishes, including four consecutive top fives since that 2018 win. Last year, he finished third and second, respectively in the doubleheader weekend.
If Rossi can pick up where he left off at Mid-Ohio last year, he could end his winless drought that dates back two years to Road America in 2019.
Miscommunication Derails Harvey’s Good Qualifying Result
Jack Harvey, who has been one of the most consistent qualifiers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, was poised to back up what he’s known for Saturday at Mid-Ohio until a late session spin turned it all around.
Harvey had the second fastest lap time of Group 1 of qualifying with a time of 1:06.4515, behind Josef Newgarden’s 1:06.0168. However, Harvey had a spin off Turn 9 and stalled the car, forcing a local yellow in the final seconds of the session.
His stalled No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda impeded the laps of Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud. Per the INDYCAR rulebook, Harvey’s fastest time was disallowed. Because of that, he did not advance to Round 2 of qualifying and instead starts 23rd in Sunday’s race.
However, the reason Harvey was pushing so hard at the end of the session even though he was solidly in the next round of qualifying was due to a team miscommunication, the Englishman said. Harvey was told what his target lap time was, but he was not told where he ranked on the timing sheet. Therefore, he unnecessarily pushed the car beyond its limits.
“They told me that a 1:06.3 was the cutoff, and I had no idea we were P2,” Harvey said. “I kept pushing, because at that point I didn’t think there was anything to lose. Disappointing miscommunication there, but hopefully we can work on that for the future and try to prevent what happened.”
Harvey has shown speed in his Meyer Shank Racing car all weekend long. In Friday’s practice session he was third fastest behind Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward. In Saturday morning’s practice session, he clocked in eighth, and in final practice he was 12th.
That gives Harvey, who has two top 10 finishes in four starts at Mid-Ohio, reason for optimism in his team’s home race. Team co-owner Mike Shank is from nearby Columbus, Ohio, and the team’s shop is in Pataskala, Ohio, just an hour south of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“The pace has been good all weekend,” he said. “We should have gone through qualifying in P2. Clearly, we’ve got pace. The race car is good.”
Odds and Ends
Josef Newgarden’s pole position marked the first time in six years that a driver scored three consecutive NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole positions. The last driver to do so was another Team Penske driver -- Will Power in 2015 -- when he qualified first at Belle Isle-1, Texas Motor Speedway and Toronto. Qualifying at Belle Isle-2 was rained out.
James Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 29 #ShiftToGreen Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, scored his best qualifying result of the season with a best lap time of 1:06.6134, good enough for ninth on the starting grid. His previous best start this season was a 12th-place starting spot at St. Petersburg. His best finish thus far is 14th at Belle Isle-2.
Columbus, Ohio-native Graham Rahal, the other hometown hero racing at Mid-Ohio this weekend, will start eighth in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The weekend is twice as special for him as he takes pride in racing on July 4. “It means the world to us; it’s a special place and to be here on Fourth of July – I’m a very patriotic guy – in particular, it’s a special weekend,” Rahal said.
AJ Foyt Racing announced Road to Indy veteran Tatiana Calderón will test for the organization Tuesday, July 6 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car course. She will drive a ROKiT-liveried No. 14 Chevrolet in her first taste of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Calderón is spending the weekend with the team.
NHRA drag racing champions Shawn Langdon and JR Todd were at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course today visiting with fellow DHL-sponsored driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. Langdon and Todd took in the practice and qualifying action and got to hang out with the legendary Mario Andretti.
Rinus VeeKay’s return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has looked good. The Dutchman was 18th fastest in Friday’s practice as he reacclimated himself to the car. He had to put a bandage over his shoulder incision due a seam on his suit rubbing it. The team also had to add more padding between his HANS Device and his shoulder. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver of the No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet was 13th fastest Saturday morning and 19th in the afternoon session. He starts 11th in Sunday's race.
Felix Rosenqvist also continued to reacclimate to the racetrack well. He was 10th in the morning practice session in the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and 22nd in the afternoon session. He will start the race from the 13th position.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Scott McLaughlin narrowly missed advancing to the second round of NTT P1 Award qualifying. His best lap time of 1:06.7313 was good enough to advance out of Round 1 of qualifying until James Hinchcliffe jumped into the top six with the last lap of the session. That knocked McLaughlin down to seventh in the session, just behind VeeKay’s best lap time of 1:06.7250. He starts 14th.
This rollercoaster of a racetrack threw even the best NTT INDYCAR SERIES athletes for a loop today. Drivers that went off course Saturday included Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Max Chilton, Will Power and Jimmie Johnson.
Michael d’Orlando took the opening round of a busy USF2000 weekend Friday, leading seven laps en route to his second win of the season. Kiko Porto dominated Saturday’s race, leading all 20 laps on his way to victory.
Christian Rasmussen won the Indy Pro 2000 race by leading all 25 laps. It’s his fourth win in the last five races for Jay Howard Driver Development.