COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The NTT IndyCar Series rolls into the hills of Morrow County this Independence Day weekend as one of the world’s top racing leagues takes on historic Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
IndyCar is breathing fresh life this year after last season was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. And as two Ohio-native drivers and one local team race at their home track, an exciting bunch of young drivers continues to impress in 2021.
“I just love Mid-Ohio,” Jack Harvey, driver of the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda, told reporters this week.
“It has such a variety of corners, some of the highest speed corners that we go to,” Harvey said, adding that the flowing corners and elevation changes feel like a rollercoaster ride. “And then obviously you get that little bit in the middle where (it’s) super technical and kind of slow speed.”
Mid-Ohio is a home race for MSR, a Pataskala-based team owned by Columbus native Michael Shank and former SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer.
“It’s massive, mate,” the 28-year-old Englishman Harvey said. “It’s such a special place for the team.”
Harvey had a promising start to the season but has since fallen to 14th in points, with no finish better than 16th place in the past six races. He finished 10th and 11th in last September’s Mid-Ohio doubleheader.
“Sometimes you struggle because you don’t have pace, sometimes you struggle because you’re not on the right side of some strategy calls,” he said. “I’d rather be up where we have pace but we’re struggling in other areas, because sometimes that’s the hardest thing to find.”
“We just need them pieces to come together on a smooth weekend,” Harvey added.
MSR is just three races removed from its maiden victory, when part-time driver Helio Castroneves won IndyCar’s biggest race – the Indianapolis 500 – in May in just his first start with the team. Castroneves will not race on Sunday, though. His partial schedule in MSR’s No. 06 Honda picks back up in August.
The other high-profile local connection this weekend is New Albany native Graham Rahal, driving the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. He has five top-5 finishes in nine races this year but finds himself ninth in the standings, 121 points from first. Rahal won Mid-Ohio in 2015.
Aurora, Ohio, native Ryan Norman will make his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio, driving the No. 52 Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing Honda. Norman captured two wins in three years in Indy Lights, IndyCar’s top minor league series, from 2017-2019.
“So many years of hard work and sacrifices have finally paid off,” Norman, 23, said in a statement, noting that becoming an IndyCar driver has been the goal throughout his racing career.
Young guns shine in breakout year
The dominating storyline of this IndyCar season has been the thrilling performances by drivers in their early to mid-20s, ushering in a new era of American open-wheel racing.
One of those rising stars, 21-year-old Colton Herta, won the second race of last year’s Mid-Ohio doubleheader after series veteran Will Power won race one.
“If you look at gaps in qualifying and gaps in practice, from the front of the field to the back of the field, it has shrunk tremendously in the past few years,” Herta told reporters last week. “And the amount of guys that can win now is way more.”
As 40-year-old legend Scott Dixon chases a seventh championship, he’s also chasing Alex Palou, 24, and Pato O’Ward, 22. The Spaniard and the Mexican, respectively, lead the points standings and are the only drivers with two wins this year.
“It’s really cool to be a part of,” Herta said, “and I’m sure I’ll be racing these guys for the next 20 years.”
Herta is seventh in the points standings, behind 20-year-old Rinus Veekay. Veteran standard-bearers Simon Pagenaud, 37, Josef Newgarden, 30, and Dixon are sandwiched between them and Palou and O’Ward at the front.
“I know a lot of people think back to like the golden age of IndyCar from like the 90s and stuff and competitive talent and really good names and stuff,” Herta said. “So, it does feel like that. It’s very competitive right now and the field is super close.”
While young drivers who climbed traditional open-wheel racing ladders shine in IndyCar this year, the actual rookie class consists of veterans from other series. Among them is seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, 45, driving the No. 48 Carvana-sponsored Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Johnson is accompanied by three-time defending Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, 28, and former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean, 35.
Grosjean made his first laps at Mid-Ohio during a test last week in his No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing Honda – the sister car for Norman.
“It does feel like a skiing slope, going up and down, and I really enjoy that,” the Frenchman told IndyCar, “Reminded me of skiing up in the hills.”
Tickets and race details
Grandstands are back open this year at Mid-Ohio. Tickets are $65 for the Sunday race and $85 for the weekend. General admission, which includes grass seating on the hilly areas around the track, ranges from $40 to $75.
Tickets are $10 more if bought at the gate instead of in advance. Paddock passes are $40 and pit-plus-paddock passes are $95. Find more ticket details here.
Fans will be treated to on-track action Friday through Sunday, including support races from Indy Lights; lower series USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000; and Stadium Super Trucks. There will also be a movie shown Saturday evening and fireworks after dusk. View the full weekend schedule here.
Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio
- Qualifying: Saturday, July 3, 12:00 p.m.
- Race: Sunday, July 4, 12:05 p.m.
- Length: 80 laps, 180.64 miles
- TV: Peacock on Saturday, NBC4 on Sunday
- Radio: IndyCar Radio Network
- Forecast: high 70s to mid-80s, mostly sunny, low chance of rain