IndyCar boasts perhaps the most robust ladder system in America for drivers working their way up from modestly-powered (and budgeted) race machines to world-class competition. IndyCar old-timers, of course, recall the USAC roots we once took for granted — these will be on full display when SVRA visits the Brickyard again in August. But today, success in top-rung racing requires a little more, shall we say, balanced background, and the product of the Road to Indy program was on full display as IndyCar rolled into central Ohio in late July. Among the Road to Indy graduates, this year’s event featured five drivers from the 2015 class alone.
In the month or so since Mid-Ohio hosted their SVRA event, the damp spring gave way to a warm, dry Ohio summer, and the grounds were in top shape to host the biggest event of the season.
This year’s Road to Indy features new sponsor Cooper Tires, who assumed title sponsorship from long-time sponsor Mazda. Their three supporting series each squeezed in two points-paying races on Saturday and Sunday, along with races for the MX-5 cup and an inaugural appearance by Stadium Super Trucks, which were an unexpected hoot. Robbie Gordon brought eight baja-style trucks and a host of unexpected drivers, including Arie Luyundyk Jr., and points leader Matt Brabham, who I’d seen last in SVR’s Indy Pro-Am last year. Versatility, indeed.
The stars of the weekend started laying down some aggressive times on their way to Firestone Fast Six qualifying. Rookie Colton Herta and points contender Alexander Rossi were fast early in the weekend, but Will Power smashed his way to pole with a last-lap flyer. “Mr. Mid-Ohio” Scott Dixon unexpectedly missed the round of six competing for pole, and found himself lurking in eighth for the race start on Sunday afternoon.
Following the second races for all the supporting series on Sunday, a huge crowd welcomed drivers under perfect skies, and they were treated to a fantastic show. As in previous years’ events here, pit stop strategy played a big part in the event, with teams weighing plans to make two or three stops over 90 laps. Two stops turned out to be the winning formula, with Honda engines making that strategy work just a little better than the Chevys. Power gave up the lead as pit stops cycled, and Scott Dixon bubbled up the pylon to lead by around the midpoint of the race. Late laps saw Dixon’s tires fall off a cliff, and an impressive run by Felix Rosenkvist pressured Dixon to the end, resulting in the closest IndyCar finish ever at Mid-Ohio. Dixon prevailed, though, for his sixth Mid-Ohio victory and a Honda podium sweep.