Week 5 of the iRacing IndyCar series saw the drivers take to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Don’t let the name fool you, this circuit is a definitive IndyCar track, and is currently a staple on the schedule. The man who won the last IndyCar race here was none other than Scott Dixon, who simply manhandled the field in a way that only a driver of his talent could. Other winners include Mario and Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alex Zanardi and Juan Montoya . . . to name a few.
Mid-Ohio is a quintessentially American track: Relatively tight, flowing, full of fast “roller coasters,” sweepers, and hairpins. It has little run-off, and what run-off it does have seems to just fling cars into the barriers. Since opening in 1962, the circuit has changed very little, with the main additions being the completion of the straightaway between Turn One and the Keyhole bypassing a chicane, and widening of the circuit on numerous occasions.
In this race, Steve Honan started on pole with Carlo Labati in second with Naruko Ishida on the inside of Row Two. As the green flew Labati used his wider apex out of the Carousel to get a better launch. He was not, however, able to clear Honan in time for the first corner and so the order at the top remained unchanged.
Coming out of the Keyhole, Ishida had the run on Labati and more than likely deployed one of his push to passes. He shot to the outside of Labati into the China Bends, but had to back off coming into the corner as the rest of the field nipped at their heels. The pack was tight, the sim racing frantic. At the head of the pack, the top three pulled away. Ishida, Labati, and Honan were all within .3s of each other, and each was playing a high speed game of chess. Honan kept his cool and made sure all four tires were within the lines. Labati and Ishida were pushing as hard as they could, each of them kicking up dust as they went along.
On Lap Nine traffic came into play. In the middle of the China Bends, Labati timed his passing to perfection, closing to Honan’s gearbox. Behind, the lapped car lifted, locking Ishida out of the apex. At the end of the lap, Labati got stranded behind a lapped car in the Carousel, allowing Honan to pull a gap and Ishida to close to within a few tenths.
Two laps later Labati saw his chance. Coming into the Keyhole, he set-up Honan and pulled alongside. Honan fought back, and the slower drive off speed of the two leaders put Ishida on their gearboxes. Ishida decisively claimed second from Labati, taking advantage of his own ability to gain a good drive out of the Keyhole with no one on his sides.
Ishida undoubtedly got onto his push to pass, and Honan probably did as well as the two streaked into the China Bends. The two braked at the last possible instant, staying side-by-side. Accelerated up the hill, Honan had to back off: In a power-move of the highest order, Ishida had gone from third to first in three corners.
With clean air on his nose, Ishida quickly left Labati and Honan in his wake. Labati seized second from Honan on Lap 13, and immediately set his sights back on Ishida. On Lap 15 with Ishida pinned, Labati once again flung it up the inside into the Keyhole, only to be denied again by his drive off.
Unable to make the pass on the track, Lap 17 saw Labati triy to shortpit Ishida, who answered a lap later. Ishida still pulled a gap, and the battle for the lead was effectively over.
Ishida came to the line for the win 4.7 seconds ahead of Labati, and about 16 seconds up on Honan. The race was a battle of three of the top drivers in the series, and the man who simply ran the best race had won. It was once again a high stakes battle pitting all of them in the same ring, a cage match in which only one man would return victorious. Throughout the ups and downs, the victor was Ishida. Playing a game of high speed chess, he timed his moves to perfection, enabling him to storm to the victory.
In what was probably the best race of the year (and one of the most fun to write about), three of the series’s giants went to battle with no quarter asked and none given. In short, it was simply an incredible, incredible race.