Published August 04, 2012
LEXINGTON, Ohio – Those IndyCar teams who don't do well at Mid-Ohio say the track is too narrow, the turns to severe and the cars are too powerful for such a tight track.
But those who complain are seldom the drivers.
It's a flashback for many of their days negotiating sports cars around their first road courses — in Europe, South America, Canada or elsewhere in the United States.
"There are places that are a little bit bigger. This track probably feels about the right size for Formula 2000, or a smaller car," said Scott Dixon, who has won the IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio in 2011, 2009 and 2007. "It's quite little for our stuff, as far as width and things like that and general speed and the elevation and the flow of corners. But it's pretty cool."
Dario Franchitti feels the same way.
"It's got everything," he said. "It's got fast corners, like Turn 1 and Turn 11, some slow stuff, some technique and rhythm areas, too, a lot of undulation. It's definitely one of the old-school tracks. I think we all enjoy driving here."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Alex Tagliani, who qualified fourth but was bumped down 10 spots for an unapproved engine change, was asked what fans will see if it rains for Sunday's race: "They're going to be wet watching it, for sure."
FOLLOW THE LEADER: Eleven races into the 15-race IndyCar series, Ryan Hunter-Reay leads the standings with 362 points. He built that lead on the strength of consecutive wins at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto.
Helio Castroneves is second with 339 points, followed by Will Power (336), Scott Dixon (301), James Hinchcliffe (286), Tony Kanaan (279), Simon Pagenaud (276), Dario Franchitti (258), Ryan Briscoe (241) and Graham Rahal (237).
With just four races left, including Sunday's showdown at Mid-Ohio, a lot of drivers are feeling the pressure to produce points quickly.
"The position that Hunter-Reay's in right now, it's not a big gap," said Power, who won the pole at Mid-Ohio. "I think it can be. It just takes him to finish ahead of you a couple more times and you're done."
So that made it all the more important that Power do well in qualifying.
"I was determined to get the pole because I know track position is really important around here," he said. "We just needed to be good in every situation and keep chipping away at the points lead that Hunter-Reay's got."
There's no more time to dawdle if you want to win a championship. That's evident by Power's impressive performance during qualifying.
"It looks like Will Power sent a reminder today that he's still a strong contender for the 2012 championship," said Al Speyer, executive director of Firestone Racing.
No one needs to emphasize to Power — or the other contenders — what's at stake.
"I understand the task," Power said. "I understand what I have to do and I'm doing everything I can to do that."
A SHOT AT HISTORY: Chase Austin was thrilled to get a chance to race at the Indianapolis 500 and to be behind the wheel of a car owned by former driving star A.J. Foyt.
That Austin could also make some history was icing on the cake.
Austin will try to become only the third African-American driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 after being selected by Foyt to drive his entry in the 2013 racing classic.
"When I get to Indy, that might be a different thing, I might be, like, 'Oh, no!'" Austin said with a laugh. "But I believe I'm ready."
The 22-year-old Austin has been racing since he was 8 years old. He became the youngest driver to sign a driver-development contract in NASCAR when he was 14. He has driven in several series, most recently Indy Lights.
Although he has yet to drive at the highest levels of the sport for very long, Austin was seen as a promising newcomer by Foyt, a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Austin has raced in six NASCAR Nationwide Series races, three in the Truck Series and four in Indy Lights.
"He's run some stock cars, he's run some sprint cars, he's run the dirt — he's run a lot of races in different types of cars and go-karts," Foyt said. "He's won in a lot of different race cars."
The arrangement between Foyt Racing and Austin is most likely limited to the Indianapolis 500. All sides deflected questions about other races and tests.
If he qualifies for the Indianapolis 500 next May, Austin would follow in the footsteps of Willy T. Ribbs, the first African-American driver at Indy in 1991, and George Mack (2002).
Austin said he did not feel the weight of others' expectations.
"No, because I really thought to myself, 'What's the worst that can happen?' If I don't make the race, that's something that happens to a lot of people. But I have the opportunity to race for A.J. Foyt at Indianapolis. That's what I'm really going to concentrate on."
BIG WEEKEND: Bobby Rahal, one of the owners of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Team, will serve as the grand marshal of the race parade Sunday.
It wouldn't be a surprise if he tried to drive the ceremonial car.
He competed in 16 IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio, nine as a driver and seven as an owner-driver, winning in 1985 and 1986. He captured two poles and finished on the podium in eight starts. His accomplishments include nine top-fives and 11 top-10 finishes.
He's not just here to wave to the crowd, however.
Takuma Sato drove one RLLR car to the 18th qualifying spot in the 25-car field, with Rahal's son, Graham, in the No. 22 starting position.
PIT STOPS: This is the sixth IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio. Dixon won in '07, '09 and '11, Ryan Briscoe in '08 and Franchitti in '10. ... The IndyCar race is schedule to start at 12:53 p.m. on Sunday and will cover 85 laps on the 2.25-mile track. ... The SRT Viper returned to the American Le Mans Series, finishing back in the pack in the GT class ... Actor Patrick Dempsey, best known as Dr. McDreamy on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," shared driving honors in the No. 27 Lola in the ALMS race. He finished ninth overall and fourth in his class. ... This is the second year Kim Green and Kevin Savoree have owned Mid-Ohio. They also own the IndyCar stops at St. Petersburg and Toronto.