Four races remain in the NTT IndyCar Series season, and just before the final three race tour on the west coast of the United States, the series heads to “The Gateway to the West”, St. Louis, and World Wide Technology Raceway.
The last oval of the season, WWTR, better known as Gateway, provides exciting short-track racing in a spectacular race under the floodlights. This season it will be a busy one-day event with practice, qualifying, and the race mere hours apart, leaving little room for error.
Following his late retirement from the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix last weekend, championship leader Alex Palou saw his cushion at the top of the championship evaporate, as Patricio O’Ward now sits only 21 points behind him in second place. An even closer gap of 13 points separates O’Ward from third place Scott Dixon, leaving the championship wide open coming down the stretch. Josef Newgarden sits fourth in the championship, with Marcus Ericsson closing in only seven points behind in fifth.
This race will also feature the debut of Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing rookie Romain Grosjean on an oval circuit. Grosjean originally joined IndyCar on a road and street course program, but announced in June that he planned on adding WWTR to his calendar and tested at the track in late July. This race also sees the returns of proven oval racers like Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan.
With the championship fight now closer than ever, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?
Last year’s race was a doubleheader due to COVID-19 scheduling issues. Will Power took the pole for the first race which started with a bang, as a six car pileup put the race under caution before it even began.
A late race start stacked the field up, and Palou tried to step out of line to get to the front. Simon Pagenaud and Oliver Askew followed, creating a domino effect of Askew rear-ending Pagenaud and then collecting Alexander Rossi, Carpenter, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. Palou and Askew were handed penalties for the incident.
When the race finally got under way, Power led the first stint until fellow front row starter O’Ward performed a fantastic undercut in the pits. Dixon was also able to pass Power, and tried to hunt down O’Ward. The young Mexican held off IndyCar’s “Iceman” through the next two stints, but was eventually passed by Dixon after the stop. Takuma Sato‘s spectacular pit stop saw him up to third, and with an audacious move around the outside of O’Ward he took second and began to hunt down Dixon.
Unfortunately for Sato, there weren’t enough laps remaining for him to catch up, and Dixon won his fiftieth career race. Sato finished second, while O’Ward finished third.
You can read the full report for Race One here.
Race two saw Sato start on the pole, joined by Newgarden on the front row. The first stint was all Sato, who pit much later than the other leaders on the same strategy he was on the race prior. Losing time behind lap traffic, he lost the lead to O’Ward who dominated the next stint just like he did the day before. Catching lap traffic like Sato did, O’Ward dove for the pits but was jumped by Power.
Power led until the final stint, where O’Ward and Newgarden dueled in the pits for the lead. Both pit on lap 151 with Newgarden winning the race off of pit road. Power had pit one lap later, and was caught behind traffic on his in-lap, putting him down to third.
That race off of pit road proved to be the winning move, as Newgarden went on to win under caution. Sato hit the wall in turn two, and with only four laps to go they could not clean up the debris in time to get a proper restart. With this win, Newgarden continued to close his points gap to Dixon as the 2020 season wound down. O’Ward finished with a second podium on the weekend, with Power finishing third.
You can read the full report for Race Two here.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?
Pit strategy and lap traffic management are crucial on all ovals, and Gateway is no exception. Getting caught in lap traffic on an in or out lap could cost you multiple positions on track, and could ruin a race. On short ovals drivers will lose a lap pitting, and an untimely caution could easily trap top contenders a lap down or more and that too could cost drivers a chance at the win.
Palou, the championship leader, has very limited experience at Gateway, even less since he was involved in the lap one wreck in the first race last year. Meanwhile, his rivals Dixon and O’Ward had significant stints at the front last season as well as a race victory, and both have won on ovals this year at Texas Motor Speedway. Palou easily has the equipment and talent to have a solid race, but this is a very good chance for the points gap to close even more.
Sato is a candidate for a win this weekend, with four top tens in the past five races at Gateway including a win in 2019. Sato consistently qualifies and races well at the 2.01 km oval, and could provide Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with their first win of the season.
Another contender for a win could be Power. One of the best qualifiers in IndyCar history sat on the pole here last year, and has qualified in the top five in the past five races at the track and won in 2018. Riding high from his front row start and race win at the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix last weekend, the momentum is there for him to put together a race win this weekend.
The oval aces Carpenter and Kanaan are also worth watching. Carpenter will pilot the number twenty car for his own Ed Carpenter Racing team, replacing Conor Daly who will race for Carlin in place of Max Chilton, and finished second here in 2019. Kanaan managed a top ten for A.J. Foyt Enterprises in race one last year, and now behind the wheel of Chip Ganassi Racing equipment, Kanaan could easily be a top ten finisher and might even be a contender for a win.
For a lot of fans, the most exciting thing to watch for this weekend is going to be Grosjean making his oval debut. This is an entirely different track layout for a driver so used to designed circuits and street courses, and with it comes a whole new learning process. If any driver can make a good run out of it, it’s the Swiss-born Frenchman, but it’s just as likely that he struggles to adapt.
Grosjean’s fellow rookie Scott McLaughlin, who leads the rookie of the year fight by only seven points, has some oval experience with two stellar top ten finishes at Texas earlier this year, and could also be a driver to watch at a much different track.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THIS WEEKEND?
Saturday 21 August
1315 EST / 1815 BST – Practice
1700 EST / 2200 BST – Qualifying
2000 EST / 0100 BST Sunday – Race
WHERE CAN I WATCH?
Coverage in the UK for the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.
In the United States, coverage for practice and qualifying will be broadcast on the Peacock streaming service, with the race being broadcast on NBCSN.
HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?
You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions. You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.