Gateway Preview

And just like that, the Indianapolis 500 is over and the NTT IndyCar Series is headed to a double-header event. In this crazy year when nothing seems normal; that’s a situation that actually is normal. Since 2012, the Indianapolis 500 has been immediately followed by a double-header the very next weekend at Belle Isle in Detroit. The only difference this time is we are in August and the double-header they are headed for is an oval.

Since the NTT IndyCar Series returned to Gateway (now known as World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway) in 2017, it has been a night race. It needs to be. Susan and I have attended all three races there since IndyCar’s return, and I can tell you – it is one of the hottest race tracks I’ve been to in the daytime. I’ve never been to Texas Motor Speedway or Iowa Speedway, and they may be hotter – but from my own personal experience, Gateway takes the cake.

Except for the infield parking area along the backstretch, the whole area is paved asphalt. All of the concessions are in an asphalt midway area that radiates heat. Now those concession areas are very good. They aren’t as good as Road America or St. Petersburg, but of the tracks we’ve been to – Gateway’s concessions rate high. But if you want a midday snack, be prepared to get hot quickly. Remember this is a popular race and it’s crowded there, so you might have to wait in the hot sun.

Having said all that, I would certainly recommend that you go if you are trying to decide at the last minute. We are not going for the first time since IndyCar returned, but that is due to circumstances at home that prevent us from going. If not for that, we would be in a heartbeat.

This race was originally scheduled to be a single Saturday night race last weekend. But when the Indianapolis 500 had to be postponed, the good folks at Gateway were a good partner and they agreed to move back one week, in order to free up August 23, so the 500 could run. NBC had a conflict for this Saturday night, so the race was moved to Sunday afternoon. I started sweating the moment I read that.

Then when Portland and the double-header at Laguna Seca were both cancelled, IndyCar moved quickly to create more double-headers elsewhere. Gateway was one of those. So there will be a full race Saturday afternoon and another full race on Sunday afternoon.

I’m not a huge fan of double-headers – especially on ovals. No one was really bitten at Iowa last month, but the potential to destroy a car in Race One is there, putting Race Two in jeopardy, as well. That problem is more likely to happen on ovals, but remember that Conor Daly caught the worst of Pato O’Ward’s decision-making in Race One at Road America. His crew had to work through the night to thrash the car together in time for Race Two.

Getting back to the warm conditions, I don’t mention the heat to scare people away from going. Far from it. As I said earlier, if not for extenuating circumstances, we would be there for our fourth year in a row. But with the afternoon heat, I think this is one of those races where the cockpit heat due to the aero screens will be a factor. I don’t think drivers are going to duffer heat strokes and pass out in the middle of Turn Three, but I do think it will cause fatigue to be a factor in the latter part of Race Two on Sunday.

Of course, racing in the heat of the day in August can also cause some interesting track conditions. Gateway is pretty well banked, so it’s not like drivers will be racing at Milwaukee, but heat can cause some slippery conditions.

This race has a history of being very well supported. It’s a short drive from Indiana and there are a lot of open-wheel fans in Missouri and Illinois, as well as nearby Kentucky and Tennessee (of course). Estimates of more than 40,000 have attended the past three years. There will be attendance limits like Iowa, so they will not be opening it up like they did for Road America. From what I could tell on watching the Iowa races on television, that seemed to be a very manageable crowd.

Those that are going will be treated to a single hour and a half Friday afternoon practice at 3:30 CDT (local time) to be shown live on NBC Gold. The good thing about Gold is that if you have to work like me, you can go home and watch the archived practice on Friday night. Qualifying will live place live on NBC Sports Gold at 11:00 am CDT. It will be similar to Iowa, where Lap One determines your Race One starting position and the second lap determines your starting spot for Race Two. Saturday’s race coverage on NBCSN starts at 2:00 pm CDT. Sunday’s race coverage will also begin at 2:00 pm CDT.

The track at Gateway, in Madisonville, Illinois – just across the river from St. Louis, is very unique in size and shape. At 1.25 miles, is it a short oval or a super-speedway? I’ve always been told that the true definition of a super-speedway is anything more than a mile. That’s how the 1.33 mile Nashville Superspeedway got away with its name, but personally – I think 2.0 miles or more fits my own definition, but what do I know?

Not only is it a unique distance, but it has a very unique egg-shape to it. It’s a little reminiscent of Darlington or Twin Ring Motegi. But when you are there for a Saturday night race, it feels like a small intimate setting. It feels more like a short track than a big superspeedway, when you are there. That’s what makes it so much fun being there.

One driver I’ll certainly be watching is Conor Daly. While the two cars for AJ Foyt were having a very dismal season, Daly managed to put his Chevy powered Dallara in fifth at the end. That was no fluke – Daly had been running up front most of the night. He had no ride the following year, but drove part-time for Carlin and scored a sixth-place finish at Gateway last year. He obviously likes the egg-shaped oval. Now that he has had a few more races to gel with the Carlin team on the ovals, he has strung together some decent results this season – a sixth at Texas and an eighth and thirteenth place finishes at the double-header at Iowa. I’m looking for more strong finishes from Daly this weekend.

Of the three races since IndyCar’s return to Gateway, last year’s was by far the best. The podium consisted of Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and now two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato. At 38 a year ago, Carpenter was the youngster of the podium. Sato and Kanaan both represented the over-forty demographic. Carpenter was the one on a tear. It looked like Kanaan would at least take second-place, but Carpenter did away with TK in the closing laps and was bearing down on Sato when the checkered flag flew. Had there been another ten laps, I think Carpenter would have won. But there weren’t, so Sato was the deserving winner.

Now he enters the double-header weekend as the newly crowned winner of the Indianapolis 500. Recent history shows that the 500 winner does not fare well the next weekend. The constant media barrage takes its toll and they are worn out by the time they arrive at the next track. I have an idea that this week was scaled down in the name of the virus, so Sato may actually be able to catch his breath. He will do OK this weekend, but he won’t win.

I don’t think Dixon wins this weekend either. Like Sato, he’ll collect points, but he won’t go all out on an oval to win. My two winners for this weekend will come from two different teams. One is on a roll, while another is looking for redemption. There will be a new Gateway winner and a repeat Gateway winner. I’m not picking which race, but one of your winners will be Graham Rahal, the other will be Josef Newgarden. We’ll see.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “Gateway Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    If Iowa is any indication, the Chevrolets should be more competitive. Will be interesting to see if RLL’s speed carries over, and if Santino Ferrucci, who ran the strongest race at Gateway last year, is strong again.

    This may be Newgarden’s last opportunity to put the championship back within reach. He’ll need one or two wins, certainly two podiums, and a Dixon DNF would help a lot. Possible, but not likely.

  2. I could see O’Ward winning one race. he was in contention in Race 2 at Iowa until the bad pit stop. Ferrucci ran strong at gateway last year and might get a podium. This has generally been a Chevy track.

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