Mid-Ohio notebook: Even veterans struggle to get handle on track

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Indy cars are racing on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the 32nd time with this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. It is one of the favorite circuits for the drivers but can also be one of the trickiest, even to successful Team Penske veterans Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power.

“I love Mid-Ohio,” two-time Mid-Ohio race winner Castroneves said. “You know every time you go out on this track, the conditions are going to change and you want to predict what will happen with the car, especially with putting on new tires.

“When you put new tires on the car, it’ll change a lot,” added Castroneves, who wound up ninth on the combined speed chart in today’s practice sessions in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet with a best lap of 1 minute, 4.7217 seconds (125.596 mph). “You might have some good cars putting up fast times, but once they put the red Firestone tires on, it’ll change, because the reds, the only time we try them (before the race) is in qualifying.”

Montoya, sixth today in the No. 2 Team Penske Hawk Performance Chevrolet (1:04.6034, 125.826 mph), also referenced the ever-changing conditions on the 2.258-mile permanent road course.

“This a tough track because, when we rubber up the track, the balance of the car changes a lot,” the 1999 Mid-Ohio winner said. “Sometimes, if you’re up in the top early in the weekend, it’s hard to stay up in the top throughout the weekend with all the changes we make to the car and the way the track changes.”

Power, in the No. 12 Team Penske Verizon Chevrolet, is a two-time pole sitter at Mid-Ohio whose best race finish on the circuit was second in 2010 and ’12. The Australian, coming off race wins in three of the past four races this season, agreed with his teammates.

“It’s a tough track the way it changes each session, the way the grip changes,” Power said before setting the fastest lap of the day in the afternoon session (1:04.1962, 126.624 mph) that was nearly four-tenths of a second better than the track record. “You have to keep updating your laps in qualifying to just reach the next round. In the race, you pray the yellows fall your way. Even if you have a strong car, yellows can ruin it for you, especially if you’re out front. Track position is key. Qualifying well here really pays off as long as the yellows fall your way.”

Qualifying for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio begins at 2 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). Race-day coverage for The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio begins Sunday at 2 p.m. ET on CNBC with the green flag to drop at 2:45 p.m. A race re-air on NBCSN begins at 5:30 p.m.

Rahal caught in his own family feud with drag racing wife, father-in-law

The competition never seems to end for Graham Rahal. On an off weekend from the Verizon IndyCar Series last weekend, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver watched his wife, drag racer Courtney Force, go up against her dad, John Force, in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals in Denver.

John Force ended a winless streak of more than a year and, at 67, became the oldest driver to win a Funny Car race when he defeated his daughter in the final.

“He got Courtney once again,” Rahal said. “But I can tell you, at least nobody was upset. (John) Force is pretty moody. When he doesn't win for a year, it was getting ugly around there. Luckily he won because now he's going to be happy for a while.

“I'm serious. Everybody around there is like, ‘Thank God!’ Even Courtney. … But everybody was pleased. Force needed that pretty bad. He was struggling for sure this year.”

Rahal has his own battles to worry about this weekend at The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Watch him wrestle his No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda around the road course here:

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