Gateway Preview

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What sets the NTT IndyCar Series apart from the world’s other racing series is the diversity of tracks the IndyCar drivers race on. Just five days ago, they were racing on the giant 2.5-mile triangular shaped oval at Pocono. Today, they begin practice on a track half that size – the 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (formerly known as Gateway Motorsports Park) in Madison, Illinois; just across the mighty Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. Next week, they will attack the road course in Portland. Of all the reasons I have loved following the NTT IndyCar Series over the years, the diversity of the tracks and the skill sets required to succeed on all different type tracks, is up near the top.

This will be the last oval race of the season, and it’s a challenging one. With two obviously different ends of the track, I would think most drivers will have to settle for a compromise. Turns One & Two are much tighter (the top of the egg) than Turns Three & Four (the bottom of the egg). Turns One & Two are banked at 11°, while Turns Three & Four are banked at 9°. From the air, Gateway looks like Darlington without the steep banking.

This will be the third year in a row that IndyCar has raced at Gateway (I’m sorry, I can’t type out that new name every time I mention it – maybe I can get away with referring to it as WWTR). It appears to be the best attended oval on the current schedule behind the Indianapolis 500. For tracks that have lagging attendance, they need to copy whatever Gateway has been doing in those three years – because it has been working. Apparently, the novelty has not worn off because tomorrow night’s race is expected to be a sellout.

It’s not simply due to the fact that the St. Louis area is in the Midwest and the Midwest loves racing. Remember that back in the old IRL days, the series raced there from 2001 to 2003 after it was dropped from the CART schedule (which ran there from 1997 to 2000). After the 2003 race, which was won by Helio Castroneves, Gateway dropped the event due to a steady drop in attendance.

So, if St. Louis area fans didn’t go in 2003 – why did they start going when the series returned in 2017? Some could say it is now a much better product, and that would be true – but I think it is the implementation of a well-conceived marketing and promotional plan that has suddenly made St. Louis area fans turn out in droves. It was the same on-track product at Phoenix, yet the stands in Phoenix looked like a ghost town from 2016-18. Whatever they’re doing at WWTR, it works.

This will be our third trip to attend the Bommarito 500 at Gateway. When I think back to the previous two races, I immediately think of heat and humidity. Late August in St. Louis does not conjure up images of comfort. But it appears this year will be different. A cold front is to go through this morning, which translates to almost perfect weather for Saturday night. The predicted high for Saturday is 80°, with a predicted green-flag temperature of 75°. That’s cooler than what we had at Pocono last weekend. Most importantly, the forecast is calling for clear skies.

This will be the second race in a row that Conor Daly and Charlie Kimball will be teammates at Carlin. Daly continues to impress with how he has performed on ovals with a team that has struggled this season. Kimball will have a completely new sponsor since he entered the series in 2011. This weekend, Kimball will carry the livery of ripKurrent – which is a digital company that monitors climate-controlled environments. What that means, I can’t really tell you. But I checked their website and their home page prominently displays Kimball’s car. They certainly appear excited to be a part of IndyCar. It’s always good to see new sponsors coming on board.

Other different liveries for the weekend will be Josef Newgarden in the light blue and white PPG livery, the one he carried when he won at Gateway two years ago. Marco Andretti will be carrying the Oberto livery he has been in for a couple of races now; and Felix Rosenqvist will be in a black car with Monster Energy on the sidepods. Simon Pagenaud will be back in the familiar Menard’s scheme, Graham Rahal will be running Mi-Jack livery, because his teammate who usually is in the Mi-Jack car will be running sponsorship from Keihin Corporation, A Japanese-based automotive systems company with a strong North American presence, especially in the Midwest.

Team Penske has won the last four IndyCar races at World Wide Technology Raceway, which includes the two run in 2017-18 (Newgarden and Will Power) as well as 2002-03 (Castroneves and Gil de Ferran). They also won the first CART race there in 1997 with Paul Tracy. Chip Ganassi Racing won two in the nineties with Alex Zanardi and Juan Montoya. Newman/Haas won one with Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. won with Galles Racing.

The first IndyCar practice will be this afternoon at 1:00 pm CDT (local time) and can be seen on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying can be seen live at 5:00 pm CDT on NBCSN. Then there will be a night practice beginning at 8:15 pm CDT, which can also be seen on NBC Sports Gold. Coverage for Saturday night’s race begins at 7:00 pm CDT on NBCSN. Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights will also be racing there this weekend, along with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. There will also be exhibitions by the Indy Vintage Registry. So, there is a full weekend of track activity.

As far as the championship contenders go, they’ve all run well at Gateway. Championship leader Josef Newgarden won in 2017 and finished seventh last year. Alexander Rossi finished sixth in 2017, but finished second last year. Simon Pagenaud was leading late in 2017, before being bumped out of the way by his Penske teammate Josef Newgarden. I think that incident still doesn’t sit well with the French driver. Pagenaud finished third in that race and fourth last year. Scott Dixon finished second in 2017 and third last year. So it’s not like any of them struggle at Gateway.

The winner will most likely come down to timing and luck, because they all have the skill to perform well there. Josef Newgarden had a so-so day at Pocono that looked a lot better due to Rossi crashing out on Lap One at Pocono. But Newgarden had a disastrous day at Mid-Ohio when he made an ill-advised move on Ryan Hunter-Reay late in the race. Rossi has been good, but not great in the past few races. The same could be said for Newgarden and Pagenaud. The one that has been on a charge for the last month has been Scott Dixon, who is now only fifty-two points out of the championship. In the past four races, Dixon has finished second, second, first and second. I think he smells blood and I believe he will win the Bommarito 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway on Saturday night.

Susan and I will be arriving on-site sometime later this morning and will be posting here throughout the weekend. For additional photos and videos, you can follow us on Twitter. You may follow me at @Oilpressureblog and Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back here later today.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Gateway Preview”

  1. Have a great weekend at WWTR you guys. At least weather won’t be an issue. Hoping for a safe, competitive race!

  2. It is kind of amazing that Gateway continues to attract such a huge crowd considering the race hasn’t been all that exciting the last two years. But I’m glad it does, and I’m glad there’s a day full of on-track action.

    I’m leaving right after work today, should get in town around 6ish local time. Going to have some St. Louis BBQ and then take in part of the Cardinals game since the ballpark is right across the street from my hotel. I’ll be at the track when it opens tomorrow morning and looking forward to a full day of racing fun and perhaps a beverage with the Phillips.

  3. Why did the fans return? Hold that thought and wade into the stands and ASK the people why they’re there!

    You’ll never get a better chance to find out.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Gateway’s reopening and return to hosting national racing series events is one of the most remarkable stories in motorsports over the last decade. To have the kind of success they have had in the current racing economic environment is truly amazing. Tracks of all types should be taking notes.

    I hope to get there someday soon. Go Graham!

  5. I think its success is because of one man – Bommarito. I cannot remember his first name, but he and his team earn an A+ as a race promoter. Have fun at Gateway.

  6. IndyCar’s diversity of racetracks is indeed pretty amazing. I feel that this year, the series has got the best lineup of tracks on the calendar since 1995 before the infamous split. I guess NASCAR must be pretty jealous of IndyCar when it comes to the Gateway event and they probably want to get a foot in the door at that venue rather sooner than later to present their own show. But back to discussing this year’s calendar: the sole glaring omission is the Milwaukee Mile.

    I’m curious about next year’s IndyCar calendar already and I hope it will be possible to improve but this ongoing season has set the bar pretty high to do that. These are probably the best venues to have if they continue to end the season before October.

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