LEXINGTON, Ohio – As Maxwell Smart used to say on the 1960s sitcom “Get Smart” – “Missed it by that much.”
That pretty much sums up Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, who won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio with a lap around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid Ohio Sports Car Course with a time of 1:05.351 for a speed of 124.385 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet. But Hunter-Reay missed the course record, which is jointly held by Gil de Ferran in 2000 and Dario Franchitti in 1999 after both drivers had times of 1:05.394 (124.394 mph).
Hunter-Reay missed it by .005-seconds.
“That sucks,” Hunter-Reay said when told of the how close he came to getting the track record. Then he was reminded he got the pole.
“Well, that’s some good news. That would have been nice to have the track record around here, a track I respect so much, been here since I was 16 doing Skip Barber stuff, fresh out of go-karts. That would have been really cool.”
And that pole is very important to Hunter-Reay as he enters Sunday’s race third in the standings 69-points behind points leader Helio Castroneves, who qualified a disappointing 15th at 1:06.2280 (122.740 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet for Team Penske.
“We are cognizant of it,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar Series champion. “Last year we clawed back from bigger deficits. Being late in the season we need to go like we did last year at the end of the season, which is go for broke. We’re not interested in banking results right now and going for second or third in the championship because nobody really remembers who finishes second a couple years from now. It’s all about the series championship.
“We’re going for it. Hopefully, this is the first step in it. But we got a long, long way to go including tomorrow’s fight of the win.”
Will Power of Team Penske starts on the outside of Row 1 after his fast lap at 1:05.5359 (124.036 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet for Team Penske.
Scott Dixon has won this race the past two seasons and has four Mid-Ohio wins since 2007. He has also won the last three-straight IndyCar races this season and starts third with a lap at 1:05.7051 (123.716 mph) in a Dallara/Honda for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing.
“There are obviously more than just Helio in the championship,” Dixon said. “Hunter-Reay has been strong. Marco Andretti, too. We got six races to go. Anything can happen, mechanicals or anything like that. We’re not focusing on Helio; we’re just focusing on what we need to do.
“As far as the track, I think it’s a track that obviously it suited to Ganassi. To see all three cars in the Fast Six is impressive and good to see.
I think it’s been a good combination. For us sometimes through the past, when we got a win here, a little bit of luck has been on our side as well. Hopefully that continues to roll and we’ll see how it goes. It’s a fun little track. Hopefully they don’t take it off the calendar.”
Dixon indicated he spends more time focusing on his race than where the other championship competitors are throughout the 90-lap contest but did admit that it does cross his mind.
“You’re going to be aware of where everybody is, to be honest,” Dixon said. “As I keep saying, we’re not just racing Helio. Yeah, he’s leading the champion. Hunter-Reay is in striking distance. Have to look at the points to see where the other people are, but it’s still wide open.
“Yes, after the race, you’ll look to see who finished where. Hopefully you’re not looking at that before the end of the race and you’re out of the car.”
Although he didn’t capture the pole, Dixon is starting in a prime position and knows the path to victory lane better than any driver in the series. In IZOD IndyCar Series competition since it started racing at this track in 2007, Dixon has never finished outside of the top five at Mid-Ohio.
“Qualifying was actually a lot tougher than I figured it was going to be, especially from Q1,” Dixon said. “I don’t know whether it was the heat or whatever. The balance was kind of tough for me to find. We had to make a few sort of on-the-spot changes to get through Q1, Q2, to get onto the Firestone Fast Six.
“In the Firestone Fast Six, the car had balance. Huge credit to Hunter-Reay to get through the first two segments on one set of tires. I know the yellow helped him. To have the guts to roll through and attempt that with the competition we have at the moment was pretty ballsy. It’s a good starting spot for us, P3. Hopefully we can have another good result.”