LEXINGTON, Ohio – Commitment. To a man, the drivers preparing for this afternoon’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio say that’s what it’s all about.
The 90-lap Verizon IndyCar Series race (2 p.m. ET on CNBC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network; 5:30 p.m. re-air on NBCSN) demands driver commitment for each and every grueling lap on the twisting, turning, undulating 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course permanent circuit. With the aerodynamic bodywork kits from manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda, additional downforce created has yielded record lap speeds and more wear and tear on the drivers.
“Yeah, it's a physical day,” admitted Graham Rahal, the defending race winner and home track favorite in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda that will roll off sixth today.
“It wears you out around here right now, these speeds. It takes, for me, some mental reprogramming of the mind around here when you see the (lap) times. Your brain is not telling your throttle foot to go yet, and you have to.”
The drivers who reached the Firestone Fast Six portion of Verizon P1 Award qualifying Saturday agreed that their heart rates peak at about 190 beats per minute in the race car this weekend. With the cars now running nearly wide open through Turns 1 and 11 – something impossible in the past – it can be a literally breathtaking experience.
“I come into the pits (during practice) and everyone gets plugged in their intercom when they get into the pits (to talk over the radio between driver and crew), and I'm a little embarrassed because I'm out of breath,” said Josef Newgarden, starting third today in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium/ECR Chevrolet. “I can't talk. I'm like, ‘All right, give me a minute.’ You honestly can't breathe.
“It's like you just ran a sprint for a mile and tried to do an interview. It's really, really tough, and you're just worn out. I run a high heart rate. I bet my heart rate is 190 just pegged the entire time. You're blistering out there.”
And with the incredible depth of talent within the field, it forces drivers to work hard each and every lap.
“If you look back at '08, '09, you could drive a race and probably win it at 80 percent, and today you just can't,” Rahal said. “Everybody is so talented, you look at the depth of it, you've got to be on top of it, pushing the limits at all times.”
Pushing the limits … also known as being committed.
“There are other places that are just as big a challenge in different ways,” said Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet that starts fifth today. “Running at Detroit and Toronto, as rough as it is, is a big, physical challenge, but in a different way. I think here it's just pure commitment and pure power compared to anywhere else we go.”
The driver most committed may well wind up in victory lane today.
The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio fast facts:
Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a 2.258-mile permanent road course in Lexington, Ohio
Race distance: 90 laps/203.22 miles
Fuel: 75 gallons of Sunoco E85R ethanol
Notes: This will be the 12th of 16 races to be completed on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Simon Pagenaud is the championship leader, 48 points ahead of Will Power.