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IndyCar Preview: Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

Written by Dan Jones

Credit: Chris Owens

It's time for IndyCar to enter a new era as after several months of waiting, the hybrid engine makes it's long anticipated debut at the mid-way point of 2024, as IndyCar heads to Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course, to start a streak of four races in three weeks on three different track types. With the championship battle heating up and the implementation of the hybrid, it's all to play for at Mid-Ohio, round 8 of 17 in the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series.

But before all things Mid-Ohio, let's quickly recap the last round at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, where the 'Master of Monterey,' Álex Palou, cemented his reputation at the legendary circuit, perfectly executing a bold strategy to win for the second time this year and surge back into the championship lead.

Colton Herta couldn't quite re-establish 'Herta's house' but took a much-needed second-place finish after a difficult run of races, with Alexander Rossi claiming his podium of the year in third. It would be a disastrous weekend for Team Penske, Josef Newgarden spinning out of a top five, after fortuitously benefitting from a controversial caution. It wouldn't get any better after Scott McLaughlin clumsily bundled into teammate, Will Power, with the Australian fortunate to keep it on the road. You can read the full report here.

Palou regained the championship lead | Credit: James Black

Palou surged back into the championship lead - a championship lead which has not been held race-to-race since Indianapolis. The top ten in the standings are as follows:

Palou - 285

Power - 262

Dixon - 253

Herta - 217

Kirkwood - 210

O'Ward - 208

Rossi - 198

McLaughlin - 188

Newgarden - 181

Rosenqvist - 176

The championship battle is very quickly becoming a three-horse race between Palou, Power and Dixon. However with six oval races in eight after Mid-Ohio that could become a turning point for the likes of Pato O'Ward, Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden. However, they face a steep uphill battle, and cannot afford to drop anymore big points.

The main attraction of the weekend | Credit: Joe Skibinski

But let's delve into the talking point of the weekend - the hybrid. The hybrid consists of two components - the Motor Generator Unit (MGU) which generates the charge and translates that into power to the wheels during deployment, and the Energy Storage System (ESS) which stores the energy generated from the MGU. Unusually, both Chevrolet and Honda worked on the project together, which was delayed from the start of 2024.

The hybrid will re-generate in two different ways, automatically, which happens under braking or through driver's throttle position or a manual regeneration via buttons on the steering wheel. The power stored in the ESS is deployed through the MGU on demand, in a button similar to the existing push-to-pass. Both hybrid power and push-to-pass can be used on road courses simultaneously, which can provide up to 120 horsepower, with cars reaching over 800 total.

Maybe most beneficially, is drivers can restart their cars via the hybrid system when stalled. Several cautions have previously come out for drivers who have spun and been unable to get restarted, requiring the AMR Safety Team. However with the hybrid, this should be an issue of the past, with drivers able to get themselves restarted by themselves, leading to less cautions and more racing.

Power has done the most hybrid testing of any driver | Credit: James Black

Since the hybrid was first tested on August 16th last year, 23,518 miles have been completed, with little issue. It remains to be seen how the hybrid could effect the pecking order. Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske, Andretti Global and Arrow McLaren have had significantly more testing time than their peers, as they had the most resources for the engine manufacturers in the initial stages of development.

This could push away the front pack from the midfield, however, many believe the difference will be minimal. The hybrid is also heavier which could slow down lap time. At the start of 2024, IndyCar brought several lighter components in anticipation for the hybrids implementation, which led to some record-breaking speeds at the start of 2024.

Let's look at Mid-Ohio itself, a 2.258 mile (3.634km) road course, located in Lexington, which if you hadn't worked out already.... is in the middle of Ohio. The lap starts with a high speed left-hander, which is slightly blind on entry before a little straightaway into the 'Keyhole,' on off-camber right-hander, which sees the track fall away from you as you turn 180 degrees.

Drivers than blast down the only real straight at the circuit, the straight which will see the start of Sunday's race, and plenty of use of both the hybrid and push-to-pass. Turn 4 is the best overtaking opportunity at the track, a medium-speed, uphill right-hander, which quickly turns left as drivers plunge back downhill into another right-hander as they begin the 'esses.'

Told you! | Credit: Joe Skibinski

It's a flat left kink, before a flat right kink before drivers head into the difficult, downhill and blind corner at 'Thunder Valley' - where the timing line is also located for Saturday's qualifying. Like the Corkscrew last time, it gives some of the best photos of the season. The track gently drifts right before a high-speed left hander, before a long right-hander before a quick left, very similar to the final two corners at Barber Motorsports Park end the lap.

If Álex Palou was the 'Master of Monterey,' than there's no doubting that Scott Dixon is the 'Master of Mid-Ohio.' The six-time champion has won here six times, but not since 2019, taking victories in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2019. However, Dixon only has one podium since his last victory in 2019. What will be of concern to both Dixon and Power is that this is once again one of Palou's best venues on the entire schedule.

Since he signed for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021, Palou has never finished off the podium in Mid-Ohio, winning for the first time at the venue last season, when he deployed his regular tactic of overcutting the field, like he did somewhat at Laguna Seca. Palou could have very well won the 2022 event to, and last season's race saw him complete a hat-trick of race victories.

Palou's victory all but sealed the championship here last year | Credit: Joe Skibinski

Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske have alternated the on-track winner at every race this year, and by that logic it's Penske's turn to win this weekend! And this place bodes well for them, all three drivers in their line-up winning here in the past. Power took victory here in 2020, and has finished on the podium in each of the last two races here, with a total of eight podiums at the venue. Newgarden won here in 2017 and 2020, with McLaughlin taking the honours in 2022. Both will need similar fortunes if they want to get back into the championship fight.

Graham Rahal won his home race in 2015, and I stated he'd need a miracle to repeat that - he would end up qualifying on the front row. Don't expect similar heroics from Rahal again, but I'm not going to completely rule it out this year! He was alongside Colton Herta on the front row last year, who's race fell apart after a pit speed violation - he won this race in the second of the 2020 races.

Alexander Rossi is the other winner here, taking victory in 2018. Rossi has been the news of the week, after the announcement that he'd be replaced by Christian Lundgaard at Arrow McLaren for 2025. Rossi states that him and McLaren could not agree contractual terms - Rossi wanting a long-term deal, but McLaren believes he was past his prime and only wanted to offer a one-year deal. Rossi's believed destination could be RLL, as a direct swap for Lundgaard, but with Jüri Vips and Théo Pourchaire also believed to be around the RLL camp, it could be difficult. This will signify the first race of Rossi's McLaren farewell tour.

Dale Coyne Racing made their driver announcement in good time for Mid-Ohio, as Brit, Toby Sowery makes his IndyCar debut in the No. 51 car, supported by Rick Ware Racing, becoming the sixth driver in the car this year after Colin Braun, Nolan Siegel, Luca Ghiotto, Katherine Legge and Tristan Vautier. Legge is believed to be back in the car for the remaining oval rounds of the year.

It feels like now or never for Newgarden and McLaughlin | Credit: Joe Skibinski

The championship now has more eyes on it than ever with this mentioned three-way battle. After Mid-Ohio, the significant oval swing will be very telling in the course of the championship, but any blunder now could prove vital. As mentioned, the likes of Herta, O'Ward, McLaughlin and Newgarden will need to make sure they don't drop further away from the likes of Palou and Power. Concerningly for O'Ward, he has never finished in the top seven here, although he did take his last pole at the track in 2022.

With the introduction of the hybrid, plenty of question marks remain over what performance could be like and if the pecking order adjusts. With the implementation of the system, as well the championship battle hotting up, it bodes for a significant weekend in Mid-Ohio, and who will prove to be the Master of Mid-Ohio?


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