Rossi works two-stop strategy to winning perfection at Mid-Ohio
It made all the difference as Rossi picked up his fourth career win and second of the season. Rossi also advanced one position in the championship standings, moving into second place, 46 points behind Scott Dixon after 13 of 17 races.
“It’s what we needed. We said coming into this weekend that we have to execute for five (race) weekends in a row; this is the start of that, hopefully,” Rossi said. “The NAPA Andretti team was so on it today. They gave me an amazing race car, and this one’s for them.”
Starting from the pole position after winning the Verizon P1 Award in Saturday qualifying, Rossi led 66 laps around Mid-Ohio’s 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road course. After achieving the necessary fuel mileage early in the race, he and strategist Rob Edwards decided to gamble on the two-stop strategy.
He pitted for Sunoco E85 ethanol and Firestone tires on Laps 29 and 59, running the final 31 laps (70 miles) on a single tank. When Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens made his third pit stop from the lead on Lap 65, Rossi assumed first place and was never threatened.
“It was great strategy all day,” Rossi said. “We knew we could two-stop it if we committed early, and that’s what we did. Great fuel mileage from Honda, great tire life from Firestone, so really an all-around perfect day.
“On races like that, you’ve just got to be really patient. It’s hard sometimes, but Rob is a very calming force and just talked me through it, and we were able to manage it. We were planning on seeing if we could hit a (fuel) number. Then if we could, we were going to do two stops. It was a little bit up to me to see if we could manage it. When we were able to hit it pretty easily, then, yeah, we committed.”
The victory was No. 60 for Andretti Autosport in Indy car competition, but its first at Mid-Ohio.
Wickens, the series rookie driving the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, finished second to equal his best result set at ISM Raceway in the second race of the season. Wickens now has seven top-five finishes this season and is solidly in sixth place in the standings.
“We stuck to our guns, and I thought our (three-stop) strategy worked well,” Wickens said. “The problem is, on my third stint, I just got stuck in a whole gaggle of cars. Unfortunately, they were on reds (Firestone alternate tires) and I was on black (primary tires), and I couldn’t make it through and just lost loads of time. I was probably losing about a second a lap for a good 10-15 laps.
“It’s unfortunate. Nevertheless, the Lucas Oil car went from P5 to P2. I can’t complain.”
Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in his 200th Indy car race, just ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
Dixon, the five-time Mid-Ohio winner driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, made career start No. 300 and finished fifth. Dixon, third on the all-time Indy car wins list with 44, has now placed in the top five in exactly half of his races.
With 150 top-fives, Dixon moved ahead of A.J. Foyt and alone into second place in Indy car history, trailing only Mario Andretti (194).
“Basically, a frustrating day,” Dixon said after seeing his points lead shrink by 16. “I think the car had some good speed. We were really quick early on in a stint, (then) we kind of faded a little bit. The track condition was just not great.
“We would pit and one of the cars in front of us, or right around us, would pit, too, and we’d fall behind them and it just kind of put us back. It was one of those days where one little, tiny move could have jumped us another two or three spots.”
Sebastien Bourdais, who started last after crashing in qualifying on Saturday, carved through the field to finish sixth in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda. It’s the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver’s best finish since he placed fourth at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in May.
The race ran under green-flag conditions the entire way, for the third time in 34 Indy car races at Mid-Ohio but first since 2013.
After 13 races, Dixon leads Rossi by 46 points, Newgarden by 60, Power by 87 and Ryan Hunter-Reay by 95. The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, Aug. 19. Live coverage starts at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Mazda Road to Indy recap
One driver in each of the three levels of the INDYCAR-sanctioned Mazda Road to Indy development ladder completed a weekend sweep of wins at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
In Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Patricio O’Ward led an Andretti Autosport podium sweep for the second straight day. O’Ward’s victory was his seventh of the season and pushed his points lead to 32 over teammate Colton Herta, who finished second.
In the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) won for the second day in a row. The 17-year-old holds a 31-point lead in the standings over Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport).
In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, Kyle Kirkwood completed a sweep of the three weekend races. The Cape Motorsports driver has already clinched the season title.
Rossi puts it all on line for one lap to win Mid-Ohio pole
By design, Rossi waited until less than two minutes remained in the Firestone Fast Six before going on track at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He knew that his red-sidewall Firestone alternate tires were at their best for him on the first full lap around the 2.258-mile permanent road course.
“For whatever reason, we had a one-lap car on reds, so that was a unique thing that’s happened for us this year,” Rossi said. “We used it to our advantage. That’s the reason we sat there (until late in the Firestone Fast Six). We knew that was where our car was going to be best – one lap, going out.”
The Andretti Autosport driver will lead the 24-car field to the green flag in Sunday’s 90-lap race (live at 3 p.m. ET, CNBC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network; same-day encore telecast at 6:30 p.m., NBCSN).
“This one was really special to me,” Rossi said. “Honestly, I think road courses have not been my strongest kind of attribute in the rise in the (Verizon) IndyCar Series, for whatever reason. It’s something that has been our biggest focus really from the middle of last year.
“To be able to do that here on arguably the hardest road course we go to is a huge thing, and one that there’s a big wave of happiness and relief that kind of washed over me when I was told we got pole.”
Will Power qualified second in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, with a lap of 1:04.8939 (125.263 mph). It marks the eighth time this season that the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner will start from the front row.
“Yeah, happy with front row,” Power said. “Obviously, it’s a real track position track. It’s difficult to pass and everyone is fast these days, so qualifying means a lot. Alex just pumped out one really good lap there (to win the pole).
“I thought my lap was really good and then I came in and saw what he did, and that was a solid lap.”
Row 2 on the Mid-Ohio grid mirrors the front row by team. Rossi’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, Ryan Hunter-Reay, qualified third in the No. 28 DHL Honda (1:04.9896, 125.078 mph). Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and defending Mid-Ohio winner Josef Newgarden, Power’s teammate, qualified fourth in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:05.1335, 124.802 mph).
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens qualified fifth in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda (1:05.1747, 124.723 mph). Max Chilton equaled his career-best start by qualifying sixth in the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet (1:06.6172, 122.023 mph).
Several contenders had qualifying efforts derailed by incidents during the first two rounds. Sebastien Bourdais, the 2014 Mid-Ohio pole sitter, slid into the Turn 2 tire barrier in the first round and will start last in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda. James Hinchcliffe had just set the fastest lap of Round 2 when he went off track and into the tires in Turn 12. Penalized his two fastest laps in the round, Hinchcliffe will start 10th in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda.
Championship leader Scott Dixon was on track when the Hinchcliffe incident brought out the red flag, halting his hot lap. Dixon, a five-time winner at Mid-Ohio, will start ninth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and takes a 62-point lead over Newgarden into the race.
“I think it would’ve been tight for us without the red flag to get through (to the Firestone Fast Six), but you never really know. The PNC Bank car was good, and we had definitely made gains from Q1 to Q2 there.”
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio is the 13th of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
Mazda Road to Indy recap
Patricio O’Ward (Andretti Autosport) won the first race of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, leading all 30 laps. It was O’Ward’s sixth win of the season and helped extend his points lead, with the second race of the weekend on Sunday.
Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) led all 25 laps of green-flag racing to win the first Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires race of the Mid-Ohio doubleheader weekend. It was VeekKay’s third straight win and fifth of the season, tightening Pro Mazda championship battle with Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) heading into Sunday’s second race.
Kyle Kirkwood, who clinched the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda title by winning a day earlier, drove to victory in the second race of the weekend tripleheader. Starting second, Kirkwood (Cape Motorsports) took the lead on the opening lap when pole sitter Kaylen Frederick braked too hard in Turn 2 and went off course. Kirkwood drove on to his eighth consecutive win and ninth of the season.
Power nabs Verizon P1 Award at Iowa for 52nd career pole position
IOWA CORN 300: Qualifying results
Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power earned his second straight Verizon P1 Award at Iowa Speedway and third career pole position at the 0.894-mile oval with an average speed of 182.391 mph.
“It wasn’t easy, but the car was great,” said Power, whose 34 race wins are tied for eighth on the all-time chart. “You really have to drive it. It was quite difficult over all the bumps, but we tested here (last week) and unloaded well (this weekend). Yeah, it’s the start of a good weekend. I’ve had a couple of bad ones and I want a really good weekend this weekend.”
Power has finished 18th and 23rd in the two most recent races this season, sliding from first to fifth in the championship standings. He hopes to turn things around in Sunday’s race and earn his first win at the track, though no pole sitter has won in the same year at Iowa in 11 previous Indy car races.
“I love this place,” added Power, who has qualified in the top three in 10 of the 11 Verizon IndyCar Series races this season and started in the top 10 in 21 straight races dating to last season. “It’s a real tough little bullring oval and, man, I’ve been trying to win this (race) for so long. So, obviously, starting the race in a good spot.”
Team Penske, which has won four straight poles at Iowa and seven overall, dominated qualifying by taking three of the top four spots. Josef Newgarden, the 2016 Iowa winner when he drove for Ed Carpenter Racing, qualified second in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet at 181.160 mph. Simon Pagenaud will start fourth after qualifying at 180.313 mph in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay prevented Team Penske from sweeping the top three spots in qualifying. Hunter-Reay qualified an Iowa-best third in the No. 28 DHL Honda at 180.681 mph.
“We just missed it a little bit, but good job by the team,” Hunter-Reay said. “The (No.) 28 car was decent. We got a little bit light overall. I couldn’t commit to full throttle leaving the corner, just a bit too much understeer.
“It’s unfortunate to not be on pole, but when we miss it and we are still starting P3, it’s not too bad. Tomorrow is where all the points are paid, and I think we can get the DHL team a fourth Iowa Corn 300 win.”
Andretti Autosport has won seven Iowa races with five different drivers. Hunter-Reay has three of those victories, coming in 2012, ’14 and ’15.
Scott Dixon, the championship leader after 10 races with a 45-point lead over Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, qualified sixth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (179.526 mph).
A final 60-minute practice is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. ET and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Live coverage of Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300, the 11th of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, begins at 2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network that includes XM 209 and Sirius 217.
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