Bommarito 500- The Race with Many Faces

Another successful event at Gateway Motorsports Park ended with a race that had something for everyone. Will Power grabbed his third win of the season, closing some ground on points leader Scott Dixon. There were a couple of passes for the lead, pit strategy, and fuel saving. A driver charged from deep in the pack to earn a top five. The surprise was that it wasn’t Alexander Rossi or Sebastien Bourdais.  As is typical of night races, the complexion changed as the track cooled.

Fortunately, setting the field by points did not affect the results. That is always a concern when the starting grid is set with no regard to speeds on a particular weekend.  It was evident that Power had tje best car from the green flag when he jumped into second place behind Dixon as Rossi had an unusually bad start. Rossi at one point fell all the way back to eighth.

Drive of the Race

While positions remained fixed at the front, Zach Veach charged to tenth from sixteenth. He would remain in the top ten the rest of the evening and lead his first career laps before finishing fifth. Veach has four consecutive top ten finishes. Saturday was his second top five this year. Veach got credit for helping Andretti Autosport set up their cars for Pocono from Rossi in Victory Lane. He should be even stronger next year.

Caution Sets Up Fuel Run

The second caution on lap 173 for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s stalled car caused everyone to re-figure pit stops. The race went back to green with a distance remaining that was a bit too long to make the end on a full tank. Rossi was one of only three cars to not make a fourth stop. He has becoming a fuel saving master on the same level as Dixon and Power. He salvaged second as Dixon was indecisive on whether to save or go wide open. meanwhile, power had stopped with 17 laps left and go full speed.

Great Save

Several cars, including Power, tried to pass on the outside going into turn 1 and ended up getting very close to the wall. Rossi slid in turn 2 and appeared to be heading straight for the wall before getting the car under control. It must have made some dirt car drivers jealous. He lost the race by 1.3 seconds. The margin would have been closer if not for that adventure.

Gateway Hits Another Home Run

Gateway Motorsports park and the Bommarito Group put on a much improved event. They took feedback from 2017 and put more than 1 million dollars into making the fan experience better. There were many more food vendors, including several food trucks with quite a variety of offerings. The widened drive and paved parking made leaving smoother. My group was on the highway in about twelve minutes.

A couple things they might consider for next year- many workers still did not know where to redeem paddock vouchers for wristbands nor which seats were general admission. The track also could establish a number to text if a fan has an issue. There were people smoking in the grandstands in spite of signs prohibiting it.

Overall, this group knows how to promote and put on a race.

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Sebastien Bourdais sits on track after hitting the wall on lap 1.

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The first two rows line up on the backstretch for the start.

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Quick Thoughts on the Bommarito 500

Thoughts still with Robert Wickens. Thanks to everyone at the track who wore Wickens gear or red today.

Much was improved as far as fan experience. Leaving the track for my group was fast and easy. We were on the highway 12 minutes after getting into the car. There were more food vendors, at least double the number from last year. Water was readily available. I assume even more improvements will come next year.

The second part of the race after the lap 183 restart was fun. Cars could finally pass and fuel strategy came into play.

Another great run for Zach Veach. He moved up steadily all night and led at one point.

Spencer Pigot also had a good race.

Passing in the  first half of the race was due to mistakes by the drivers ahead. Quite a few in one race.

Power gained some points on Dixon, but not as many as he needed to. He will have to win out and hope Dixon finishes out of the top ten.

For a while Ed Jones was doing what Dixon’s teammate should do. He got between Dixon and the driver chasing him for the title. Too bad he couldn’t hold on to the end. He hasn’t done that much this year.

I still like Rossi’s chances to win the championship. If he can gain points on a night when his car was not that strong, I think he’s in good shape.

Did Dixon overthink his fuel strategy? Finishing third instead of second left seven points on the table.

Look for a full race recap on Wildfire Sports on Monday.

 

Welcome to Gateway

It’s race weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park as preparations for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 begin today with practice and qualifying. Indycar’s first practice is scheduled for !:15 ET and qualifying begins at 5:15 ET. Pro Mazda and Indy Lights also have practice and qualifying today. Weather could be a factor pushing the schedule back today.

In the track’s continuing efforts to improve the fan experience, Gateway has added a second paddock/pit voucher redemption location. Last year there was one location staffed by one person on Friday.

Follow the Pit Window on Twitter and Facebook for live updates including weather and schedule changes throughout the day. I will have my Quick Thoughts on Qualifying here early tomorrow morning and race thoughts posted Sunday. A full race recap will be on Wildfire Sports on Monday.

Gateway- Therapy for the Indycar Community

The Bommarito 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park could not have come at a better time.  The entire Indycar community- fans, teams, drivers, crews- needs to get right back to a race after last Sunday.  When Dan Wheldon lost his life in Las Vegas in 2011, it was the season finale. That made the pain worse as we all had to wait until the following spring to get back to a track.

In 2015, after Justin Wilson’s accident, Sonoma was the following week.  It felt comforting to be back  at the track so quickly and to be with many Indycar friends. I remember the subdued tone to the paddock that Friday at Sonoma.  I’m keeping Robert Wickens in my thoughts still, but I will feel better when I get to the track Friday.

Friday the paddock again may not have its usual frenetic short weekend buzz, but by Saturday things should get back to normal. Once the green flag drops everyone will focus on the race. There is still a tremendous fight for the season championship going on. Scott Dixon will try to extend his shrinking lead over Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power.

The Bommarito Group is expecting another huge crowd this year. To address some issues from last year’s event, they have undertaken a $1.1 million project. A new entrance, wider roadways inside, and more parking are just some of the items added to help fans have an easier time at the track.

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Part of the tremendous crowd at Gateway Motorsports Park last year. Photo: Mike Silver

 

Iowa or Phoenix?

The big question is will we see a race like we saw at Phoenix with no passing or an action packed race like Iowa? The Gateway track sits between those two distance wise. The banking more resembles Phoenix, as does the narrowness of the racing surface. Perhaps the shorter distance and the aero tweaks since Phoenix will make for a better race. After Sebastien Bourdais tested here, he said he thought a pass could be made one on one, but passing would be difficult in a group of cars. That could prevent the leader from getting away from whomever is chasing him if he has trouble getting through lapped traffic. Rossi is the only driver who has consistently been able to pass cars on difficult tracks this year. Bourdais has also shown the ability to pass to a lesser degree.

Chevy or Honda?

Honda cars have won the last three oval events despite a Chevy winning the pole. I suspect that is what will happen Saturday. The Chevy cars have not been great in traffic on ovals, while some  Hondas seem to be able to work around slower cars easier. Hondas also appear to be getting better fuel mileage. In a normal year, which this hasn’t been, I wold this should be a Chevy track. But then,  Pocono and Texas should have been also.

Can Dixon Hang On?

This will be the week Dixon extends his lead. I don’t think it will grow by much, but he will finish ahead of the three drivers chasing him. I’m not sure one of the contenders will win Saturday’s race. I think Dixon will leave St. Louis with a lead big enough to hold through Portland next weekend and be the man to catch going to the Sonoma finale.

Will Veach Continue His Late Season Run?

Zach Veach has finished in the top ten the last three races and should make it four at Gateway. Veach also had a fourth place at Long Beach. He sounds very confident and is someone to watch for the rest of the year. Veach has shown some flashes of good driving which have been spoiled either by on track missteps or pit fires.

Notes

Gabby Chaves returns to the number 88 Harding racing entry this weekend. Chaves began the season as Harding’s regular driver, but Conor Daly stepped into the car in Toronto. Daly gave the team its best qualifying spot and finish there and also drove at Mid Ohio and Pocono as the team looks for developmental help.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will James Hinchcliffe as their only entry this weekend. The #6 car of Robert Wickens will return at Portland with a driver to be named.

Winner?

This is a tough one to call, but I’m going to say Marco Andretti breaks his long drought. I have a perfect record this year (all wrong), so don’t bet the house on this.

 

 

 

Indycar Drivers’ Licenses and Thoughts on the Mad Silly Season

Catching up on a few items from Indycar over the past week:

Last week Indycar in conjunction with the five year plan for Indy Lights, introduced a procedure to obtain an Indycar driver’s license. The criteria grants automatic eligibility to drivers who race in Formula 1 or NASCAR or have a predetermined level of success and/or experience in other series.

Indy Lights drivers become automatically eligible by finishing in the top three in one full season or the top five over two full seasons. Drivers in other series can get a license by accumulating a set number of points over a two year period.

The license criteria allows for exceptions. Among this season’s drivers, Robert Wickens is an example of someone who would have needed an exception and most likely would receive one based on his experience. Santino Ferucci likely would not have gotten a license.

The point values  and criteria for exceptions have not been announced.

I like that Indycar is implementing this system. It should strengthen the grid. Will it prevent ride buying? Not necessarily. It might actually force owners who rely on ride buyers to hunt for sponsorship on their own. Another possible consequence is a case where an owner needs a driver to bring money, but that driver isn’t eligible for a license. How will that exception be handled? Could it cost the grid a car? Would that owner have to sit out?  Like the Road to Indy five year plan, this is still a work in progress, but it is a step in the right direction.

The Three Headed Silly Season- Drivers, Teams, Tracks

Usually Silly Season is all about drivers. This year it is about drivers, teams, and tracks. The one key driver is Scott Dixon, who is a free agent at the end of the season. Will he stay at Ganassi, take what’s rumored to be a gigantic offer from McLaren, or move to Team Penske, as Robin Miller mentioned on the NBCSN Mid-Ohio broadcast?  My guess is he sticks with Ganassi. The McLaren money is untouchable by anyone else, but there are a lot of unknowns with a new team. Dixon at Penske would sap a lot of the rivalry out of the series.

 

Which shade of orange will Scott Dixon wear next season?

Team Shuffles?

Andretti Autosport is planning on having McLaren bring two cars to Indycar next and assumes McLaren  will be in a technical partnership with AA. That would give Andretti eight drivers. Meanwhile, Harding Racing is looking for a technical partner, possibly with Andretti. Two Andretti cars could become a part of Harding’s stable along withe the potential two cars Harding plans to run next year. Got all that? This would give Andretti full or partial control of one third of the grid.

I admire Harding and Juncos Racing going alone this year. A partnership with an established team would help speed their development. However I think eight is too many cars for one owner to have a hand in. I have thought for years Andretti Autosport was spreading itself too thin, yet they keep producing results.

Belardi Racing is looking to expand its entry beyond the 500 next year. Belardi was affiliated with A.J. Foyt Racing for the 500 this year. the car was driven by James Davison. They are also looking to expand their Indy Lights program. This is what more Indycar owners need to do- have an Indy Lights program and develop a driver in their system. It would instantly give more value to a ride in Lights.

The Schedule

We know a little about the schedule from track announcements and an assist from the recently released IMSA schedule. It’s what we don’t know that is preventing a final announcement.

What replaces Phoenix in the Spring? I can’t imagine the series would go dark for five weeks from the St. Pete opener  March 10 to April 14 at Long Beach. The gap to Phoenix was too long at three weeks. With Iowa moving to July 20, does Mid Ohio keep its date the following weekend?

Speaking of Iowa, great news that this will be a Saturday night race again. The racing has always been better there at night.

While Belle Isle got the go ahead from the advisory committee, the race is not officially on until the Michigan department of Natural resources approves it. IMSA has their Belle Isle event listed as tentative on their schedule.

Is there another new track coming on board? Mark Miles has said there will be 17 races again.

The IMSA schedule shows the sports car series at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca the week before the Indycar finale there. I don’t understand how either event will draw much of a crowd. Two major events on back to back weekends cannot help a track’s bottom line. The only remedy would be a discounted combo ticket or a season pass. This sounds iffy for a good crowd at the Indycar finale.

Notes

Colton Herta had his first Indycar test at Portland  with Harding Racing.

Sportscar driver Colin Braun has expressed interest in getting an Indycar ride for next year. The announcers on the IMSA telecast said he would be testing a car. I don’t think he has one scheduled at the moment.

Another sportscar team, Dragonspeed (not Jay Penske’s outfit) is also interested in forming an Indycar team.

With all the expansion planned by current teams and all the possible new entries, the grid could be quite crowded next year. realistically, probably not all of these will pan out, but I do look for a larger grid and even more entries at Indianapolis in 2019.

Indycar News and Notes

Programming note- Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will be televised live on CNBC at 3 pm ET and re-aired on NBCSN at 6:30 pm Sunday.

It seems as if Indycar has a news item or two every day lately. Here are a few tidbits.

Mo Nunn

Mo Nunn died last Wednesday after battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Nunn was the engineer who helped Chip Ganassi’s team first taste success with Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya. Mike Hul credits Nunn for his current success Ganassi has.

A former Formula 1 driver and team owner, Nunn also owned teams in CART and the IRL. Tony Kanaaan drove for Nunn in CART before going to Andretti Green in 2003.

My friend George Phillips wrote a nice tribute to Nunn on Monday. you can read it here:

https://oilpressure.wordpress.com/

Mid Ohio Features Return of Three Drivers

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio will see the return of Jack Harvey in the number 60 Meyer-Shank racing entry. This is a home race for Michael Shank, who is looking to eventually become a full time Indycar team.

Pietro Fittipaldi, recovered from fracturing both legs in a practice accident at Spa two months ago, returns to the 19 car for Dale Coyne Racing. His absence allowed Zachary Claman De Melo toget more time in the car. DeMelo did a nice job. I’d like to see him in a full time ride.

Conor Daly will again be driving for Harding Racing. He took Gabby Chaves’ place in Toronto, giving the team its best qualifying and finishing position of the year. Chaves is still under contract with the team through 2019. He will be back in the car at some point. The team is pleased with the technical information Daly is providing. Harding is hopeful of having a two car team next season.

Rahal Says Steak n Shake May Return

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing owner Bobby Rahal said that Steak n Shake may return as a sponsor of Graham Rahal’s car in the future. The company withdrew this year to redirect funds elsewhere. It would be great to see them back. Steak n Shake did a lot of activation with signs and prerace weekend appearances by Rahal at their restaurants.

Wildfire Sports is My Home for Mid Ohio

I will be reporting for Wildfire Sports this weekend Friday through Sunday. You can find my columns at wildfireradiosports.com.

I will post quick thoughts here and live tweet during the weekend. Follow along on the blog’s Twitter account @PitWindow.

Mid Ohio usually produces some big announcements about the next season.  Stay tuned

 

A Home Game for SPM Drivers- Honda Indy Toronto Preview

Photo above from Honda Indy Toronto website

The Verizon Indycar series makes its only trip outside the United States this weekend in Toronto. James Hinchcliffe gets to race at home coming off his victory in Iowa. Teammate Robert Wickens also can claim Toronto as his home track. Look for great results from this pair this weekend.  With Zachary Claman DeMelo also in the field, this is the first time in several years that three Canadian drivers have been in this race.

Indycar has had a long history at Exhibition Place beginning in 1986. The race was off the calendar in 2008, but returned the next year following the merger. This was one of the venues where double headers took place in 2013 and 2014.  Michael Andretti won at Toronto seven times, including three sets of back to back wins in 1991 and 92, 1994 and 95, and 2000 and 2001.

Active drivers who have won previously are Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, and  Scott Dixon. Power leads active drivers with three wins. Newgarden and Dixon each have won twice. Dixon swept the 2013 doubleheader for his two victories.

The event has the buzz of Indy about it, making it a fun race to attend. After track activity, there is Toronto to explore. This race is definitely worth a trip. Public transportation makes it easy to get to.

Does Honda Street Course Domination Continue?

Hondas have dominated on street circuits this season. Power has had the strongest Chevy on the streets with two seconds and a seventh place finish. He has qualified second twice and third once. Newgarden has not qualified well and although he has three top ten finishes, he hasn’t really been a factor in any of the street events.

Honda has won the pole for all four street races.  Alexander Rossi has won two poles.  This trend should continue. Hondas seem to like tracks with slow corners and short straightaways.

A Great Weekend for the Home Team?

The momentum SPM and Hinchcliffe have from winning Iowa and Honda’s strength on this type of track point to a great weekend for the team. Robert Wickens excelled at St. Pete and is one of the favorites to win his first career Indycar race Sunday.  Wickens has been in contention in most races this season and will be a factor on race day.

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Robert Wickens is one of the favorites for his hometown race. Photo: Mike Silver

Can Dixon Extend His Points Lead?

We are in the part of the season where points are as important as who wins the race. Dixon’s big lead suffered a slight drop last Sunday, but not enough to put his spot in jeopardy. It would be a shock if he had two bad races in a row. I’m not sure if he’ll extend his lead, but he may have a different runner-up chasing him to Mid-Ohio.

Is the Duel Back On?

My picks- Rossi on pole and Wickens winning the race. In a perfect world, they will both start on the front row. Rossi and Wickens could develop into a great rivalry with their different driving styles. Rossi has gained a reputation for his aggressive, unapologetic style on track, while Wickens drives steadily and doesn’t push the envelope.

Daly to drive for Harding

Conor Daly will drive the 88 Harding car this weekend, replacing Gabby Chaves. In a statement from Harding the team states they are looking to audition drivers for a second car next year and want some fresh input on the car. They are also looking at some Indy Lights drivers. Chaves will be back in the car at some point this season has a contract for 2019 with Harding.

Look for my Toronto recap on wildfirradiosports.com early next week. I will catch up on Indycar news in this space mid week, and I plan to have a feature story on a n historic turning point in 500 history.