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What We Learned from Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway 2017

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The Big Picture:  The story goes that the new owner of Gateway Motorsport Park, Curtis Francois, walked into Verizon IndyCar Series offices several years back, and told them he wanted to host an IndyCar race. Since then, the man has pretty much moved heaven and earth to bring back the track that was open-wheel-less from 2004 through 2016, after being was dropped originally due to small crowds.

Event:  Fast forward to 2016, and Francois and his sponsors have a sold out event. If there was a problem, they fixed it. IndyCar had several testings there, and when drivers said the track was bumpy, Curtis Francois had the whole thing repaved. The result is that everyone’s happy now except his accountant. Here’s to many more successful years!

Qualifying:  First, the good news. Will Power took his 50th series career pole with  a new track record of 189.709 miles per hour which has stood for over 20 years. Congratulations, Mr. Power. In what was probably bad news for the rest of the field, his teammates Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud qualified right behind him! So Chevy got the pole with extreme prejudice.

Race:   And it took the race, too. After a sloppy start as described elsewhere, Newgarden would lead 170 of 248 laps to a decisive victory at Gateway, his fourth win of the season. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon finished second, with the other two Penskes taking third and fourth. Five cars were lost to the inevitable carnage that comes with short track ovals. And so it goes for the ovals for IndyCar’s 2017 season.

Biggest Surprise:  Will Power spinning out of the lead on Lap 1 from pole position.

Biggest Disappointment:  The unfortunate season that Brazilian racer Tony Kanaan is having continued when he spun on the formation lap, going three laps down. When he finally retired after completing 168 of 248 laps, he refused to speak to the press. We have covered TK for 20 years and never have we known him to do this.

Best Team:  This has become very dull, but once again, it’s Team Penske.  CGR, who lost  some primary  sponsorship coming into the season, has done a great job to grab the points when they can with the leadership of Mike Hull and their veteran driver, Scott Dixon and thus deserves a mention.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  The Bommarito Auto Group, a local concern in the Midwest, stepped up to the plate as the named sponsor of the race, in its return to the series.

What We Learned:  That the gloves are off at Team Penske, which could have a significant impact on the championship, and that Scott Dixon remains a tenacious competitor. That Conor Daly may have that special something that makes a good driver.

Schedule:  Next weekend, the series travels to the legendary track at Watkins Glen, on Sunday, September 3rd.

Quotes of the Weekend:

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “We had a great race with the Menards Chevrolet. All of the adjustments left us with a great car at the end. When we needed to come up with a great pit stop, we did. Those guys really are the best. They always come through when they have to. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out there at the end. I can’t say that I’m overly pleased, but that’s racing. We still have the championship out there, so we’ll get ready for Watkins Glen.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet): 
“It was a great night. First off, we had an awesome crowd. It was amazing actually what was out here tonight. I felt like the energy for this event, it really spurred everyone on. You should have seen all the drivers. I felt like everyone was a little extra nervous tonight because of the energy in this place. I remember watching this race when I was younger. They stopped coming here, I think 2003 was the last race. It’s fun to have it back in 2017 and see it so well supported for the first year. It was a great night to go racing. I felt like the PPG Chevrolet was going to be good tonight. We had four good cars at Team Penske. Happy to get the win on the No. 2 car side because I felt like we had the car to beat. I didn’t want us to be denied tonight for sure. Simon (Pagenaud) gave me a lane to work with. I had a good tow on him, put my car inside in the opening, got about halfway alongside of him. One thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard. I think if I would have stayed too far left, I would have jumped the curb and that would have taken both of us out. I tried to get Simon to move over a little when we were coming to the opening of the corner. We both had to slow up. Fortunately worked out well for us. Pagenaud, didn’t get up into the wall or anything like that, so I would say it worked out okay for him, too.”

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We had a good car all weekend. I was really upset with myself after qualifying, just had a big moment at the exit of (Turn) 1, but we redeemed ourselves. Then I tried to screw it up for myself again in the pits, but we were able to drive back. The car was just fantastic. I have to thank the team, I have to thank ABC Supply for sticking with us. I know it’s been a tough year, but I know we can do it. I know this team can do it. We’re just improving and it takes time. This is a hard sport.” (About close call with Charlie Kimball): “I won’t say anything bad about (Kimball), but it was just one of those really late moves that, being on an oval it’s not great to do. I mean everyone’s racing hard, it’s obviously tough on a short oval to make ground, but I mean that could have ruined my race right there. I thought the wing was gone going into the next corner, but it was still there. So thank you Chevy, for making strong pieces. But, yeah, I’m just happy to be here, and just hope I can be here for many more races.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “I guess that’s the best we could have hoped for. It was definitely going to be a tough race for us, but the car was actually very good. I think we had a better mechanical grip than the group we were racing with, with the Penskes, and especially toward the end of the run. We could sort of come back towards them. We had so much drag. We could get to them, but we couldn’t pull out and pass them. Definitely pretty hard to defend right there at the end with Simon (Pagenaud). It was pretty exciting to watch Josef (Newgarden) and Simon with that pass into Turn 1, which was pretty interesting, pretty tight. I was hoping it went a little bit different than what it actually did and could have picked up two spots, but huge credit to everybody on the NTT Data No. 9 car. Strong tonight. Strong pit stops. And how about the fans, man? This was awesome to come back to St. Louis and see the fans and how excited they were for this race.”

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Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.