Three drivers with Ohio connections will start from varied locations on the 24-car grid when the Honda Indy 200 goes green on Sunday.
Graham Rahal, who hails from New Albany, Ohio — an hour’s drive from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course — just missed out on advancing to the Firestone Fast 6 by 0.1354 seconds. Instead of starting from one of the first three rows, Rahal’s No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda will roll off seventh.
In the first round of knockout qualifying, Rahal was fifth fastest, slotting in between Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Ed Jones and Scott Dixon. Remaining in the top six in Round 2 proved to be more of a challenge due to James Hinchcliffe’s crash at Turn 12 during the 10-minute outing.
“In the second round, the balance was pretty good,” said Rahal after qualifying. “Clearly I’m disappointed that it turned out the way that it did because I know that we had the speed to advance to Round 3.
“The Fifth Third Bank car felt really good once I got some temperature in the tires in Turns 5 and 6. I thought, ‘Okay, we’ve got a good shot at this thing.’ The next thing I know, the red flag is out.
“I’m very frustrated. We’re just going to have to work our way to the front from seventh. A lot can happen in a short period of time, so we’re going to have to work our way through it.”
Zach Veach, a fellow Ohioan who calls Stockdale his hometown, also felt the impact of the session-ending red flag in Round 2. The Andretti Autosport rookie has yet to crack the Firestone Fast 6 and missed out at Mid-Ohio where he’ll start from the 12th position.
“Every weekend we just keep getting quicker and quicker,” said Veach. “I was going down the back straight when they told me what the cutoff for the Fast 6 was going to be. I was about three tenths up on that.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I just have to finish this lap and we’re in.’ I get to Turn 6, and basically just need to limp it home from there and then the red flag came out. It’s just frustrating.”
While it’s mid-pack, the Mid-Ohio effort marks Veach’s fourth-best start of the season. His best starting position of the year came at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park where he started from the inside of the fourth row in Race 2. He started 11th at both Barber Motorsports Park and Road America.
With two road courses remaining in 2018, Veach will have additional chances to earn his first berth in the Firestone Fast 6, an achievement he’s anxious to obtain.
“It’s tough,” said Veach. “Not many times do you have a car this fast and when it’s easy to make the Fast 6 and it gets taken away from you, it’s just hard to swallow. I was really hoping to have my first fast six come this weekend at my home track — but we’ll work hard to move the Relay car forward tomorrow.”
Starting further back then both Rahal and Veach is Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey. While Harvey is an Englishman, his team — co-owned by Ohio native Mike Shank — is based in Pataskala, Ohio.
Harvey is competing in his fourth race of 2018 after driving Shank’s No. 60 Honda on the streets of St. Petersburg and Long Beach as well as at the Indianapolis 500.
Unable to match his best starting position of 17th at Long Beach, Harvey will start Sunday’s race from the 20th position, sharing Row 10 with Tony Kanaan.
“We have some work to do on the No. 60 car,” said Harvey. “Everyone was struggling with the track, but that makes it important for us to stay on the ball. I don’t know why we struggled today, but we will have to evolve our strategy for tomorrow.
“We will need the cards to fall our way, but I know these guys are great at strategy and I know they will give me a good car for the race tomorrow.”
With the championship coming down to the final five races of the season, IndyCar’s general fanbase will be focused on points leader Scott Dixon and his pursuers including Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power.
Local fans, however, will be keeping an eye on their hometown favorites as Rahal, Veach and Harvey take the green flag Sunday at 3:42 p.m. EDT.