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Winners and Losers: IndyCar Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

Written by Archie O’Reilly & Dan Jones

Pato O’Ward ended a nigh on two-year wait for himself and the Arrow McLaren team to take the chequered flag in an IndyCar race in the Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. The Mexican driver of the No.5 Chevy ousted championship leader Alex Palou by less than half-a-second as he jumped to third in the standings and became the first winner of IndyCar’s hybrid era.

It was an event with significant championship implications heading into a crucial doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. DIVEBOMB delves into who exits Ohio with a sense of success and what issues emerged from the penultimate road course race of 2024… 

Winner: Pato O’Ward

This feels like a very gratifying win for Pato O’Ward. In his own words, St. Petersburg wasn’t really a win, this really was. “Yeah, it feels so good to give this to them. I know they're as happy as I am today, and we earned it. No one gave it to us. We had to earn it.”

It’s been some 32 races since O’Ward last won on the road, in a frustrating run of races which included five second places, and falling just short on many occasions. With Alexander Rossi’s recent upturn in form maybe questions were starting to be asked over O’Ward, but his performance at Mid-Ohio was one that was quite possibly season-defining.

O’Ward admints 2024 was tough: “But this year it's been more of a tough battle, I would say, in road courses,” but this really does feel like a potential turning point for the Mexican. It was a side to O’Ward we don’t usually see, being the defender rather than the aggressor - the manner he has gained almost all his other IndyCar wins in.

He vaults himself up to third in the standings, still some 70 points off Palou, but moves himself ahead of one of the championship favourites in Scott Dixon. In O’Ward’s words he ‘knows he’s strong at ovals,’ with next week’s double-header at Iowa a prime chance for O’Ward to further reduce that gap.

But this win has been a long time coming from O’Ward, and really helps put behind what was a messy start to 2024. This could well be the catapult to a more serious championship assault - but O’Ward has answered the glaring question by winning on-track, head-to-head with the best in the business.


Winner: Toby Sowery

Toby Sowery’s IndyCar debut in Dale Coyne Racing’s No.51 Honda offered a stark reminder of the talent in the motorsport world that may never get their shot at the top. It will have long felt for Sowery like he would not get that opportunity, almost five years since he rounded out his rookie Indy NXT season in third. 

But thankfully for the Briton, he finally got his chance at Mid-Ohio and seized it like nobody else has in the rotating wheel of drivers in that specific Coyne entry. 

A 13th-place finish in the race matched the team’s best result of the year to date, achieved by Jack Harvey in the No.18 Honda at Barber. And it has in hand elevated the No.51 entry, with scarce stability race to race, ahead of its No.18 stablemate in the entrants standings.

It was not an easy task for Sowery, who has made a home in sportscar racing and was racing in the 24 Hours of Spa the weekend before Mid-Ohio. 

He had only once tested an Indy car with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and had no experience with the hybrid system being introduced in tandem with his IndyCar debut. The race was ultimately regarded as one of the most physical on record too, with no caution periods and a recent repave. 

Sowery’s task was also made tougher by practice time being limited by rain on Friday, then a car issue restricting him to only one unrepresentative qualifying lap and a 25th-place start.

But he had already put drivers behind him in each practice session, suggesting he may well have qualified higher without the issue. And his execution of a two-stop strategy in the race was testament to the pace he displayed, leading to a finish half-a-second behind third-place starter David Malukas and just over one second behind Team Penske’s Will Power.

Being in the fight with the likes of Power - second in the championship - should see Sowery’s display placed among the very best seen in IndyCar this season. The outperformance of his teammate is unrepresentative given physical issues for Harvey, though matching his experienced compatriot’s best performance of 2024 on debut is a monumental achievement.


Winner: Christian Rasmussen

This was exactly the result that Christian Rasmussen needed, at exactly the time that Christian Rasmussen needed it.

It has been a difficult 2024 for Rasmussen, often accused of being too aggressive and at times, clumsy, but a ninth place at Mid-Ohio represents a real feel-good result for the Dane. The way the 2024 calendar has panned out, Rasmussen, who has competed in the first 10 rounds of 2024, will only have two more outings for the remainder of the year, as he splits the No.20 with Ed Carpenter.

And time seemed to be running out for Rasmussen, who desperately needed a performance like this to justify why the team should keep their faith in him longer-term. Rasmussen qualified into the Fast 12 for the first time, with a career-best eighth in qualifying, and drove an admirable race to finish ninth - some 10 positions of teammate Rinus VeeKay, who Rasmussen has matched and/or beat on multiple occasions this year, including in the last three races. Rasmussen now lies one place behind VeeKay in the championship.

I qualified P9 and I finished the race P9. It was kind of a boring race for me, but that’s what we needed,” the words of Rasmussen after his impressive day at Mid-Ohio. It also comes after what previously was a season's best 13th at Laguna Seca.

It rather feels Rasmussen is starting to justify the faith that the team put in him after his successful Indy NXT campaign. It’s been a rocky year for Rasmussen and team, but his recent string of performances are exactly the indication the team need longer-term that Rasmussen is a worthwhile investment.

With chances really running out for these ‘headline’ results, Rasmussen grasped one of his last opportunities with both hands, like he has done for the majority of his career, and it could well secure his IndyCar future.


Winner: The hybrid debut

The hybrid system’s debut cannot necessarily be coined a rousing success given the odd stumbling block encountered - one with a more major implication - as touched on by Dan below. But after almost one year of rigorous on-track testing and the best part of two years of development on the system in its current iteration, it was generally a very positive start. 

Mid-Ohio boasted the second-highest lap completion rate of the season so far, with 26 of the 27 cars emerging through the race without hiccups. Unfortunately issues were to be inevitable with the hybrid introduced into the competitive landscape, even after tens of thousands of miles of testing. The fact that 26 cars were unhindered should be celebrated.

A more minor issue than that which befell Scott Dixon on the pre-race pace laps was a software glitch leading to the onboard starters of cars not operating correctly. This led to red flags through practice in instances that the hybrid system was supposed to prevent when cars stalled, with the AMR Safety Crew still required to reboot cars.

But to the credit of those involved with the hybrid technology, a swift fix was enacted in time for qualifying on Saturday. One day later, the race may have ended under yellow without this fix as Romain Grosjean spun but was able to continue unassisted. 

One other encouraging point is that the competitive pecking order was not altered despite worries about the imbalance of testing time team to team. Frequent testers Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon did not make the Fast 12 in qualifying as the likes of David Malukas and Christian Rasmussen - with less testing time - excelled through the weekend.

Drivers generally enjoyed having more options at their disposal, with the ever-candid Graham Rahal saying it was “quite effective” as championship leader Alex Palou said the added tools for drivers can make a difference. Scott McLaughlin noted that it is “cool” to be able to tactically use the suggestion both when battling or running alone.

Drivers do want more of a boost - something being targeted over time once reliability is a guarantee - but were pleasantly surprised by the amount of deployment per lap. Despite scepticism, a tenth or two will be lost per lap if the hybrid system is not used in both the race and qualifying.


Loser: Some hybrid hiccups

In the grand scheme of things, the hybrid had a successful introduction to it’s future in the IndyCar Series. But you can’t overlook the major facts and figures - the glaring one being Scott Dixon’s immediate removal from championship contention.

It wasn’t a completely smooth start, the self-start option added as part of the hybrid package did not work in Friday’s practice due to some software glitches, being the AMR Safety Team had to be called upon the stricken Chip Ganassi Racing car of Marcus Armstrong. However, once the software glitch was de-bunked on Sunday it was successful for several, notably, Romain Grosjean.

However, the major talking point would come on Sunday, where a believed ESS failure on Scott Dixon’s car saw him eliminated before he even saw the green, dropping him 71 points off the championship lead. Maybe the issue is more the consequence than the actual offence in this scenario. With respect, it’d be highly unlikely there would be this much attention if it happened to say Pietro Fittipaldi or Agustín Canapino.

The argument that a 2025 implementation would have solved this too is likely invalid. You’re always going to have gremlins with a new system - and on this occasion, it is unfair how it worked out, it can’t be a complete success looking back at Mid-Ohio for that reason.

Dixon stated he had no warnings or any indication that the hybrid was going to switch off, leading to an even more unexplained set of circumstances. And it’s a shame that it happened to the individual potentially most likely to stop Álex Palou’s victory celebrations - but can this be perceived any differently to a normal mechanical failure?

Once these issues are oiled out, there will be no more concerns over the hybrid. But the series’ reputation cannot afford to take hits with a new system taking major players out of championship running.


Loser: Championship chasers

It was truly the worst case scenario that the only hybrid-impacted retirement was to be a championship contender. Far fewer eyelids would be batted if a driver in the mid-pack suffered a hybrid issue - something drivers have admitted is not unexpected. 

But Scott Dixon, who was 32 points behind Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou heading into Mid-Ohio, has now dropped a spot to fourth in the championship and is 71 points back from the lead. It is a cruel blow for the driver chasing his seventh championship crown given the issue - the draining of his battery - was entirely out of his control. 

The discussion heading into the hybrid portion of the season was very much about a cutaway trio, though Mid-Ohio has displayed just how quickly things can swing. All of a sudden, Pato O’Ward has nudged himself further into the equation with some of his best tracks to come amid the swing or shorter ovals. 

Will Power, who was suffering from an illness over the weekend, also did not have the finest time at Mid-Ohio. Penske’s downturn in form since sweeping the podium at Road America continued as neither Power nor Newgarden transferred to the Fast 12 for the second qualifying session in succession.

Power had not started lower than eighth until 15th-place starts in the last two races. And unlike Laguna Seca, when he progressed back into seventh, Power could only salvage 11th for his first non-top-seven finish on a road or street course this season.

The championship picture has changed markedly heading into the final eight races, with Palou’s buffer to Power in second extended from 23 to 48 points - and his margin to O’Ward in third 70 points. 

With Palou’s lead just shy of a race win’s worth of points, the two races at Iowa will be pivotal for how the run-in unfolds with double the points on offer through the weekend.


Loser: Josef Newgarden 

After Laguna Seca, Josef Newgarden’s chances at a third IndyCar title looked slim. They now look impossible.

It was once again an messy and mistake-filled weekend for Newgarden, which is becoming a worrying characteristic in 2024. Ever since his disqualification from the Streets of St. Petersburg, Newgarden’s season has significantly de-railed outside of the Indianapolis 500, and Mid-Ohio summarised his woes.

It started off with a disappointing 18th in qualifying for the 2021 Mid-Ohio winner, who would elevate himself to the mid-pack, until with 20 laps left he would go off-track violently at Turn 10, forcing him into the pits for checks to his damaged Penske. It would then kick-start a comical set of events where Newgarden would receive a drive-through for a pit speed violation, a stop and go for failure to follow the directions of IndyCar, and another pit speed violation, all within two laps.

Newgarden would later put down the penalties to ‘some sort of software glitch.’ But it doesn’t hide away from the fact his race was derailed after another embarrassing off-track incident, similar to his dual off-track incident at Laguna Seca.

The stats are concerning. Newgarden is 143 points off the championship lead - effectively three race wins with no-scores for Palou - and how often do we see that? Penske entered an alliance with A.J. Foyt Racing at the beginning of 2024, Santino Ferrucci now has double Newgarden’s top 10s this season.

It’s a bizarre trend of Newgarden either finishing in the top four or outside the top 16. Since the Indianapolis 500, Newgarden has at four major on-track errors which have cost him dearly - it’s unfathomable for somebody of his reputation. Even with two races at Iowa coming up, the ‘King of Corn Country’ will still lie likely over 100 points off the championship lead.

It’s a sport that really values consistency, and Newgarden’s lack of it is concerning. A third title will likely have to wait - even with all the short ovals for the rest of the year.


Loser: The three-stop strategy

There were two distinct strategies through the field at Mid-Ohio, with the primary option being the two-stop and alternate being a full-push three-stop strategy. But one was a clear winner amid an event devoid of in-race attrition by way of cautions.

“We tried the three-stop strategy,” Graham Rahal said of the call from his No.15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team. “You guys all see the finishing results for the three-stoppers… it didn’t work for anybody. It was not the right way to go.”

A glance at the finishing order will display the best three-stop finisher in 14th, which was Meyer Shank Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist; he was over 50 seconds off the lead at the chequered flag. Only four drivers on the two-stop strategy finished lower than the leading three-stop driver.

The three-stopper also undid respectable starting positions for the likes of Chip Ganassi Racing pair Linus Lundqvist (dropping from 10th to 15th) and Marcus Armstrong (dropping from 11th to 17th). Ganassi also placed Kyffin Simpson on this same strategy despite Alex Palou being a front-runner all race on the two-stop.

It has often been shown that the alternate strategy can be a masterstroke in IndyCar competition. But this was an occasion where it failed dramatically. 



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