Gateway Preview

If you are reading this on Friday morning, I am headed to World Wide Technology Raceway (WWTR – formerly known as Gateway) in Madison, Illinois, for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. I’m not sure where the “500” comes from. The race is 200 laps for a distance of 250 miles. Even if you go metric, we are talking just a little over 402 kilometers, so maybe the 500 means something totally different, but it sounds good.

The distinctive egg-shaped 1.25 mile oval has hosted IndyCar racing off and on since 1997. The track is just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis, and you can clearly see the famous arch from the north end of the pits.

Mrs. Oilpressure will not be with me this weekend, but I am happy to report that she is doing much better. Susan was discharged from Vanderbilt after a two-week stay last Friday, but she went straight back to the physical therapy rehab center. She is much stronger now and is able to walk unaided for short distances. Since this was our final planned race for the season, she was hoping to make it – but her body just isn’t ready. I told her if she makes huge strides in the next couple of weeks, maybe we could make the season-finale at Laguna Seca. I’m not counting on it, and I don’t think she is either – but that door is open. If not, I have promised her a non-racing vacation to a beach later this fall.

We’ve always enjoyed this race, but primarily because it is usually a night race. That is not really the case this year, with a 5:30 pm green flag. The race will probably be over around 7:45 Saturday night, when the sun will still be in the sky. You would think with the race being on USA Network, that the TV window wouldn’t be an issue. The lights will be shining down onto the track when the race is over, but you are kidding yourself if you call this a night race. This may be the first time since before The Split that there was no night race on the entire IndyCar schedule for the season. Hopefully, this is not a trend that will continue.

There is a chance of rain on Saturday afternoon, so that could push the race into darkness. It’s sad that I’m almost hoping for rain, to create a night race.

Unlike other races we have gone to, this is the one race where we do not venture out to sample the local atmosphere. We’ve been to IndyCar races at St. Petersburg, Barber, Indianapolis, Road America, Pocono, Sonoma, Fontana, New Orleans and of course, Nashville. At all of those places, we have gone out and sampled restaurants and/or local watering holes. For whatever reason, when we go to Gateway – we go to the track, and we go to our hotel. I suppose it’s because the track activity is at night. We always even eat our meals at the track.

But the schedule at Gateway is always so jam-packed, there is never a real desire to wander away from the friendly confines of World Wide Technology Raceway. This year is no exception. In addition to the NTT IndyCar Series, the upper-two levels of the Road to Indy (Indy Pro 2000 & Indy Lights) will be racing this weekend. In addition to that, I am really looking forward to watching the USAC Silver Crown Series run, as well as the Vintage Indy Cars (always a favorite of mine).

Gateway is a five-hour drive from Nashville, and I plan on leaving home at 6:00 am on Friday. The first IndyCar practice is at Noon on Friday, so I should be onsite and settled in before it starts. Unfortunately, I will miss the first Silver Crown practice, but they will practice again following the IndyCar practice, then qualify and race Friday night. There has been a change in the schedule since earlier this week. IndyCar will now qualify in mid-afternoon, before a final practice Friday night, which begins with nine pre-selected cars going out to rubber-up the outside groove – similar to what happened at Texas earlier this year. After the Indy cars are done for the night, Silver Crown takes the stage for an 80-Lap race at 8:30. That’s what I call a full day at the track. I should sleep well Friday night.

It all starts back up at 9:00 am Saturday, with another Vintage Indy session, followed by Indy Pro 2000 practice. After a short break, Indy Pro 2000 qualifying takes place at 11:45 am. At 1:15 pm, the final Vintage Indy session takes place. At 2:15 pm, the Indy Pro 2000 race begins, followed by the Indy Lights race at 3:15 pm. At 5:00 pm CDT, coverage for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 begins on USA Network, with a 5:30 green flag.. With the race over by 7:45 pm, I’ll be writing well into the night in the track media center. As you can see, it’ll be a full two days of racing.

From 1997 to 2003, WWTR hosted CART and then the IRL, before taking a thirteen-year hiatus. Prominent names like Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Jr., Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves all posted wins there. The track returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2017 as a night race, with an outstanding blueprint on how to successfully promote an oval. Since the successful return, WWTR has become the playground of Team Penske, and specifically Josef Newgarden. Penske has won four of the six races run at Gateway since 2017 (2020 was a double-header). Newgarden has won three of those, with Newgarden taking three of those four (Will Power took the other).

In 2017, Newgarden had a memorable moment late in the race, battling for the lead with then-teammate Simon Pagenaud. It was simply a case of who was going to lift first. Pagenaud ended up yielding the position to Newgarden and fell back to third, causing some ill-will for a short while between the two teammates. All was well between the two by the time they got to Watkins Glen the next weekend.

The only other teams to win since the return to WWTR are Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (Takuma Sato in 2019) and Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon in Race One in 2020). Newgarden has won the last two races at Gateway.

With a tight championship battle on the line, none of the contenders can afford a bad race. But a driver can get caught up in someone else’s mistake very quickly at Gateway. Just ask Alex Palou, who was taken out early in last year’s race by Rinus VeeKay. The crash also took out Scott Dixon. Palou ended up winning the championship anyway, but Dixon is still trailing Will Power by six points. Dixon can ill-afford being in the wrong place at the wrong time, when someone else makes a mistake.

This is a race that Dixon or Power could really separate themselves from the rest of the field by winning. But I think this race is going to produce a wild-card winner, much like the entire podium of 2019, with the victorious Sato sharing the podium with Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan. I am going to go out on a limb this week and predict that Dale Coyne’s David Malukas will earn his first career IndyCar win and tighten up his Rookie of the Year battle with Christian Lundgaard.

As I usually do when attending races in person, I will be posting here throughout the race weekend. I will post after I arrive just to give an update and a lay of the land. With a busy afternoon track schedule, I may or may not post this afternoon, but I will definitely be back tonight with a qualifying update. Then I’ll post tomorrow morning/afternoon when I arrive, and Saturday night after the race. Then I will have my usual Random Thoughts post here on Monday. For photos, videos and comments; you can follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog.

Please check back later!

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Gateway Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Glad to hear Susan is doing better!

    Is the race not 260 laps (520+ km) like last year’s? That’s disappointing. Newgarden needs this one, as do O’Ward and Palou… two of those guys have very good track records at this track. I’d expect at least one of the championship contenders to be felled by a mechanical gremlin or a wreck.

    This is one of Foyt’s best tracks, last year was the only time Kellett looked to be in the same class as the middle of the field. Kirkwood needs to keep his car in one piece this weekend, if he does it will probably result in a good finish (though at this point maybe any finish is a good finish for Kyle).

  2. northeastvista Says:

    If at all possible, stick around for the Silver Crown Race. Those drivers in those cars really put on a show! And the sound of the engines will bring back memories of the good, old days.
    Prayers for Susan’s continued recovery.

  3. Good news on Susan!
    Would love to see Malukas finish in the top 3. Enjoy the race, I’ll be watching online.

  4. I’m glad to read that Susan is on the upswing.
    Enjoy this race weekend, and travel safely.

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