Random Thoughts on Gateway

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From the moment I stepped out of my car in the infield of World Wide Technology Raceway (WWTR – formerly known as Gateway Motorsports Park), in Madison, Illinois – things slightly different, but very right all at the same time. What was different was that this was my first time to attend Gateway without my wife Susan present. What was right was how normal everything seemed at the track.

Last year, the NASCAR Truck Series was running the same weekend and the track was following NASCAR protocol the entire weekend, which meant very strict COVID measures (masks at all times) and much more rigid security guidelines. Everything about the race weekend in 2021 felt very restrictive for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500; even though NASCAR packed up and left after Friday night.

NASCAR was not anywhere to be seen this past weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Instead, Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000 and Silver Crown swerved up the support races. That also meant that the oppressive security measures from 2021 were gone.

When I got out of the car, it was a clear blue sky and it was only 84°. There was a slight breeze from the south and the humidity was low. I’ve been to every race at WWTR, except for the double-header in 2020, and I have never seen the weather as pleasant as it was this weekend – that’s is until it rained. But to have temperatures in the mid-80s with low humidity in St. Louis is unheard of.

The walk from my car to the media center was actually enjoyable as I walked past the paddock, that was already buzzing with activity on Friday morning. It didn’t tale long for the buzz to crank up a notch as the teams were already heading out for Practice One. I was out in the pits when the green flag flew.

All of the cars tearing out of their pit box when the green flag signals the start of the opening practice, is just one of those signs that all is right with the world. It’s like Opening Day in baseball, when all the teams have a perfect record. Optimism is high among teams, drivers and fans, as the cars screech out of their assigned pit box, spewing tire smoke and ethanol exhaust into the air. It’s an aroma you never tire of smelling.

As I type this, it is Sunday night and I am back home in Nashville pounding away at my keyboard. When I look back on the race weekend I just experienced, it’s hard to believe that it was all packed into just two days. This weekend seemed fuller than the three-day race weekends at most tracks.

A couple of tracks that I’ve been to seem to take the approach that fans are a necessary nuisance. That is not the case at World Wide Technology Raceway. At WWTR, fans come first. You can tell that with the huge concession area behind the main grandstands, the multiple camping sites and the access granted to the fans. Everything is done with the fans in mind.

I’ve not been to Iowa or Texas, but if you live in the Midwest – WWTR is definitely one to add to your travel list. They do things the right way.

TV Coverage: As of Sunday night, I have not yet watched the replay of Saturday night’s race. But they had the broadcast on in the media center during the more than two-hour rain delay. I thought the NBC crew did an excellent job of filler-time. I’m also grateful that NBC kept the broadcast on USA Network throughout the evening, instead of sending it over to CNBC or strictly Peacock.

The Championship: We are down to just two races to go in the 2022 IndyCar season, and even though others are still mathematically alive – I consider this a four-driver battle for the championship. Alex Palou currently sits in fifth in the standings and is forty-three points behind. Even if he wins the next two races, a lot of bad things have to happen to all four drivers in front of him. Is that possible? Yes. Is it likely to happen? Probably not.

For the next two weeks, most conversations are going to focus on Will Power, who is leading the points with 482; Josef Newgarden (-3 points); Scott Dixon (-14) and Marcus Ericsson (-17). One slip-up by any of those four drivers in the final two races, and the other three will be there to pounce.

Late Saturday night, it seemed that everyone was ready to hand the Astor Challenge Trophy to Josef Newgarden. After all, he has five wins this season. But when I look at that figure, I wonder how Newgarden can have those five wins and still trail Will Power, who only has one win this season. The answer is inconsistency. Yes, Newgarden has five wins; but he also has five races where he finished thirteenth or worse – including a twenty-fifth in the GMR Grand Prix at IMS and a twenty-fourth in Race Two at Iowa. Power’s worst two finishes are a fifteenth and a nineteenth – with a string of podiums and Top-Four finishes.

Personally, I’m sticking with the guy that no one is talking about – Scott Dixon. He has done this way too many times, when everyone was overlooking him. I think he is going to do it again. It is certainly doable. With just a fourteen point deficit with two races left.

Father Time: While Father Time has not yet caught up with Will Power or Scott Dixon, it does seem that Ed Carpenter has hit the wall – and I don’t mean on the track. Ed will be forty-two by the time the 2023 season gets underway. That’s certainly not old, even in IndyCar circles. But Ed seems to be no longer competitive. Last fall, I said that Ed should step away from driving and focus strictly on team ownership. Most people at the time strongly disagreed with me, and questioned why I thought I was in a position to tell a driver what to do. This season, he ran all five ovals. Hisa best finish was thirteenth at Texas. He was nineteenth at Indianapolis, twenty-fifth and seventeenth at Iowa and twenty-second on Saturday night.

I had conversations with staunch supporters of Carpenter’s at Gateway, and even they were saying it’s time for Ed to hang it up. Here is what I hope happens – have Ed Carpenter run the Indianapolis 500 only, next May, and then give himself an honest evaluation, not based on emotions. Then he can decide from there about future years. But I see him do a service to no one by running around in the back of the pack at Texas, Iowa and Gateway.

Mr. Outside: My routine at Gateway is to watch the start of the race at Pit-Out, on the inside of Turn One. You can see them coming down the straightaway, and then watch as they go into Turn One and exit Turn Two. There is also a video board fairly close by, so that you can see what is going on at the other end. After a few laps, I meander through the pits, slowly making my way down to Pit-In, as the are coming off of Turn Four.

I was captivated in those first few laps, by watching Felix Rosenqvist come up from starting last. He made the outside line his own as he passed multiple cars in each turn in the first three laps. I held my breath on Lap Two, as he did the same maneuver through Turn Two. I’m not certain of this, but I think by Lap Three, Rosenqvist had already moved up from starting twenty-sixth, to thirteenth. It would have made Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish proud.

The Crowd: There is no way to sugarcoat it – the crowd was down for Saturday’s race. I don’t have to see the balance sheet. I’ve got eyes and memories from previous years’ Except for the COVID double-header in 2020, this was the smallest crowd I can remember for this event.

There could be a few reasons why. Was it because the race was scheduled for a 5:30 pm start? Temperatures were pleasant this weekend, but in years past – it has been like a sauna at that track at 5:30. Not knowing what the weather would be like, I’m guessing some decided to pass on what could have been a surface of the sun experience.

It could be that NASCAR Cup ran at this track for the first time back in June, and fans had to choose. Hopefully, those that chose NASCAR, will come back to IndyCar next year – but who knows? I also wonder if some of the tracks promotional dollars were siphoned away to promote the NASCAR weekend.

Whatever the case, I hope those that are a lot smarter than me can figure out what went wrong and fix it, before it becomes a trend.

The Rookies: This has been a fun bunch of rookies to watch this season. Christian Lundgaard was starting to steal the show away from his fellow rookies, but he looked lost at WWTR all weekend. Lately he has been outpacing his veteran Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammates, and was rewarded with a restructured contract last week. But he was uncompetitive this past weekend.

By finishing second, Dale Coyne Racing’s David Malukas is now only eleven points behind Lundgaard with two races to go. It should be a very lively battle in the next two races. Don’t you know Kyle Kirkwood thought he was going to be in that conversation, back at St. Petersburg?

Drive of the Day: I did not deliberate with myself at all over this one. David Malukas was starting only his fifteenth IndyCar race and fifth oval. He started an anonymous twelfth and worked his way up to a very respectable fifth, by the time the race was red-flagged for rain. Most rookies would have been happy to ride around in fifth for the rest of the night. But the twenty year-old rookie from Chicago was not content with fifth. He surged to second place like a seasoned veteran and could have out-dueled Josef Newgarden for the win, had there been a few more laps left. David Malukas may not have won the race, but he did earn the Oilpressure.com Drive of the Day, for whatever that’s worth.

All in All: There were two common themes among the drivers that came into the press conferences through the weekend – we need more ovals and we need more night races. I’m not exactly sure how they solve the first one. That’s a bit tricky. But four of the five ovals races on this year’s IndyCar season all have lights, yet they were all scheduled to run in daylight. Mother Nature forced the last forty-two laps to be run in total darkness, and those cars sure looked good under the lights. My vote is for Iowa and Texas to both go back to night races, assuming Texas is still around next season or beyond – but that’s a different topic for another day.

World Wide Technology Raceway put on another great two-day event. It was a good note to end our in-person season. I was scheduled to make nine races, and was able to attend eight. Susan was only able to make four this season, with Road America being her last this year. It really bothered her, having to miss Gateway, because Susan loves going to races almost as much as I do. She enjoys the social aspect more than the actual racing, because we’ve made a lot of friends at tracks over the past thirteen years. She has really missed being there this summer. But Mrs. Oilpressure has been trending upward for most of August, and I feel really good about her chances for a full recovery to get her back in the swing of things by the start of next season.

I will close with some photos I took on the grid, just before the start of the race – as well as the special liveries for Graham Rahal and Romain Grosjean, that I really liked. I have also included a couple of videos. One is the precision ballet that took place on Will Power’s first pit stop Saturday, when he pitted from the lead. The second is the start of Friday night’s Silver Crown race, and the massive sound of those engines. The audio doesn’t really do it justice, but it was impressive, nonetheless.

George Phillips

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9 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Gateway”

  1. I have thought Ed should have been Indy only for two years now. I hope he makes a good decision in this regard.

    • billytheskink Says:

      This seems an odd race to pick on Ed, given that he was the highest finishing driver on his team. While some of that is circumstantial, neither Veekay nor Daly were especially fast either before wounding their cars.

      Frankly, I think the calls for Ed move to Indy-only make less sense than ever this season. He’s in a part-time third car this year (which has probably contributed to his struggles this season), he’s no longer “taking” half of a seat away from a potential full-timer like he did for a decade. Now, all we as fans would get out of Ed going Indy-only is one less car on the grid.

    • Time Ed hung up his helmet. The team needs to become more competitive and he can do a great job managing that from the pit wall.

  2. Bruce Waine Says:

    TICKETS SOLD OUT

    Tickets for the new grandstand go on sale Friday, August 19 at 10 a.m. CDT. at circuitoftheamericas.com/f1/tickets. The circuit says all other reserved and general 3-day admission for this year’s USGP is sold out.

    Sold Out ! !

    I glanced at Racer’s F1 ramblings yeserday and wondered how they did it.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    George – Congradulations are in order.

    You picked Malukas to win.

    It would appear the your jinks has turned around and did not hamper Malukas from finishing second !

    And for the next two races ?

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Baffling strategy misplay by the teams of Power, O’Ward, and the Ganassi cars. The Harvey caution gave them a shot at “free” fresh tires with practically no track position penalty and they turned it down (betting on immediate rain, I guess). Bell and Hinch kept babbling about different strategies after this but there weren’t really any “different” strategies, everyone still had to pit one more time.

    The track talked a good game going in about ticket sales, but the turnout certainly did not reflect that. The weather forecast did attendance no favors, I’m sure.

    Really would like to see more night races, and more Silver Crown-Indycar pairings. Too bad (well, good for safety) they don’t run tracks the size of Texas any more.

    Above all, I am glad to hear that Susan is doing better. Prayers for her continued recovery.

  5. I have been listening to Ed’s radio this year because my favorite driver, Simona, is associated with that car. At Indy the car stalled after the red flag and Ed had to go to the rear. Had that not happened he probably would have finished 10th. At Gateway they never could get the balance right until he was 2 laps down. By then he was just trying to stay out of the way. Not sure how much difference it makes but it’s worth noting that he is now with the third team instead of the #20 crew. But I agree Ed is not as sharp as he was a few years ago.

  6. IndyCar’s championship fight might have more contenders with a chance in the last race than stock car playoffs allow for…

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