Pagenaud reasserts his hold on title fight at Mid-Ohio

Simon Pagenaud, of France. drives during the IndyCar Honda Indy 200 (Tom E. Puskar/AP)

What a weekend for IndyCar drivers at the Mid-Ohio Sportscar course just outside Lexington, Ohio. There were some surprises, a difference of opinion after an on-track incident and a championship standings leader who reasserted his hold on the title fight.

At quick glance the weekend appears to have been routine for Penske driver Simon Pagenaud. He claimed the pole position for the sixth occasion this year and did it with a new track record for the second time. The Frenchman then appeared to be hampered by an untimely caution flag but no matter, it all worked out in the end and recorded his fourth win of the season and increased his championship lead to 58 points.

A key moment was a late restart when Pagenaud aggressively charged his way around teammate Will Power, who was running second at the time. The two teammates battled through several corners, bumped several times when they were side by side with Pagenaud coming out ahead in the fight and eventually assuming the race lead.

Some tried to manufacture controversy and say the two touching was a big deal, but to me that’s good hard racing that we don’t see enough of. Will Power said the same afterwards.

The backstory is just that, Pagenaud was hampered by a strained back all weekend with pain so severe he needed assistance to get out of the car. The IndyCar medical staff helped him manage the pain and the race victory certainly helped also.

Five-time Mid-Ohio winner Scott Dixon had contact with another title challenger, Helio Castroneves, early on and it ruined both their days. Dixon believes Castroneves pinched him off and Castroneves wasn’t quite sure when asked. I’ll call it a racing incident and both deserve some blame for the result.

With passing extremely difficult at Mid-Ohio the pit out of sequence strategy game was played by several drivers and many had good results.

Conor Daly, who’s shown great flashes this season, led 22 laps and finished sixth after starting dead last. Graham Rahal took a strategy call to victory last year and came up with a fourth-place finish on Sunday. And Carlos Munoz moved up from 15th at the start to finish third.

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe followed up his third-place result in Toronto two weeks ago with a fifth-place finish yesterday. After losing ground early due to an ill handling car Hinchcliffe was penalized for a pit speed violation and sent to the back. The team improved the performance throughout the day and by the end the Canadian was passing cars and moving forward, a solid result after a difficult day.

Schmidt Peterson teammate Mikhail Aleshin also displayed his talents and led the race twice for a total of 33 laps, more than any other driver. Early strategy moved the Russian to the front of the field and once there he seemed to have no difficulty maintaining his position.

It would all go wrong during a pit stop, however. Aleshin’s team completed service and cleared him to exit his pit box but Josef Newgarden was entering his stall just ahead of him. The two had contact and significant damage. That along with two penalties for the incident ruined what could have been a very good day for the team.

All this action packed into a two hour race is why drivers and fans alike enjoy Mid-Ohio.

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