NTT IndyCar Series: Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Preview

After a second place run at Indy, Romain Grosjean looks to keep rolling at his first oval race. [credit Penske Entertainment: Matt Fraver]

After a second place run at Indy, Romain Grosjean looks to keep rolling at his first oval race. [credit Penske Entertainment: Matt Fraver]

by Paul Gohde

Coming off a chase through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield that produced another win there for Will Power, the NTT IndyCar Series moves to Gateway International Raceway, a track that represents the roots of Indy car racing; a true oval (albeit one with an egg shape). After racing here twice in 2020 due to pandemic rescheduling, Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 is the final oval on the 2021 schedule and likely the final run for veteran Tony Kanaan. Oval track specialists look at this race as a good opportunity to outpoint their road course rivals.

Race Facts: Gateway, also known as World Wide Technology Raceway, is a 1.25-mile high-speed oval in Madison, IL, near the Mississippi River, just across from St. Louis, MO. The tighter Turns 1-2 feature an 11-degree banking, while the sweeping Turns 3-4 are 9-degrees. The 260-lap, 500-kilometer chase (325 miles) is the 13th Indy car race here since the track opened in 1997 with first CART, then IRL, and now IndyCar sanction. Josef Newgarden has won here twice while Team Penske has captured six of the first 12 races. Will Power dominates the record book with the fastest qualifying lap (189.709 mph in 2017), and the record race win (2018- 155.644 mph). Michael Andretti came from starting 11th in 1999 to win on the tight oval. More recently, Newgarden and Scott Dixon won here last year with Takuma Sato visiting victory lane in 2019.

Recent Races: The chase for the IndyCar championship is narrowing down to a battle between Palou, O’Ward Dixon, Newgarden and perhaps Ericsson. Dixon, the six-time champ and Newgarden, twice the champ, have been through this before, while road course specialists Palou, O’Ward and Ericsson may have the advantage with three of the final four race on road courses. Given all of that, Dixon’s lone win came on an oval while Palou, Ericsson and O’Ward have each won twice on road courses with Newgarden’s lone win also on a road course. Given all of that, this week’s Gateway oval run would seem to be most important for Dixon and Newgarden to do well. We’ll know more later Sunday evening. Dixon doesn’t give up easily.

Race Entries: Twenty- four car/driver combinations are entered, with F1 veteran Romain Grosjean attempting to run in his first oval race…As mentioned, Tony Kanaan, racing an oval-only schedule, was to retire in 2020, but pandemic scheduling postponed his farewell tour until this season, likely making Saturday his final Indy car appearance.

2021 Season: Points: 1) Alex Palou, 415 points, 2 wins…2) Pato O’Ward, 394,2…3) Dixon, 381, 1…4) Newgarden, 360, 1…5) Marcus Ericsson, 353, 2…Other winners: Colton Herta, Power, Rinus VeeKay and Helio Castroneves each one…Manufacturers’ points after Indy road course race: Honda, 1,034 points/7 wins…Chevrolet 966/5

Notes: TV: Qualifying, Saturday, 5:00 pm (ET), Peacock Premium streaming…Race, Saturday, 8:00 pm (ET), NBCSN…Twenty-one entered drivers have raced at World Wide Technology Raceway before. Tony Kanaan leads that group with nine starts here… Points leader and pole-winner Palou dropped out of the road course race at IMS last weekend after his Honda engine failed, tightening his lead to 21 points in the NTT series points chase with four events remaining…Jimmie Johnson’s 19th-place finish at Indy was his best so far in this, his rookie learning season in IndyCar…The Indy Star reports that an announcement is near regarding Iowa Speedway’s likely return to the IndyCar schedule in 2022…Formula 2 champion Christian Lundgaard impressed with a fourth-place qualifying spot at Indy last week but the Dane faded to a 12th-place finish for RLL Racing…Ex-Formula One pilot Romain Grosjean finished a strong second in both IMS road course races during this, his rookie season…Michael Andretti was pleased with the strong finishes by his team drivers Colton Herta (third) and Alexander Rossi (fourth)…Many who attended the IndyCar/NASCAR weekend were happy for former Champ Car pilot AJ Allmendinger who captured his first NASCAR Cup win on Sunday.

Our Take: Many were disappointed that the NASCAR/IndyCar weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway failed to attract a larger crowd, both at the track and on TV. With all races held on the infield road course, the television shots of the main straight and pit stops gave a somewhat false idea of attendance, as the majority of fans were on the turns and berms where most of the action occurred. Actual race count seemed to be +/- what the Brickyard has drawn in recent years; likely a disappointment to Roger Penske who sought to boost attendance by adding an IndyCar event and putting all events on the road course. Combine that with the loooong time it took to finish the cup race due to the plethora of crashes and the problem with curbing, that surely left a somewhat negative impression on those leaving the track on Sunday. Many Cup drivers expressed their opinion during the week leading up to the races that this wouldn’t really count as a Brickyard win since the race wasn’t held on the oval. All that aside, we agree that the weekend should be a NASCAR event only and that perhaps the Saturday Xfinity race could be run on the road course as it was last year, and the Cup race put back on the historic oval. Also, if the curbing in the infield turns can’t be made to stay in place, it should be eliminated.

They Said It: Tony Kanaan, No. 48 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Honda: “It’s nice to be back in a car this weekend, especially for me for many reasons. I’ve had a lot of success with NTT Data and Ganassi. It’s kind a’ sad, but it’s time to go to St. Louis and get Ganassi and the 48 car a win.”

Next Race: Grand Prix of Portland, Portland International Raceway, Sunday, September 12.

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