Thursday, August 1, 2013

Back on the Road: Indycar Weekend at Mid Ohio Next

Scott Dixon returns to Mid Ohio in the favorite's role
After a hectic weekend shooting at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week to wrap up July's racing calendar, I am excited about returning to the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend to shoot the Honda Indy 200 Indycar race and support events for This scenic natural terrain road course is an annual fixture on my racing schedule and Indycar is my first racing love, so the chance to shoot here again is quite special for me. It is also a track that I have driven myself in the Mid Ohio Acura High Performance Driving School, so I can empathize (somewhat) with the drivers as they negotiate the undulations and rolling terrain of the racetrack. When track announcers talk about competitors racing through the Keyhole, Thunder Valley, Madness, or the Carousel, I know exactly where they are and have a view in my mind's eye of what that looks like.

Scott Dixon
But the man to watch this weekend is Scott Dixon. Scottie D has been the master of Mid Ohio more often than not the last few years and with his recent hot streak of three wins in eight days, he must be considered the favorite this weekend. Naturally the other Indycar competitors are going to do everything they can to break Dixon's recent stranglehold on Mid Ohio, but his recent win streak has vaulted Dixie into second place in the season points battle behind Helio Castroneves. The 2012 IZOD Indycar Series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay is third in the standings and within striking distance of a repeat championship although he needs a win this weekend to regain his early season momentum. While these three focus on the top step of the podium and the series points battle, drivers like Marco Andretti, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are stalking the favorites and hope to use this weekend as a springboard to a late season challenge for season honors. Pagenaud got his first Indycar win earlier this season and has been strong on road courses so he's my darkhorse candidate to pick up a Mid Ohio win.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Hunter-Reay was quickest in this week's open test at the track followed by Pagenaud and Power so clearly these three are on their game and prepared to challenge Dixon for Mid Ohio supremacy. Sebastian Bourdais's recent second place finish in Toronto's second race bode well for Dragon Racing and he was fourth quick in this week's testing session. Helio and Dixon were fifth and sixth in the test so all the top guns are locked and loaded for this weekend.

Carlos Munoz has shown speed and talent in Indycar and Indy Lights
The Firestone Indy Lights Series returns to Mid Ohio after a two year absence and Indy 500 rookie sensation Carlos Munoz is hoping to grab the first series championship for boss Michael Andretti and his Andretti Autosport team. Munoz was spectacular at Toronto filling in for the injured Ryan Briscoe at Panther Racing in the second Indycar race of that weekend after jumping into the car on race morning, so the road course prowess he has shown in both series should transfer well at Mid Ohio in Indy Lights. Given his dominance of the Lights race at the Barber Motorsports Park road course this past April, Munoz should adapt quickly to Mid Ohio which is similar to Barber in many ways and should pad his slim series points lead over Sage Karam.

Carlos Munoz has been Michael Andretti's prized pupil in 2013
The car count for Indy Lights this weekend is up to eleven and recent announcements about chassis updates and new management for the series should boost the competitiveness of the series in years to come. Perhaps these changes come too late for this weekend, but there is little doubt that those running Indy Lights are serious about winning and moving up to Indycars. Munoz has his eyes on the big prize in the series which is a $1 million "scholarship" that he can use to move up to the big cars next season. He is certainly deserving and has shown the speed and adaptiveness necessary to be competitive.

There are other changes afoot for this weekend with new competitors in Indycar as well. Alex Tagliani is out at BHA Racing and Luca Fillipi is in - at least for this race. Former Indy Lights competitor and two time Mid Ohio winner in Indy Lights James Davison is also running an Indycar this weekend - for Dale Coyne's team. Oriol Servia is back with Panther for Mid Ohio as the open driver auditions continue for the Panther seat vacated by the mid-summer dismissal of J. R. Hildebrand following his Indy 500 crash and string of mediocre results. One of the great things about shooting Mid Ohio is the plethora of on track action, so these drivers not only will benefit from the open test seat time but from the multiple on track sessions. Support series on the Mazda Road to Indy are also on the weekend schedule as well as the Pirelli World Challenge, so the photo challenges will be numerous.

And did I mention that it always seems to rain at some point during this race weekend? Everyone needs to be prepared for that likelihood as well. My only regret about this weekend is that the American LeMans Series is not on the schedule, so it will be interesting to see how that effects the crowd, especially on Saturday when ALMS has traditionally raced. My photog friends still tease me about getting drenched during the ALMS race a couple of years ago, and they know I am shooting this weekend, so I'm sure I will hear about being the "rainmeister" if we do get some "moisture". Y'all just better be ready! See you at Mid Ohio!

Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in the July 31st open test at Mid Ohio and should challenge for victory this weekend

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