By: Spencer Neff
July 25, 2019 | 8:38 AM
This weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series makes its return to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. 39 years ago, the Lexington, Ohio track made its debut on the IndyCar schedule. On Sunday it will host its 34th IndyCar race.
In that time, Mid-Ohio has become one of the most unique and challenging venues for IndyCar as the changes throughout its 2.258-mile, 13-turn layout provide excitement for drivers and spectators alike.
For this week’s IndyCar Flashback, we take you to the 1992 race at Mid-Ohio. After several championship contenders fell by the wayside, a few others emerged for the challenge and to make some history of their own.
Fittipaldi wins as multiple contenders stumble
Entering the weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Michael Andretti had everything going his way. Two weeks earlier, he won from the pole at Vancouver to close to within 12 points of repeating his 1991 championship.
Off the track, the Newman-Haas Racing driver announced that he would move to McLaren’s Formula 1 team for 1993 on the Thursday before the race.
Interestingly enough, Nigel Mansell emerged as a possible replacement during the weekend as he announced his impending retirement from F1.
Despite the news, Andretti’s focus remained on defending his title. With a track record lap of 117.791 mph, he would start his quest for three wins in a row on the pole.
Early on, Mike Groff’s car stalled during the pace laps. With Groff unable to refire on his own, the 90-lap event would start under yellow flag conditions.
Once Groff’s car was removed from the track, the race was on. Despite a brief challenge from Penske Racing’s Paul Tracy at the start, Andretti held the early lead.
On Lap 4, disaster struck for the championship points leader.
In Turn 1, Bobby Rahal’s car broke loose and slammed into the inside retaining wall. With the suspension of his Lola-Chevrolet heavily damaged, the Ohio native’s quest for a third win at the track ended in disappointing fashion.
Following a three-lap caution for Rahal’s crash, the race became relatively tame. During the first 51 laps, Andretti led all but one of them. Further back, only four of the race’s 25 starters had dropped out of the race up to that point.
At Lap 52, Andretti’s hopes for a third straight Mid-Ohio win and the championship lead were dashed. With the Ford engine in his Lola machine letting go, he fell out of the race.
In light of Andretti’s issues, Penske Racing took advantage. 1988 Mid-Ohio winner Emerson Fittipaldi became the leader of the race with 38 laps to go. From there, the Brazilian driver dominated.
After leading 37 of the race’s final 38 laps, he would win for the fourth time in 1992 and the third time in four races. Slowed by just two cautions spanning four laps, the race was completed at a record speed of 107.352 mph.
By winning for the second time at Mid-Ohio, Fittipaldi equaled the mark set by Andretti and Rahal. Behind Fittipaldi, teammate Paul Tracy led two laps and finished second, the only leader aside from Andretti and Fittipaldi.
It was also Penske’s first 1-2 finish since the season opener in Surfers Paradise. In third, Galles Racing’s Al Unser Jr. prevailed as many of his championship rivals stumbled.
With a third-place effort, Unser Jr. took over the points lead by a single marker over Rahal. With bonus points for the pole and leading the most laps, Andretti closed to within 11 points of Rahal. In fourth, Fittipaldi closed to within 18 points as the championship fight was far from over.
Following their disappointing Mid-Ohio results, Andretti and Rahal continued their dominance of the 1992 season. Three weeks later, Rahal held off Andretti to win at Nazareth, despite the latter winning pole and leading 117 of 200 laps at his home race.
Two weeks later at Laguna Seca, Andretti led wire-to-wire in a 1-2 finish with his father and teammate Mario.
By finishing third, Rahal kept his lead over Andretti at four points and won his third title in six years. The following year, Andretti moved to F1 as Rahal endured a disappointing season that saw him fail to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
In Emerson Fittipaldi’s case, their misfortune proved to be his gain. In 1993, Fittipaldi won his second Indianapolis 500 and in September became the first three-time Mid-Ohio winner.
19 years later, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon surpassed his record by winning for the fourth time at Mid-Ohio. By 2014, Dixon extended that mark to five career victories.
Note: Thank you as always to everyone who participated in our poll on Twitter to select this week’s IndyCar Flashback.
There will continue to be a poll on our Twitter page (@Open_Wheels) to determine the race profiled for IndyCar Flashback prior to each race weekend. Keep an eye out each race week for the poll to cast your vote.
Header Image By Rick Dikeman.