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.

 

 

 

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Honda Sweeps Doubleheader; Race 2 and Weekend Thoughts

Above: Ryan Hunter-Reay just after taking the checkered flag to end his three year winless streak. Photo: Mike Silver

Another drought ended yesterday as Ryan Hunter-Reay chased down teammate Alexander Rossi, forced him to make a mistake, and won for the first time in 42 races. On Saturday, Marco Andretti ended his five year pole drought and Scott Dixon won his first race in nearly a year. Honda won both poles and both races in the home games for Chevy in Detroit.

Unlike Saturday, drama started in turn 3 of the first parade lap, when GM Vice President Mark Reuss spun the Corvette ZR-1, slammed head first into the wall, and bounced back in front of the field. Pole sitter Rossi was the only car able to get past wounded pace car. The others later returned to pit lane after the car was cleared. Rene Binder stalled the engine and needed a tow back to the pits. After a 30 minute delay, Oriol Servia, in a backup pace car, led the field to the green flag.

Sunday’s race looked a lot like Saturday’s event. teams used  different pit strategies with some cars opting for a three stop race. Ryan Hunter-Reay was one of the first to pit. meanwhile, Rossi was running away from the field. Rossi and Hunter-Reay exchanged the lead on pit stops. Rossi, on a two stop schedule, took the lead when Hunter-Reay pitted on lap 53. A 63. second stop put the deficit to Rossi at 10 seconds. Hunter-Reay’s DHL car had a lot of speed on fresher tires. Rossi had made his last stop six laps earlier. The lead gap slowly closed until on lap 64, Rossi missed the turn with a huge brake lockup. Hunter-Reay zipped past and took the checkered first. Rossi shredded a tire and after a quick replacement, he ended up twelfth. The mistake not only cost Rossi the victory, it also cost him the point lead that he had just gained on Saturday. Rossi is now third in points behind Will Power and Scott Dixon.

Overall, Sunday’s race was a better than average Detroit race. There were battles for position throughout the field and a fight for the win at the end. Belle Isle will return to the schedule next year.

Notes

I hope Sunday’s pace car incident leads to the end of celebrity pace car drivers. While Reuss does have experience driving high performance cars, he does not drive professionally. The drivers in this series deserve professional in all phases of the race. I have opposed this practice for a long time. I feel the same way about celebrity flag wavers. Professionals should controla race from the command to start engines on.

Sunday changed my mind about the new car racing at Detroit. It was amuch more competitive show than Saturday. This package needs a little tweaking. Texas next weekend will show how much adjusting needs to be done.

Zak Brown, principal at McLaren, and Gil De Ferran were at Belle Isle this weekend talking to teams about entering the season next year. DeFerran is helping facilitate McLaren’s entry into the series. Nothing has been confirmed.

Will Power’s runner-up finish yesterday was the only Chevy on the podium all weekend. Andretti had three of the six spots and Ganassi had two.

ABC/ESPN televised its final Indycar race for the foreseeable future. NBC Sports takes over television duties next weekend at Texas and all of the next three years. ABC at one time was the go to network for Indycar, but at the corporate level seemed to have had a waning interest in the sport the last few years. I appreciate the hard work of all the people I’ve met who work for ABC and hope many can catch on with NBC next year.  Some great people may not be back next year.

What is the Ceiling for Dixon?

Now that Scott Dixon has tied Michael Andretti with 42 career wins, how many more can he get before he retires? Someone asked me Saturday if I thought he could get to 50. I think that may be a stretch given his age and how difficult it is to win in today’s Indycar series. On the other hand, I wouldn’t completely dismiss the idea that he can reach the 50 mark.

Dixon Ties Michael Andretti on Career Victory List; Quick Thoughts on Race 1

It was a day of firsts. Marco Andretti won his first pole in five years. Scott Dixon won his first race in nearly a year and he led his first laps of the season. Dixon used quick and well timed pit stops to get and build a substantial lead.  The only thing that slowed Dixon were two late cautions.

Graham Rahal jumped the curb and hit the wall in turn 13 on lap 47. Four laps after the restart, Santino Ferrucci was punted into the tire barrier at turn 7 by Charlie Kimball. Kimball received a stop and go penalty for his avoidable contact.

Ferrucci, in his first Indycar race, had done a respectable job all weekend, He was on pace and pretty much staying out of the way.

The victory ties Dixon with Michael Andretti on the career win list with 42.

Quick Thoughts

The new aero package did not help the racing at Belle Isle. We had the same processional race we always get here.

Indycar needs to follow the Indianapolis 500 with a better race. The event itself is great, but the racing leaves a lot to be desired. A different weekend would be okay, but another oval to follow Indy would be ideal.

Indycar needs to address Charlie Kimball’s driving after his latest on track involvement in an incident  If Ferrucci had hit a wall instead of the tire barrier, the accident would have had more serious consequences.

Mike Hull’s great calls on pitting helped Dixon get to the lead.

The timing of the rain tomorrow looks like it might affect qualifying and maybe the start of the race. The new rain tires might get used just after their introduction.

Thursday at IMS- Some Photos to Start the Day

Good morning, Race Fans!  Here are some more photos from yesterday to start off the day.

Later on I will have a story about the Dreyer and Reinbold team with owner Dennis Reinbold and drivers Sage Karam and J. R. Hildebrand. Look for a piece about Cara Adams from Firestone in the late afternoon. Tonight my daily wrapup will be on Wildfireradiosports.com.

Pit Lane Parley will be doing a podcast bat the track tomorrow night. More details to come. Catch up on earlier episodes at wildfireradiosports.com or Podbean.

Enjoy the photos.

Power Takes Indycar Grand Prix Pole

Call it equalizing. At St. Pete, Robert Wickens nipped Will Power for the pole. Today, Power just beat Wickens to take his second consecutive pole for tomorrow’s Indycar Grand Prix.

 Power led both practice sessions. His  best lap in the afternoon round was 1:09.8759. Jordan King was second quick, 0.3 tenths behind.  Rossi was third to go with his second place in the morning practice. Power, King, and Rossi were them only three to place in the top five in both session

In Group 1,  Wickens, James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot , Jordan King, Josef Newgarden, and Helio Castroneves advanced. Castroneves was given a 5 minute hold at the start of tomorrow’s warmup for running an extra lap after the checkered flag.

Qualifying Group 2 had the top three in points- Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi,  and Sebastien Bourdais.  As the cars were leaving the pits, Gabby Chaves stalled and his crew retrieved the car and restarted him. Advancing were Bourdais, Power, Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, and Rossi. Rossi will start eigh

In Round 2 Wickens, Power, KIng, Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, and Newgarden made the Fast 6. Teams making the final round were Penske (2), Schmidt-Peterson (2), Ed Carpenter Racing. and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan.

Power won the pole with a time 1:09.8182. Wickens was second, 0.007 seconds behind. This is Power’s 51st career pole, placing him third on the all time career pole list. It is his first pole this year.

In the Fast Six press conference, Wickens said he made a mistake on his first lap in the final round. His teammate Hinchcliffe had brake issues in the second practice. He gave “huge credit to the 6 guys (Wickens’ team) for helping to solve the problem.

King was glad he was able to test on the road course before the season, He said that it helped him get right to work on qualifying today.

 

Test Day Wrap Up

Top Photo: Indycar

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had its first look at the new speedway aerokit. today. Speeds were fast for an initial test day. The crowd was likely the largest crowd ever for a test. The new car looks beautiful.

Many fans took advantage of the nice weather to come out to watch. I arrived at 10 am. Normally on a test day, I pull into the museum parking lot in front of the museum. I was shocked to find no spaces open, and that I had to park in the overflow lot on the east side of the building. Did I mention this was a test day? I have never seen both mounds so filled for a non-official day. last year when Fernando Alonso had his test day, I thought the crowd was large. i never thought I’d see a bigger crowd than that for a test. Today threw that idea out the window. I left for lunch and when I returned, I had to park behind the museum. I am now a well rounded museum visitor.

Speeds were higher than I expected. I was thinking no one would go over 220 mph as they were testing out how the new package handled on the large oval. But Tony Kanaan had the fastest lap at more than 226 mph.

I did not get to stay for the aeroscreen test with Josef Newgarden. I understand there was an issue with glare. I will find out more tomorrow about how it went.

One other observation- If you are going to the track this May, get a spotters’ guide and learn the liveries. The tiny numbers on the tiny rear wings are impossible to see. The teams that run the same sponsors on their cars fortunately have reversed the color pattern on one of the cars to make them easier to tell apart. This year, go by paint, not numbers.

The t5op 5 from this afternoon:

Tony Kanaan A.J. Foyt (Chevy)     226.181

Simon Pagenaud Team Penske (Chevy) 225.910

Marco   Andretti  Andretti Autosport (Honda) 225.637

Gabby Chaves Harding Racing (Chevy)  225.630

Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing (Honda) 225.448

James Hinchcliffe was slowest with a 220.161.

Andretti, Dixon, and Chaves were also in the top 5 in the morning session.

Gateway Promotion

Representatives of Gateway Motorsports Park came to IMS today to greet fans, sell tickets and continue their incredible race promotion efforts. According to trackm president Curtis Francois, they are doubling their concession offerings and have improved parking and camping. They are offering a bus trip on race day from IMS to Gateway. Cost is $149. It includes a race ticket and paddock pass. For more information, got their website, gatewaymsp.com

Some photos from the day.  Photos by Mike Silver

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Part of the large crowd at IMS today (Monday)
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Josef Newgarden holds a replica ticket for for the Bommarito 500 scheduled for August 25. Newgarden signed three of the the replica tickets which three fans won in a drawing.

King of Barber Knows a Good Tire Guy

Josef Newgarden needed help from his Tim Cindric to win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Monday. For the second time in three races, Cindric made the correct call on when to switch tires. In Phoenix it was a fresh set for the final restart. Monday it was putting rain tires on several laps before anyone else. He had some assistance from the weather. Had it not started raining harder Sebastien Bourdais would have won staying on slicks.

The rain with about 15 minutes left turned what was an ordinary race into an intriguing finish. Newgarden was clearly the class of the field. Bourdais’s gamble didn’t work because the rain intensified. He might have had a better chance pitting when Newgarden did. Bourdais ended up fifth, beating Scott Dixon in a drag race to the line.

With the victory Newgarden takes the points lead back from Alexander Rossi, who finished eleventh. This is the first time this season Rossi has not been on the podium. Newgarden leads by 13 points. I expect these two to swap the lead back and forth a few more times before Sonoma. Meanwhile, don’t ignore Sebastien Bourdais or Graham Rahal. They are tied for third 39  points behind. Bourdais owns the tie breaker with his victory at St. Pete. Rahal is having a very consistent year and one of his best starts to a season. He is usually very strong in the second half. Bourdais has led laps in all four races this year.

Notes

Why weren’t the leader lights working at Barber? They were on during Friday’s first practice, but weren’t on the rest of the weekend.

SPM continues its resurgence with a third for James Hinchcliffe and fourth for Robert Wickens.

Matheus Leist finished 12th for his best result this season. It was a bit of  salvation for an otherwise horrendous weekend for the Foyt team.

Zachary Claman De Melo turned the fastest lap of the race, 1:09.8183. He made some great passes. Keep an eye on this rookie.

Three drivers have won at what they consider their home tracks this season.  Bourdais at St. Pete, Rossi at Long Beach, and Newgarden at Barber. Does this trend bode well for Ed Carpenter at the 500?

Newgarden has won three of the last four races at Barber. He now has nine career wins.

Marco Andretti earned his third top 10 of the season Monday. This is by far his best start in a long time.

The windscreen gets its second test at IMS next Monday after the open test. Josef Newgarden will test the the device. Dixon tested it at Phoenix.

“Bump Tales” Begins May 3

A four week series recounting some of the more dramatic Bump Days in the past begins May 3. Many former winners missed the race and there was once a tie for the last spot.

Check in each Thursday during the month for stories about who didn’t make the fastest 33.