Random Thoughts on Gateway

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The 2019 edition of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 was, in my opinion, the best one yet. While World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway has produced some great crowds since the NTT IndyCar Series returned in 2017, it has not produced the best racing. To be frank, they have been somewhat processional and a bit on the boring side.

That all changed with Saturday night’s race at Gateway. Not only did they reportedly have their biggest crowd yet for this event (around 42,000), those that came were treated to a very entertaining race with a very close finish at the line.

Unfortunately, the overnight TV ratings were down slightly, from a .26 last year to a .23 on Saturday night. But last year’s race didn’t go up against the college football opener – a close game between Miami and Florida. That surely had a significant impact. My guess is without that game, ratings would have been higher than last year. It also didn’t help that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck decided to retire during the race broadcast. Even devout IndyCar fans in the Indianapolis area probably clicked away to follow that story.

But those that were there or chose to watch the race on TV were treated to a great race that had many twists and turns, even though the drivers were all turning left. There were many prominent names at the bottom of the running order when the checkered flag flew, and some surprise names up at the top. Although Takuma Sato started fifth, I don’t think many expected him to come away with the win Saturday night – especially since he got caught up in a Turn One scare at the start of the race with the same two drivers he tangled with at Pocono; Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. No cars collided, but Sato was caught in the middle and lost control for a moment. By the time he collected it, he had dropped like a stone.

Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter were even less likely to be battling for the win. Neither had shown much in practice or qualifying to lead anyone to think they would be late race factors. Carpenter started seventeenth and Kanaan was twentieth on the grid. But due to Sébastien Bourdais crashing on Lap 189 and some fortunate pit stop timing – they were able to pit under the yellow and remain out front. But when the green flag signaled the re-start on Lap 204, I don’t think many of us in the crowd thought that all three would be there forty-four laps later when the checkered-flag was scheduled to fly. But they did, albeit in a slightly different order. While Sato led that entire last stint, Carpenter passed Kanaan, taking a second-place finish away from the forty-four year-old Brazilian and relegating him to third.

But this wasn’t because passing was impossible; these cars were simply that strong at the end. From fourth place on back, there was a lot of passing and swapping of positions.

But in the end, the podium had Takuma Sato hoisting the biggest trophy, with Carpenter barely falling short at the line. Kanaan held on for third after a spirited charge from Santino Ferrucci on the backstretch on the final lap.

TV Coverage: As I type this on Sunday night after we got back home, I have not yet seen the replay of the race. I plan on doing that Monday night. But I’ve been told that Yours Truly can be seen missing out on a great opportunity for an outstanding photo. I happened to be at the end of pit row toward Turn One when the race finished. Surprisingly, that was where they pulled the Top-Three finishers when they came off the track. I walked right up to the driver’s left sidepod of Sato’s car for what I thought would be some good pictures.

Sato quickly pulled his helmet off and stood up in his cockpit to celebrate. He then made a dive into his crew, but was headed right at me presenting a great photo angle just for me.

I have a very old phone. My iPhone 6 is almost five years old, and so is the case. The case is now broken in a couple of places. However, I plan on getting the new iPhone 11 next month when it comes out. I’m not going to replace this case only to have to buy another new one next month. While holding my broken case as Sato was diving at me, my camera inexplicably switched to “Pano” mode. It did this twice while trying to capture Sato’s very close celebration. It has never done this before, so I’m blaming it on the broken case. Needless to say, it was very frustrating.

To make matters worse, a friend of mine included me on a group text that I saw while still in victory lane that said: “Who’s getting more airtime in victory lane, George or Takuma?” Someone else asked where I was and the response was dead-on accurate – “Fumbling with his phone as Takuma got out with his crew”. It was bad enough that I’m guilty as charged, but then I discover that my blown chance was shown on national TV. I got a few more jabs that night and Sunday from people who have seen it. So if you catch the replay, go ahead and have a good laugh at my expense. I deserve it.

Big Night for Daly: Conor Daly has driven four races for Carlin this season, once Max Chilton decided to no longer run ovals. The first three were respectable (eleventh, thirteenth and eleventh), considering he was new to the team and Carlin had experienced little success on ovals. Saturday night was his breakout race for the team – when he finished sixth after starting eighteenth. Daly’s qualifying may have been a little misleading, because he was the first one to go out after oil-dry was put out to clean up after a vintage car oiled the track down. Considering the comments from other drivers that qualified early on Friday night, eighteenth was commendable for Daly.

While everyone is speculating where Colton Herta will be driving next year, I’m thinking that surely Conor Daly is on the short list of several teams for a full-time ride next year. He finishes the season in an Andretti Autosport car at Laguna Seca. Is that a hint he will be driving for Andretti next season? Most say no, but he can parlay this into an opportunity to show other teams what he can do on a road course. Daly has paid his dues since being unceremoniously dumped from the second car at the Foyt team two years ago. He has earned another fulltime opportunity.

Rossi’s Funk: When Alexander Rossi finished second in this year’s Indianapolis 500, it started a run of strong finishes for the four-year driver. From Indianapolis through Toronto, Rossi reeled off three second-place finishes, a third and a win. Consequently, Rossi pulled within a mere four points of championship leader Josef Newgarden. But beginning with Iowa, where Newgarden drove to a dominating win – Rossi has been good but not great. Since Toronto, Rossi has had finishes of sixth, fifth, eighteenth and thirteenth. The result of this four race funk has seen Rossi go from trailing by four to trailing by forty-six, and dropping from second to third in points.

If Rossi hopes to be raising the Astor Cup at Laguna Seca next month, he needs to get back to podium finishes.

Under the Lights: Few things look as spectacular as Indy cars under the lights. The car of Takuma Sato, with it’s blue chrome accents, looked exceptionally good as it sped to victory. The blue and white car of Josef Newgarden and the PNC Bank orange and blue car of Scott Dixon also sparkled under the lights of Wide World Technology Raceway. But as good as most of the cars looked, some fell flat in a big way.

This season, the Arrow Schmidt Peterson cars abandoned their chrome look for a matte black and gold finish. They were two of the dullest livery of Saturday night under the lights. But the dullest car belonged to the solid matte black Monster Energy Drink car of Felix Rosenqvist. The finish looked like the radar absorbing material on the stealth bomber. While almost all the other cars on the track glistened as they went by, this car looked almost invisible. It seemed to be in perpetual darkness, while the other cars looked like an ad for Turtle Wax.

Young people love matte finishes on football helmets and race cars. I know I sound like the old curmudgeon that I am, but race cars were meant to be fast, loud and shiny – not invisible. As bad as matte black finishes look in the daytime, they are much worse looking at night.

Drive of the Night: There are many to choose from, including Takuma Sato recovering from an early deficit to win. Ed Carpenter made up a lot of ground from seventeenth and came within a yard of winning the race. Tony Kanaan came from twentieth and ran second for the longest time before getting passed by Carpenter and settling for third. Marco Andretti started dead-last, but stuck with it and ended up with a Top-Ten finish. Then there was Conor Daly driving a Carlin car to sixth from eighteenth. Who deserves it the most? It’s strictly a matter of opinion.

My opinion is that it goes to Tony Kanaan. Why? Well first of all, because I really like Tony Kanaan. But also, he advanced all of those positions in a Foyt car – a team that has seemingly been way off pace all season long. For that, Kanaan gets the nod for Drive of the Night.

All in All: It’s hard to overemphasize how much better Saturday night’s race was in comparison to the last two races at Gateway, since the NTT IndyCar Series returned there. There was never a time Saturday night, when I said to myself “Uh-oh, this race has turned into a snoozer”. I told myself that in both of the previous two races.

But as good as the racing was, the crowd was even better. They opened the stands overlooking Turn Two for the first time in the past three races there. The crowd was large and enthusiastic. And this was a true IndyCar crowd. I saw very few NASCAR-related T-Shirts. Everyone there was wearing IndyCar apparel. And this was a knowledgeable crowd too. They knew when and why to cheer.

I said it last Friday, but I’ll say it again. Some of the other less-attended tracks need to find out what they are doing to promote the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Whatever they are doing – it works.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Gateway”

  1. As hot as it was in the afternoon, that’s how chilly it got once the sun went down and the breeze kicked up. Having been dressed for hot weather, I was freezing in the stands.

    I’ve decided I’ll not attend this race again until I get a scanner. For some odd reason there seems to be no radio broadcast in St. Louis, I scanned FM and AM multiple times and found nothing. And of course just like at every other race my cell service dies a couple hours before the green flag so I couldn’t use the app. And it seemed like about 1/3 of the PA speakers in the grandstand didn’t work so I couldn’t hear anything about what was going on in the race. As a result I felt very disengaged, that combined with being cold led me to leave with about 50 laps to go. Missed the exciting finish but at least I beat the post-race traffic which is usually pretty bad.

    Sorry we couldn’t hook up George, not long after you sent me a message my phone went totally dead. I tried sending several messages but they’d just sit there “sending….” and never go through. I finally got your last message once I got about a mile from the track. Happens every time I go to an IndyCar race.

    Still had a great time. Got to spend more time there this year, had some proper St. Louis BBQ, explored the city a bit, went to a Cardinals game, just had a great time.

    • Lynn Weinberg Says:

      The BBQ they had at the track was a locally owned place called Sugar Fire. They are delicious. I lived in St Louis all my life, until just 3 years ago. I agree, it’s strange about the radio broadcast. Stay another day next time, visit the City Museum, and the St Louis Arch.

  2. Amazing to think both Coyne cars looked like the class of the field. Would anyone have ever guessed we could ever say that? Was rooting for Ferrucci, unfortunate their last pitstop and that yellow took away their chance but it was fun to watch him go.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Great finish, great crowd (they opened part of the south turn grandstands!), great racing action, great stories for the drivers running up front, great command to start engines, great anthem performance. Gateway had a lot of greats Saturday night.

    Debatably not so great and certainly curious was race control’s restraint, though. Two pit safety infractions (one involving race winner Sato running over equipment) resulted in fines rather than drive-through penalties. Neither Kimball nor Ferrucci were penalized for moving down on, and spinning out, Pigot and Newgarden. Kanaan got away with a pretty egregious double block (reactive move low and then again high) on Carpenter on the back straight early in the race. Heavy-handed officiating can be detrimental to racing action, of course, and I am not suggesting that all of these incidents should have been penalized (just that they all could have been), but I also know that drivers and pit crews will gladly push the envelope of safety and fair competition without officials willing to flex their muscles. And yes, I’m still a bit sore about that awful call against Rahal at Long Beach…

  4. Carburetor Says:

    Notwithstanding the “infraction” on Ferrucci’s last lap dive in turn 4, you’ve got to love the courage that he drives with. The kid is really fast, is simply not afraid to take chances, and somehow stays out of trouble and is easy on the equipment. In his post-race interviews, he looks and acts like he is having the time of his life and is just plain thrilled to be in the series. How cool is that? If Daly can catch a full-time ride next year, Pigot keeps developing, Herta’s team gets better, and Rosenqvist keeps improving, the series is going to have a bright future.

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