The Keyhole, the Esses, Thunder Valley, and the Carousel all parts of the topsy turvey roller coaster-type layout at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course just north of the state capital of Columbus for another edition of the Honda 200. Several questions are in play for the action ahead at 2.4 mile circuit and perhaps for the local fans who will be in attendance can Graham Rahal defend his victory from a year ago?
Rahal, who won two races and placed fourth on the final 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series points table, has surprisingly taken steps backward in 2016 as its engine and aero kit provider Honda has tasted greater success this season. After opening the new year with three top five finishes in the first five races, the Steak N’ Shake Restaurants-sponsored driver has posted only two more in the past seven events and finds himself a lowly 11th in the championship standings.
While the supposed home track circuit advantage has not been overly benefitting to Rahal, he has performed well in the last two years, placing fifth and first. If Rahal is capable of winning a race before the 2016 campaign is out, Mid-Ohio could be his most opportune chance.
However, if Rahal cannot come through on Sunday, the most likely winner could be Chip Ganassi Racing with reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon at the controls. The Iceman from New Zealand has won five of the nine events at Mid-Ohio and has placed seventh or better in the four races he has not won. Toss in victories also from Dario Franchitti in 2010 and Charlie Kimball in 2013, and the Ganassi team has seven victories at this venue in IndyCar and a grand total of ten when you also include its three additional wins in the former CART series.
A win on Sunday in the Honda 200 would be critical to keep Dixon’s hopes of a repeat championship. He currently trails Team Penske pilot Simon Pagenaud by 82 points or the equivalent of a victory and a fourth place finish in back to back races. Even though the season concluding race at Sonoma Raceway in California is once again worth double points, a comeback charge needs to start here for the New Zealander to have any hopes.
The same reality nearly holds true for the entire Verizon IndyCar Series fleet, even Pagenaud’s own two teammates in Will Power and Helio Castroneves who are second and third on the points table entering Mid-Ohio. Castroneves has two previous win CART competition here for Penske in the year 2000 and 2001, while amazingly the Australian despite being largely acknowledged as the best road racer in IndyCar has yet to grab a victory at Mid-Ohio. Power so far has finished second here twice, in 2010 and 2012.
Of course, making the car whether Chevrolet or Honda-powered work well is getting off the key corners well to set up passing opportunities at the Keyhole hairpin at turn two and the beginning of the Esses at turn four. Of course, with the long straightaway leading from the Keyhole to the Esses, all Mid-Ohio events are started here as opposed to the normal finish line on the pit straight. Of course, who crosses the actual finish line first when Paul Blevin waves the twin checkered flags on Sunday, is still anyone’s guess.