On Monday, under a bright blue sky and amid comfortable temperatures suitable for a drive through the country, Sam Hornish Jr. found the perfect place.
The Ohio native wheeled his bright yellow No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts/WURTH Ford Mustang around the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course near Lexington, giving several dozen fans a feel for just how the NASCAR Nationwide Series stock cars will look on the series’ newest course.
Mid-Ohio hosts the inaugural Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 on Aug. 16-17. Hornish unloaded his Penske Racing ride for test laps around the 2.25-mile, 13-turn road course.
His first impression?
“The track seems smaller,” said Hornish, who has raced around Mid-Ohio in both karts and Indy Cars prior to Monday’s test.
It’ll get a whole lot smaller in August with a full field of cars, something the Defiance native thinks will make for perhaps the best racing of the Nationwide Series’ three road courses along with Road America and Watkins Glen International.
“With 40 cars out there there’s going to be some passing, some grass flying and some guys in the gravel pit at some point,” Hornish said, smiling at the thought. “The difference between what you get with the stock cars and the Indy Cars is we can run a little closer with the stock cars. I think the racing will be closer than what we get at some of the other road courses, even.”
Monday’s test is expected to help Goodyear decide what tires to bring to the track and help Nationwide teams figure out gear packages and where the breaking zones on the track are. Other than that … “I’m not telling (the other drivers) anything,” Hornish deadpanned.
“The places that give you issues in an Indy Car or stock car are all the same,” he said. “In a stock car the car is a little heavier, so it gets looser for longer.”
Among his test notes, Hornish said Turn 1 is a fast, blind corner that reduces speed slightly but encourages a quick upshift. A pair of right-hand turns tended to kick the back of his No. 12 loose, but not seeing where the next corner is urges caution.
“The difference, in my opinion, of what’s going to make a race good here is you get the opportunity if you can be really smooth with your stuff you can take advantage of passing some places where you wouldn’t be able to with an Indy Car,” Hornish said. “What kind of race will it be? (It’s) up to the drivers if they want to play nice and get in line or be aggressive.
“The bad thing is it’s the last road course. There are a lot of guys who feel like they should win on road courses, so if they haven’t won yet they’re probably going to be more aggressive. But the more aggressive they are, the better show they usually put on for the fans.”
NASCAR’s big three series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series — haven’t visited Ohio since the Trucks raced at Mansfield in 2008. The Trucks, though, also return to Ohio with the Mud-Summer Classic at Eldora Speedway on July 24.
There is not expected to be any changes to the track, according to Mid-Ohio President Craig Rust said.
“Nothing to the track will be reconfigured,” he said. “The start/finish line is up to NASCAR. As far as the track goes, it’s a pretty good track the way it is.”
A few tweaks, though, might be in order. Building its reputation as a sports car course, Rust added, “I’ve been trying to teach the staff the paddock now becomes the garage area.”