Take your pick: Sebastien Bourdais charging through the field and making one bodacious pass after another; Josef Newgarden drifting one way and then going the other fake to gobble up Alexander Rossi and then teammate Will Power; the four-corner standoff between Scott Dixon and Rossi, or Simon Pagenaud firing on all cylinders to go from 17th to eighth.
Whatever was in the water Sunday afternoon at Mid-Ohio, it was contagious. Not only was it one of the best IndyCar shows ever staged at this ‘ol girl in the middle of Ohio, it was one of the most competitive road races you will ever see.
Yeah, yeah, I know there was no dramatic finish because Rossi won by 12 seconds, but in terms of pure, unadulterated, wheel-to-wheel warfare on an undulating, worn surface that opened in 1962 for little sports cars, this was as good as it gets.
Much like Toronto, which featured lots of close calls and overtaking, the drivers were the stars at Mid-Ohio. In cars that were a handful to control up and over the hilly circuit, the boys looked like some of the best drivers on the planet. They ran hard and close and banged wheels a few times, but there wasn’t one lap of caution as they leaned on the throttle and each other for an entertaining one hour and 44 minutes.
“I can’t believe it, another race with no cautions,” said Will Power, who started second and finished third. “No-one makes mistakes, so it came down to strategy.”
As we saw, polesitter Rossi and engineer Jeremy Milless had the perfect strategy with only two pit stops, and easily covered this battle royale raging behind them. But a race with no yellows is always refreshing because it doesn’t let somebody make a bunch of pit stops and steal a win, or get a timely caution that vaults them into the lead. Nope, this race was all about pace, and Bourdais alone was worth the price of admission.
Starting last after crashing in qualifying, Seb had some red mist in him at the green flag, – along with an extra set of softer optional Firestone tires – and proceeded to carve his way to the front. Of the 188 passes recorded by IndyCar during the afternoon, the four-time IndyCar champ made 20 of them.
“Today made up for the big mess yesterday, but it’s still sad because this car could have been a winner today at our pace,” said the 39-year-old Frenchman, who with engineer Craig Hampson is still one of the most formidable pairings in IndyCar. “I don’t think it gets much better than going from 24th to sixth in a straight-up fight on a track that’s difficult to pass.”
Pagenaud also had a good day after qualifying 16th, while his Penske teammates lined up second and fourth.
“I could really be myself and attack during this race,” said the 2016 IndyCar champion, whose contract is up in four more races and undoubtedly has heard the rumors about Robert Wickens, Rossi and now Dixon being on The Captain’s want list. “The whole team is super-fast on ovals, and the last bit is getting where we need to be on road courses. But today [it] was very satisfying to prove that our showing during qualifying is not the true performance of this team.”
In addition to the drivers, the other star of this season has been Dallara’s universal aero kit. It’s provided some of the best racing we’ve ever seen on street and road courses.
“The car that Jay [Frye] and Bill [Pappas] came up with makes it hard to drive with less downforce, the grip is gone and you’ve got to be good to drive the thing,” said Power, who has two victories and two poles in 2018 and is second in most laps led, yet sits fourth in the point standings. “I think the fact you can follow real close now is also huge. But everything these guys are doing is the right thing. We’re not wide-open on ovals anymore, and Iowa was a hell of a race. It’s simply a better package all the way around.”
The talented Aussie, who’s amassed 34 wins in 12 seasons, ended his critique with an appraisal that pretty much sums up 2018: “The quality of drivers and teams is the highest it’s ever been. It’s good, hard racing with a quality field. And I love it.”