Gateway Preview

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After fans of the NTT IndyCar Series went four straight weekends with no races, we head into our third straight racing weekend. It seems that it is feast or famine. The stretch started two weeks ago with the Music City Grand Prix. Then last weekend was the IndyCar/NASCAR double-header weekend on the IMS road course. This weekend brings us the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 from World Wide Technology Raceway (formerly Gateway Motorsports Park), just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Susan and I are lucky enough to be attending all three races in this August stretch in person. Unfortunately, our in-person IndyCar season comes to an end this weekend with the final three races all being run o the west coast. That will be after a two-weekend stretch of no racing before the season picks up again the weekend of September 12 at Portland, before Laguna Seca (Sep 19) and the season finale at Long Beach on September 26.

The pandemic forced a lot of changes to the IndyCar schedule last year. One of the biggest changes came at Gateway, where the traditional night race became a double-header run in the daytime. For a variety of reasons, we were not able to go to Gateway last year. We had been to every IndyCar race at Gateway since its return to the schedule in 2017. It felt strange watching the double-header from home, and it seemed strange to have it running during the day.

Fortunately, the race returns to a single-race format this year as it returns to its Saturday night format that has worked so well there.

This is a race track that does it right. They don’t have the most up-to-date facilities in the world, but it works for the fans that attend this race. During practice, we have moved around throughout the stands, and I can I honestly tell you – there is not a bad seat in the house. Even the lowest rows are elevated about the track, where you can see but also get a sense of the raw speed that you don’t get in the more desired top-row seats.

I will also stack the midway of vendors up against any track on the circuit, except perhaps St. Petersburg. Road America probably has better food, but their concessions are scattered across the enormous grounds there. At Gateway, all of the food and drink vendors are lined up on both sides of the parking lot directly behind the main grandstands. Hot dogs, burgers, tenderloins, nachos, kettle corn and cotton candy are just some of the offerings. And don’t forget beer, since the track is in the back yard of Anheuser-Busch. The only complaint about the midway is that it is situated on the asphalt parking lot. It can be a little toasty in August, if you go over there in the middle of the day.

Unlike IMS, Road America or even the Music City Grand Prix – the grounds of the 1.25 mile oval are very compact. You don’t have to walk very far to get somewhere. The garage area is just behind the pits. You want to see the Vintage Indy cars? They are just a little further down in their own sheltered area. I’ll never forget wandering through the Vintage Indy area a few years ago, when I heard the distinctive whine of a jet engine. I looked up and there was the Joe Leonard Lotus-56 turbine, that I watched him win the Indianapolis 500 pole with in 1968. It just casually drove by me, maybe ten feet away, as it made its way to the track for a few exhibition laps.

Although the Indy cars will only be on-track for Saturday only, it is a full weekend schedule for Friday and Saturday for true race fans, that really started yesterday with practice for Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000 and the Vintage Indy cars. Today will see the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at 7:35 pm CDT (local time), just after Indy Lights Race One at 5:30 pm CDT.

Saturday will see the gates open at 9:00 am CDT. After another round of the Vintage Indy cars and the Indy Pro 2000 warm-up, the IndyCar practice will take place from 12:15 pm to 1:45 pm. That ninety-minute practice session will be the only IndyCar practice, before they qualify from 4:00-5:00 pm CDT – available only on Peacock. The race broadcast is scheduled to run from 7:00 to 10:00 pm CDT, with a 7:40 pm CDT green flag, and will be shown live on NBCSN.

This race will be 260 laps in length, which is 325 miles or 500 km. My guess is that it is the longest race of the season, outside of the Indianapolis 500. Pit stops will be critical. With more pit stops required, that presents more chances for mistakes. One bobble in the pits can ruin an entire race.

I usually find myself standing inside Turn Four, just at the pit entrance. I like it there, because not many people are around me. From there, I can see the cars on the backstretch as they enter Turn Three. I can see the battles all the way through Turns Three and Four. Then they either drive right by me on their way into the pits, or I can watch them drive out of sight as they head toward Turn One. I can also see the scoring pylon to tell who is running where. If need be, I can see a video board off in the distance for replays, but I don’t usually watch it constantly. I can do that at home.

As good as the cars look under the lights on television, they look even better in person. This is only the second night race of the season, after Race One at Texas back in May. There is something special about night races, and seeing those cars glisten as they quickly pass under each stand of lights. That is, unless the car has a matte finish. Then they just sit there like a festering glob of goo.

The points battle has really tightened up in the last couple of weeks. Alex Palou has seen his comfortable points lead after Mid-Ohio, whittled down to only twenty-one points over Pato O’Ward and thirty-four over Scott Dixon. Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson are both still alive, down fifty-five and sixty-two points respectively – but with only four races to go, they both have to win and still need some help.

I still maintain that Scott Dixon is going to win this championship. I’ll be surprised if Palou and O’Ward don’t wither under the late summer heat. They are both very fast, but also very young. I’ll put my money on the experience of Scott Dixon to pull out his seventh IndyCar championship.

Dixon won Race One of the double-header here last year, while Newgarden won Race Two. I think both will have strong weekends this weekend, while O’Ward and Palou struggle. I see Newgarden and Alexander Rossi on the podium, while Dixon will win. There, I’ve just jinxed the weekend and the championship for all three drivers – but if there is no Oilpressure curse, then my prediction will possibly hold true.

I’m also very curious how well Romain Grosjean will do in his oval debut. The former Formula One standout has had a phenomenal year so far, but he will be a true rookie on the oval. I suspect he will have a safe race, but will wind up a couple of laps down. I don’t think he is going out with winning on his mind, but this can be a long learning experience. I’m also anxious to see Tony Kanaan back in the car. He was on the podium in 2019 for Foyt. Who knows what he can do in a Ganassi car, when Ganassi is having such a strong year?

All in all, we’re just happy to be back at a race track for the third weekend in a row, albeit for the final time in 2021. We probably will not spend much time at the track today. We will leave Nashville at a civilized time this morning, before making the five-hour drive to Madison, Illinois. We will go by the track to pick up ur credentials and get set up in the media center, but I doubt that we will spend much more time than that at the track. But we will be here on Saturday morning. Due to victory lane celebrations, post-race interviews and writing after the race, we’ve sometimes not left this track until around 2:30 am the night (morning) after the race.

With all of that said, there most likely will not be another post here today, but check back here early Saturday morning and all throughout the day for updates. You may also follow us on Twitter for videos, photos and comments. You may follow Susan at @MrsOilpressure or me at @Oilpressureblog. Please check back Saturday morning.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Gateway Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Glad to have this one back under the lights, and with much of the Road To Indy there as well. I don’t know about Palou, but I think O’Ward could really make a move here. He was 3rd and 2nd in two races last year. With no double points finale, this is probably Newgarden and Ericsson’s last good chance to put themselves in position to win the title, especially with Palou’s grid penalty.

    Also, the 2nd Texas race is the second longest race on the circuit, at 361 or 375 miles, depending on how you measure the track.

    We should all be so lucky as to have a turbine drive within 10 feet of us…

  2. Finally, a short track!

    Here’s very much looking forward to your coverage from trackside.

  3. “I still maintain that Scott Dixon is going to win this championship.’

    curses.
    foiled again.

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