Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
The NTT IndyCar Series heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Round nine of the 2023 season, as the busy summer schedule ramps up with one of the most challenging road courses on the entire calendar. With eyes turning to the championship standings, and a real mix of circuits between now and the finale at Laguna Seca, only one question remains - can Alex Palou be stopped?
It was Palou who won yet again at Road America, claiming his third victory in four races - which very well could have been four in four, had Rinus VeeKay not hit him during the Indianapolis 500. But Palou was rampant in Road America. After long-time race leader Colton Herta’s strategy fell apart, when Andretti Autosport pitted him a lap earlier than the rest of the pack, Palou needed no invitation to victory as he pulled away - claiming his third victory of the season, the same number he won in his 2021 title campaign.
However, Herta posed a real challenge, in what looked like the first weekend of the year where he was driving at his expected standard. He took pole, and had comfortably led the majority of the race - before falling to 5th. Josef Newgarden claimed second - on his best road course of the schedule, whilst Pato O’Ward had a significantly calmer weekend, recovering to third after dropping to ninth early on.
Scott Dixon also impressed - having lined up 21st in qualifying, the experienced Kiwi recovered to fourth place, and may have been slightly frustrated not to have overtaken O’Ward for third. Christian Lundgaard starred again, with his Rahal teammates of the pace, the Dane finished P7, in a result that could actually be seen as slightly disappointing for him. Kyle Kirkwood also completed his second recovery drive in a row, having dropped to the back after running into Pato O’Ward on Lap one, the Floridian recovered to a respectable 9th.
And on the flip side of the equation was Will Power - who endured an incredible weekend, and gave us an IndyCar moment to treasure forever. Power was almost wiped out by Romain Grosjean at the Kink, before being wiped out by Scott Dixon. The Kiwi did not recognise Power coming at speed, swerved at him, and both found the barrier. Power proceeded to have a physical altercation with Dixon - and the incredible moments didn’t stop there.
After a frustrating qualifying, with a not fully repaired car, Power gave a simply incredible TV interview. He first moaned at the track: ‘This track is terrible when you go off, they do a terrible job here, you almost break your back every single time you go off,’ before ‘and Grosjean, if you saw what he did practice, he deserves a punch in the face.’
And Power probably wanted to give Grosjean said punch, after the Andretti Autosport driver forced him wide. However, Grosjean’s race was so calamitous that no punches were needed. The Frenchman went off multiple times, caused a caution, was something of a nuisance all- round and slumped to 25th. Not a great weekend for someone who was a championship favourite early on.
Anyway, looking ahead to Mid-Ohio, a 2.258 mile (3.634km) road course, featuring fast corners, epic elevation changes, and good overtaking opportunities. The circuit starts with a fast left-hander, taken in a minimum of 5th gear, before the run to the hairpin at Turn two, an off-camber right-hander, the track falling away from you, with the need to get on the power as soon as possible. We then head down the back straight, the main overtaking point of the track - and the point which will see the field be led to green on Sunday.
This provides the best overtaking opportunity, an uphill right-hander, which drivers will be heavy on the brakes for, before another left-hander which climbs uphill leading to the corner, then rapidly plunging downhill after you meet the apex. The downhill trend continues for the next corner as well, a slower-speed right hander, before a flat-out left-right in the Esses section. Turn nine provides another fast downhill complex through Thunder Valley, where drivers won’t know what’s on the other side of the corner, before flat-out kinks at Turns 10 and 11. The lap ends with an extremely long right-hander at the penultimate corner, similar to the one at Barber Motorsports Park, before a flat-out left-hand kink to the end the lap. A real drivers’ track Mid-Ohio, one that really pushes driver and car to the limit.
But who has gone well here? Well let's look at Team Penske for a start. Their trio of drivers have won here, including in each of the last three years. Will Power won this event in 2020, Josef Newgarden won in 2017 and 2021, with Scott McLaughlin claiming victory in 2022, whilst Simon Pagenaud won as a Team Penske driver in 2016.
However, none can trump Mr. Mid-Ohio himself, Scott Dixon, who has won an incredible six times in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2019. Dixon is yet to win this season - could Mid-Ohio be his best chance yet? The statistics say so.
Colton Herta will take encouragement from his better weekend in Road America - and has gone in good stead here too, winning the second event in 2020. Graham Rahal also won in 2015 - although it would take a literal miracle for him to repeat this feat. The other winner here on the 2023 grid is Alexander Rossi, who won here in 2018. And that will be even more encouragement for McLaren - who looked very strong here last year. O’Ward took pole - at the time, the 9th pole sitter in nine races, while Rosenqvist qualified P3. Both their races fell apart with engine issues and losses of power, but the speed was certainly there.
And it goes without saying, Alex Palou. The Spaniard finished 3rd here in 2021, and 2nd last season, and was quite unfortunate to not have got McLaughlin for victory. Could Palou win yet again, and really end any championship discussions still on?
With Palou lying 74 points ahead of second-placed man Marcus Ericsson, and 81 ahead of his closest legitimate challenger - Josef Newgarden, with Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon a further 17 points behind, it would be an almighty feat to overhaul the F1-linked Spaniard, particularly when Palou has gone so well here. Ericsson, Newgarden, O’Ward and Dixon will have to pull out all the stops to halt the rampant Palou - and need to show some sort of challenge at Mid-Ohio, for the championship’s sake.
And how will WIll Power respond at a track he is particularly strong at? Can Grosjean end his miserable run of races? Can Pato O’Ward get redemption for what happened here last year? So many questions ahead of a thrilling race week, and I mentioned this in front of Road America, but the question remains the same - can ANYONE stop Alex Palou?