IndyCar pit lane games in play at Mid-Ohio

The first four pit boxes (Alexander Rossi is on the far left of the shot; Josef Newgarden is on the far right). Picture: IndyCar Live

Pit box selection has become a talking point at this weekend’s Mid-Ohio IndyCar round due to an eye-catching choice by Alexander Rossi.

As the pole-sitter at previous event, the #27 Andretti Autosport crew is entitled to first pick this weekend, while the #2 Team Penske crew of Josef Newgarden gets second pick given he qualified second last time out at Road America, and so on.

The #27 entry has made the unusual choice of the fourth box at Event 9 of the season, leaving #2 to take the first one.

That puts Newgarden in Box 1 for the second year in a row, after it was he who qualified on pole for the preceding event of the 2021 season, matching what Takuma Sato did in like circumstances in 2020.

Why Rossi’s crew has deviated that from the norm would seem to be because of how the boxes have been crammed into the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course pit lane this weekend.

Such is the North American pit lane system, the size and/or position of pit boxes at a given track may vary from year to year with variation in the size of the field.

One theory is that the position of Box 1 relative to pit exit makes for an awkward outward manoeuvre, while Box 4 has the added benefit of following a gap in the wall for the entrance to the paddock.

A total of 27 cars have been entered for the 2022 Mid-Ohio event, one up on last year in what was already a tight pit lane.

There are thus now four pit boxes beyond said gap in the wall, rather than the three that were there last year, and boxes are 35 feet (10.7m) long this year instead of the 40 feet (12.2m) lengths of last year.

That is, Box 2 is in the old Box 1 position, and the exit end of Box 1 is 20 feet (6.1m) closer to the speed derestriction line than it was last year.

Newgarden, however, is quite happy to have Box 1, and shrugged off what disadvantages it does present.

The gap in the pit wall before Rossi’s box. Picture: IndyCar Live

“I was happy he declined it; I’ll happily take it,” he said on the television broadcast during Practice 1.

“It worked good last year; I think it’ll work fine this year.

“I would have taken this spot if it was my choice.”

Asked if it might be difficult to get back into the through lane, Newgarden responded, “I think if we have a bobble, then potentially.

“But, I’ll hopefully bank on my guys here – they’re really, really good at what they do – and I think even when you have a traffic scenario, we can generally work it out.

“Hopefully we don’t have to test that this weekend, but I do like this position.

“Like I said, if it was up to us, and we were P1, choosing it, I would choose this slot.”

Ironically, while Rossi will have an easier entry to his box, it was the exit which was costly for him at Road America, three weeks ago.

Then, he was jumped in pit lane by Newgarden, the eventual race winner, after Scott McLaughlin’s arrival in the box ahead made it difficult for the Andretti driver to get out of his.

Alex Palou should have the best exit this weekend, having opted for Box 5, just before the gap in the wall.

The Spaniard qualified third-fastest at Road America, and hence the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing crew was next to choose after Rossi’s and Newgarden’s.

Palou was second-quickest in Practice 1 at Mid-Ohio, at a deficit of two tenths of a second to Newgarden.

Another hour-long practice session is coming up tonight at 23:30 AEST, before qualifying tomorrow morning from 04:45 AEST.

Both sessions can be seen live and ad-free on Stan Sport.

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