PITTSBURGH, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – This week’s episode of The Pittsburgh Racing Now Podcast features Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 United Rentals, Total, Fifth Third Bank Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES circuit and Charlie Langenstein, the Mechanical Director for the Star Com Racing Chevrolet driven by Quin Houff on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit plus some local dirt track news.
Alex Palou wins at Mid-Ohio to lead Chip Ganassi Racing 1-2 finish
LEXINGTON, OH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Alex Palou won his third straight NTT INDYCAR SERIES race taking the victory in the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sport Car Complex. Palou beat teammate Scott Dixon by ?.????-seconds to pick up his fourth win in five races.
“We knew that we had the pace, but we needed clean air,” said Palou, who started fourth. “That’s why we went for the primaries at the beginning, which we thought it was probably a bit risky, but if we were able to cross the first lap on position, we were going to be good for our strategy.”
The strategy involved staying out longer on the Primary Firestone Tires and leapfrogging front row starters Colton Herta and Graham Rahal when it came time for Palou and the No. 10 American Legion ‘Be The One’ Honda to come to the pits for their first service.
“We saved a little bit of fuel,” explained Palou. “Waited until the 27 struggled a little bit on tires. We were able to pass and then just run a bit longer than Colton and Rahal to get the lead.”
Palou led 48-of-80-laps en route to Chip Ganassi Racing’s record-tying 12th win at Mid-Ohio, tying Team Penske.
Dixon started sixth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda and his second place finish was his best of the 2023 season, which moved him up to second place in the Championship standings.
“It was definitely a good day,” said Dixon, who trails Palou by 110-points in the title fight. “The pace of the PNC Bank No. 9 was really good. Fuel mileage was super easy, so Honda definitely stepped it up here this weekend. But huge credit to the 10 car and obviously Alex. He is on a hell of a run.”
Team Penske’s Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet.
“Solid day. No mistakes,” said Power. “Yeah, not much more we could have got out of the day. That was kind of what we had. Obviously Palou is very quick.”
Power, the defending Series Champion, and Dixon, a six-time Series Champion, marveled at how Palou and his team has been able to outpace everyone in the most-competitive open wheel series in the world.
“He is so on point in every respect, in every respect,” said Power of Palou. “He is not missing a thing, which is very difficult in this series to be extremely fast, which there are a lot of guys that are, but then being able to do all the disciplines as well plus the intricacies of fuel save, tire conservation, in-and-out laps, the qualifying. It’s bloody hard to have that all nailed, and he is doing it.”
“It’s not just Alex, but Julian (Robertson), the whole 10 car group are just doing a phenomenal job. Even with Barry (Wanser) as well,” said Dixon. “It’s never a single person. The effort is big I think on all the cars in Chip Ganassi right now, but they’re firing on all cylinders.”
Next up for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is the Honda Indy Toronto on Sunday, July 16, where Chip Ganassi Racing will look to go back-to-back following Dixon’s win in 2022.
Colton Herta on Mid-Ohio INDYCAR Pole; Honda Sweeps Firestone Fast Six
LEXINGTON, OH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Honda Indy 200 presented by The 2023 Accord Hybrid.
Herta’s fast lap of 1 minute, 6.3096 seconds around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda was just .0432 seconds quicker than Graham Rahal turned in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda.
The pole position is the second straight for Herta, who won the pole in the series last race at Road America and 11th of his career.
“Really happy to get two in a row,” said Herta, who credited using the Primary Firestone Tire and not the Alternate tire choice as the difference maker. “After practice 1 it didn’t seem like a big enough jump, and it got a little bit bigger in qualifying than it was in practice, but we were in a position where we weren’t happy with our first set of tires that we ran on reds so we didn’t want to run on them and we didn’t want to run on our second, so we only had one choice, and it kind of made the choice for us, and I think it was the right one.”
Rahal, who was born an hour south of the track, was obviously disappointed to miss out on the pole position.
“I’m not going to lie — it was a good lap, and I knew it was solid,” said Rahal said. “I was bummed to not get a pole. But man, I was just walking up the stairs wondering where four/hundredths is. But at the same time that’s INDYCAR racing today. I think the top four of us were only separated by less than a tenth. It’s unbelievable.”
The Firestone Fast 6 were all powered by Honda Performance Development engines, the first time one manufacturer has swept the final qualifying group since 2016 when Chevrolet did at Watkins Glen International. It was Honda’s first such sweep since the format was implemented more than a decade ago.
“I just think they’re (Honda) doing a really good job right now of pushing the envelope again, you know, more.”
Herta’s teammate Kyle Kirkwood qualified third in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda with a fast lap of 1-minute, 6.3693 seconds.
INDYCAR Championship Points Leader Alex Palou, who has won three of the last four races, will start fourth in the No. 10 American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“I’m really happy, I would say this is my best qualifying here at Mid-Ohio,” said Palou. “Last couple of years I wasn’t able to make it to the Fast 6. Only a tenth off, really close, we tried hard, but just missed a little bit on my best lap. Happy to be starting P4 and with 80 laps to go, it’ll be an exciting race tomorrow.”
Rahal’s teammate Christian Lundgaard will start fifth in the No. 45 Hyvee Honda.
Palou’s teammate, Six-time Series Champion Scott Dixon will line up sixth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“The first sector went really well, but second one was kinda tight,” said Dixon. “I think the car had better speed. Honestly, I think we just went with the wrong tire strategy at the end there, using maybe the wrong set of reds. It looked like the blacks should have been the way we went, because we ran a lot quicker in Q1 on a new set of blacks. I think that would have got us maybe fighting for the front there. Starting sixth, the car’s got good pace.”
Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud was held out of qualifying as a precaution following a scary accident in Turn 4 during Saturday morning’s practice that saw the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda suffer brake failure and barrel-roll through the gravel trap multiple times before coming to a stop against a tire barrier.
A wild ride for @simonpagenaud.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) July 1, 2023
The 2016 INDYCAR Series Champion was evaluated and released by the INDYCAR Medical team, although per protocol he was not cleared to return to action Saturday. He will be evaluated Sunday morning. The team has asked series veteran Conor Daly to be on standby in the event Pagenaud can’t drive in the race.
The next on-track activity will be Sunday’s morning warm-up from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Pre-race activities start at 1:00 p.m. with the green flag dropping at 1:30 p.m. The race will be televised on USA Network and Peacock and can be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
Tough, Frustrating Indianapolis 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Marcus Ericsson was in position to win his second straight Indianapolis 500 but a late-race caution and red flag spoiled that opportunity.
Ericsson and the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda took the lead of the race on a Lap 196 restart when a caution flag came out immediately after due to an crash in the back of the field. Ericsson and the rest of the field circled the Speedway behind the Corvette pace for a complete lap. That’s when NTT INDYCAR SERIES officials decided to Red Flag the race for the third time.
Race Control restarted the race with two laps left and told drivers it would be one-to-go and the green flag when they came off Turn 4. Ericsson was able to get the jump on the green and led the field through Turn One and off Turn Two.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden got a tremendous run down the backstrech and passed Ericsson going into Turn Three. Ericsson couldn’t catch Newgarden coming to the yard of bricks, the fourth-narrowest margin of victory in the history of the race.
“I don’t think it’s a fair way to end the race,” said Ericsson. “I don’t think it’s a right way to end the race. I think it wasn’t enough laps to go to do what we did. I don’t think it’s safe to go out of the pits on cold tires for a restart when half the field is sort of still trying to get out on track when we go green.”
Ericsson questioned why Race Control decided to let the field circle the 2.5-mile oval for a complete lap and bringing the race cars through the accident scene instead of down pit road.
“They (INDYCAR) should have called it earlier,” explained Ericsson. “If they wanted red they should have called red earlier. I think when they kept it going, then I think they should have called it. But I’m sure Josef (Newgarden) doesn’t agree with that and thinks that way, but that’s just the way I thought. I thought it was too tight to do the last red.”
Pole Sitter Alex Palou appeared to be one of the cars to beat early, leading 36-laps in the No. 10 American Legion Honda. Palou was on pit road during a caution flag when Rinus Veekay lost it coming out of his pits, pinching Palou into the inside wall exiting his pits.
The Ricky Davis led crew sprinted down to the car and rolled Palou back into the pit box, changed the front wing and sent the 2021 Champion back into the fight.
“There’s nothing that we could have done differently there on pit lane,” said Palou. “Starting from 30th again and we had to start the race from scratch. But, we went from 30th to fourth and still could have done a bit more. It was a tough day.”
Palou wasn’t the only Chip Ganassi Racing driver to rally on this day.
Scott Dixon started the race from the sixth position and was quickly into the Top 5 after the start of the race. Midway through the first run the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda developed a bad vibration that sent Dixon to pit road way earlier than planned.
“It was kind of a frustrating day,” said Dixon, the Six-time Series Champion. “We had that first set of tires that just went out of balance so badly. The car got massively loose, and we adjusted for that, but it also made the car a bit weird with a clutch alarm that we had to figure out. We worked on the balance to regroup after that, but it was just a very tough day.”
Dixon went to work following that pit stop and spent the rest of the day trying to get back the lost track position eventually finishing sixth.
Takuma Sato and the No. 11 Deloitte Honda home in seventh spot and said he was fighting track position all day.
“It was a tough race,” said Sato. “We had to fight back in the middle stages there where we couldn’t get up into the front group. We fought hard and I’m really proud of the entire No. 11 team.”
Palou leaves Indy INDYCAR Series Championship standing with 219 points. Ericsson sits second with 199 points and Dixon is lurking back in fifth with 162 points.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to Downtown Detroit next weekend with the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit on June 4, 2023 at 3:00 p.m.