CAN SIMONA EMULATE SEBASTIEN? – If trophies were given for attitude and resiliency in the face of a desperate situation, Simona de Silvestro would already have 11 of them this year, always keeping a positive outlook despite wallowing in the morass that is the uncompetitive Lotus engine. With little salvageable from the year, the best she and the HVM team can hope for is a Sebastien Bourdais at Barber emulation, and Mid-Ohio could be the place it happens.
In her first two seasons, de Silvestro's shown strongest here. She took the aging and overweight “Pork Chop” chassis to a top-10 start and eighth-place finish in 2010, following up with a respectable 14th to 12th last year.
Without even having a sniff of advancing out of Q1 this season, de Silvestro may not have what's become a weekly 10-spot grid penalty this race to coincide with either a bum engine or engine upgrade. She genuinely outqualified cars at both Toronto and Edmonton, which, given the engine's weaknesses, is an accomplishment.
If a place exists where de Silvestro could shine, it's here, as the flowing nature of the road course, with only three straights of reasonable length, could play to her and the car's strengths. Speed through the corners and not losing an inordinate amount of time on the straights could see her qualify higher than the last couple rows, and perhaps she could leap forward on strategy. It may be a slightly optimistic prediction, but I have a hunch this is the weekend de Silvestro can do something close to what Bourdais achieved at Barber and what Oriol Servia has on several occasions.
BREAKOUT PERFORMERS? – There's plenty of negative adjectives one could use to describe Marco Andretti's season, especially cast in the context of his teammates. Still, Mid-Ohio's a track where Andretti at least has the potential to thrive. Top-five qualifying efforts in 2007 and 2008 are on his record, as are respectable sixth-, ninth- and seventh-place finishes in the last three years. Given his passing prowess at Barber earlier this year, and the urgency of needing some sort of result (one top-10 in 11 races this year), he could play a spoiling role in the outcome.
Three Honda runners to watch include Team Barracuda-BHA's Alex Tagliani, Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson and Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Takuma Sato. Perhaps the most underrated driver of the year, Tagliani's been given a new lease on life thanks to the team's new Honda engine lease. Three successive Firestone Fast Six appearances plus a record of six top-10 finishes in six Mid-Ohio starts should see Tag fully on it and close to the front this weekend.
Wilson will want a rebound from his practice accident a year ago. Wilson's always someone to be reckoned with and, by this point in the season the Dale Coyne team should have its road course setup rectified after an off-pace and anonymous weekend at Barber. Sato, the Edmonton runner-up, finished fourth at Mid-Ohio a year ago and had solid pace at Barber before a mechanical issue ended his race.
Mike Conway, JR Hildebrand and Tony Kanaan all qualified in the top six at Barber, though much of that was down to Hunter-Reay's spin that brought out a red flag and prevented some perhaps faster drivers from posting laps quick enough to advance. Conway's podium at Toronto had a decent follow-up at Edmonton with a 23rd-to-11th drive, while both the Panther and KV teams had a rough weekend of trial and error on setups in Edmonton.
Lastly, Oriol Servia – as this is the last ABC race of the season, expect a top-five finish from the Catalan. Why, you ask? Servia's four top-five finishes this season have come in the last four races on ABC (Indianapolis, Belle Isle, Milwaukee, Toronto), and all from 14th or worse on the grid. It's a weird streak but I wouldn't bet against it continuing. Surprisingly, he has yet to score a top-10 in the leftover races. Speaking of ABC…
NBC CREW, ABC RACE – IndyCar announced Mid-Ohio as one of six ABC races at the start of the year. Still, with a number of ABC's regular on-air talent, such as lead announcer Marty Reid and pit reporters Vince Welch and Dr. Jerry Punch, on duty for ESPN's NASCAR coverage, and the ESPN NASCAR crew split between Pocono (Sprint Cup) and Iowa (Nationwide), few IndyCar holdovers would be available for Mid-Ohio. NBC Sports Network, meanwhile, is part of the NBC Universal family of networks airing the Olympic Games, and doesn't have an available time slot.
The end result is the NBCSN IndyCar crew working for an ABC telecast; however, as it's an ABC weekend, there won't be a TV broadcast of IndyCar qualifying. To further complicate matters, ABC will also be airing the ALMS race at Mid-Ohio live on Saturday – but with its designated, full-season crew.
As in Long Beach, Townsend Bell will be a candidate for “busiest during the weekend” award, racing in the Alex Job Lotus Evora in ALMS GT and reporting from the pits for IndyCar. Fortunately, his ALMS commitments will be over by the time IndyCar comes on air on Sunday.
On a spotter's guide note, three cars – Ryan Hunter-Reay (Pelotonia), Ryan Briscoe (PPG) and Dario Franchitti (GE Reveal) will have alternate liveries this weekend.
• The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio airs live, Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on ABC.