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‘Dixie’ Headed South As Herta Stars At Mid-Ohio

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 15 2020

Colton Herta had plenty to celebrate at Mid-Ohio on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Last year’s INDYCAR phenom _ remember Colton Herta? _ re-introduced himself to the NTT IndyCar Series with a dominating victory in Sunday’s Race 2 of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Starting on-pole, Herta led an Andretti Autosport podium sweep in the No. 88 Honda, beating teammate Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 Honda by 1.3826-seconds. Fellow-Andretti driver Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third in the No. 28 Honda, 2.4965-seconds behind Herta. 

Rounding out the top-five in Lexington, Ohio, were Ohio native Graham Rahal in the No. 15  Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Marcus Ericsson in the No. 8 Ganassi Racing Honda.

“We’ve been knocking on the door almost every weekend,” said Herta, 21, who scored his third career series win. “We’ve had the pace. But for some reason or another, one thing has gone wrong or this thing has gone wrong. We finally put everything together. We got the pole, had a stellar car. Everybody on the Capstone Turbine crew gave me an incredible car.”

Heading into Sunday’s race, Andretti Autosport had posted just two podium finishes this season _ third-place results by Rossi at Road America-2 and in Saturday’s Race 1 at Mid-Ohio. Andretti Autosport’s last win came when Rossi dominated the field at Road America in June 2019.

Incredibly, the last time Andretti Autosport swept the podium was in 2005 on the Streets of St. Petersburg in Florida. Dan Wheldon scored the win while Andretti teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta _ Colton’s father _ followed in the top four positions for what then was known as Andretti Green Racing.

“It’s so huge, so huge,” team-owner Michael Andretti said. “Thank God we came here to Mid-Ohio. We were a little worried that we weren’t going to be able to get here, but Kevin Savoree and those guys did a great job getting this race on and it paid off for us, man. One-two-three. The way things have been going for us this year, this is huge for us, the whole team.”

Herta led 57 of 75 laps after winning the pole earlier in the day. “Yeah, I mean, it makes it easier, especially at a place like Mid-Ohio where passing is at a premium,” Herta said. “Obviously we had stopped very early so we were able to hit a bigger fuel number in the second stint, and I think that really made the difference because we were able to hit that fuel number and not really worry about the cars behind because we could control the pace. Yeah, they couldn’t really get close to us. So I think for sure we were one of the dominant cars if not the most dominant car.

“Michael was very happy about it. You know, not having a lot of hardware and really not having a lot to show for this year, it meant a lot. I’m sure we’re coming home with more trophies today than the whole team has had all year.”

The race began ominously as Herta and second-place starter Santino Ferrucci went side-by-side into Turn 4 of the 2.258-mile/13-turn circuit. Ferrucci lost control of his No. 18 SealMaster Honda and went into the grass. Ferrucci returned to the track, where he collided with Dale Coyne Racing teammate Alex Palou in the No. 55 Honda and Felix Rosenqvist in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Ferrucci was assessed a penalty for avoidable contact, and Palou and Rosenqvist were eliminated from the race. Ferrucci finished 14th, while Rosenqvist and Palou finished 22nd and 23rd, respectively.

The miscues continued on Lap 22 when point-leader Scott Dixon made a costly mistake in Turn 1 that led to a disappointing 10th-place finish after starting third. Dixon powered through the fastest corner on the track and lost control of his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, spinning on corner exit. Dixon didn’t hit anything, but the track remained under green flag conditions and Dixon fell to 20th position.

“I think we kind of tried to have the tires a little bit better for longer in the run, so I think our cold pressures were really low,” Dixon said. “We really struggled on the restarts, especially the initial start and that restart. Plus, everybody behind me had reds (soft compound Firestone tires) on. So, I got aggressive, hit the overtake on the exit of (Turn) 1, and just way too much Honda power there and spun the tires and spun the car.

“So, it totally caught me off guard. Total rookie mistake. I’m so bummed for the team. It’s just such a stupid mistake I shouldn’t have made. Obviously, the car was fast. We were able to fight our way through the pack. It should have been an easy points day.”

A five-time series champion, Dixon spent the rest of the race trying to rebound, running as high as fourth while on an alternate pit strategy. Dixon was forced to give up his track position on Lap 59 when he pitted for the final time. With the freshest tires in the field, he rallied for his second 10th-place finish of the weekend.

The day’s challenges impacted Dixon’s standing in the championship. His lead over Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden shrunk to 72 points, continuing a downward slide for Dixon during the last three races. Since his most recent win in the first race of a doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., on Aug. 29, Dixon has lost 45 points to Newgarden.

The two-time/reigning series champ, Newgarden finished eighth in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet. He gained four points on Dixon after entering the day down 76 points.

Three races remain in a 2020 season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Next event is the INDYCAR Harvest GP doubleheader Oct. 2-3 on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course. The season will end with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, Oct. 25.

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Results Sunday of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Race 2 NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.258-mile/13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (1) Colton Herta, Honda, 75, Running
    2. (10) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 75, Running
    3. (8) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 75, Running
    4. (12) Graham Rahal, Honda, 75, Running
    5. (15) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 75, Running
    6. (6) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    7. (17) Will Power, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    8. (9) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    9. (21) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    10. (3) Scott Dixon, Honda, 75, Running
    11. (11) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    12. (19) Jack Harvey, Honda, 75, Running
    13. (18) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    14. (2) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 75, Running
    15. (14) Oliver Askew, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    16. (16) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    17. (13) Zach Veach, Honda, 75, Running
    18. (22) Takuma Sato, Honda, 75, Running
    19. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 75, Running
    20. (7) Marco Andretti, Honda, 74, Running
    21. (20) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 71, Running
    22. (5) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 4, Contact
    23. (4) Alex Palou, Honda, 2, Contact

    Race Statistics
    Winner’s average speed:107.763 mph
    Time of Race:1:34:17.3968
    Margin of victory: 1.3826-seconds
    Cautions: 2 for 6 laps
    Lead changes: 5 among 4 drivers

Lap Leaders

Herta 1 – 15
Sato 16 – 31
Herta 32 – 45
Rahal 46
Ericsson 47
Herta 48 – 75

NTT IndyCar Series point standings _ 1, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 456; 2, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 384; 3, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 338; 4, Colton Herta, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport, 327; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 306; 6, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 301; 7, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 300; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 277; 9, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 260; 10, Santino Ferrucci, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, 249.

UPDATED 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE/RACE WINNER

Saturday, June 6 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, July 4 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course 1 (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, July 11 _ Road America Race 1, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, July 12 _ Road America Race 2, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Friday, July 17 _Iowa Speedway Race 1, Newton (Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske)

Saturday, July 18 _ Iowa Speedway Race 2, Newton (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Aug. 23 _ Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing)

Saturday, Aug. 29 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Race 1, Madison, Ill. (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, Aug. 30 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway Race 2, Madison, Ill. (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Saturday, Sept. 12 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Race 1, Lexington, Ohio (Will Power, Team Penske)

Sunday, Sept. 13 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Race 2, Lexington, Ohio (Colton Herta, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport)

Friday, Oct. 2 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 1

Saturday, Oct. 3 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 2

Sunday, Oct. 25 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 15 2020
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