2017 IndyCar series: Gateway talking points

Andrew Kitchener Roar Guru

By , Andrew Kitchener is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    IndyCar driver Justin Wilson and his rosella helmet. (Image: Andretti Autosport)

    Gateway, the 1.25-mile flat oval across the Mississippi River in Madison, Illinois (outside of St Louis, Missouri) is the final oval race weekend of the 2017 IndyCar Series season, and with only races at Watkins Glen and Sonoma left, the championship chase is on in earnest.

    Newgarden wins with an audacious pass
    Yep, no doubt about it, folks, Josef Newgarden wants the IndyCar Series championship, and if he’s going to make passes like he did to win the Gateway race, good luck stopping him.

    The American executed a ballsy pass, diving down into turn one, going under Penske stablemate Simon Pagenaud, the two cars touching for a brief second. It was clear sailing from then for the Tennessean, who led 170 of 248 laps on the night, and who has a handy 31-point lead with two races left. It was his third win in four races, a blistering summer run by anyone’s estimation.

    Pagenaud, the defending series champion, didn’t like the move, was visibly unimpressed and very vocal in post-race comments with the media: “About the move, I don’t have anything nice to say so I’m not going to say. It’s disappointing.”

    For the record, I loved the pass. Find me a fan who didn’t! It was simply good, hard racing – to quote Robert Duvall in Days of Thunder, “rubbin’, son, is racin’! – between two guys whose combined talent level ensured they both didn’t end up in the fence.

    More than that, Newgarden’s move is the sort of vision that’s going to get plenty of mileage outside the normal sphere of IndyCar media. Fans will see that and want to come next year in the hope of seeing something as spectacular. I like my IndyCar racing served audaciously.

    One thing, I can guarantee: Josef Newgarden won himself a bunch of new fans tonight.

    Another successful Midwestern race
    An oval event in the Midwest that’s well attended and puts on a good show. For IndyCar, that’s a dream come true. IndyCar’s powers-that-be would have been salivating on Saturday night when a standing-room-only crowd of more than forty thousand flocked into Gateway Motorsports Park to ensure the first IndyCar Series event there since 2003 was a success even before the green flag went in the air.

    Early on, it seemed like we might be plagued with issues like we saw at Phoenix with the current short oval aero package, but the on-track quality improved as the race went on. Sure, it wasn’t quite to the standard of the preceding Indy Lights race, but it was far better than Phoenix and more enjoyable than Iowa.

    It was sensational seeing packed grandstands up and down the main straight, and the good news is that the 2018 aero kit should further improve the racing product.

    All of this goes to show that with the right promoter, IndyCar can succeed on ovals in the American heartland. Congratulations to all involved.

    Will Power’s night was disastrous
    The Queenslander started from pole, had a chance to really assert himself as a championship threat, and instead spun early with the lead, slammed the outside wall, suddenly had Ed Carpenter’s Chevrolet all over him, and that was that for the night. He missed a golden opportunity, and is probably out of the championship hunt now, unless a few crazy things happen around him.

    Advantage, Newgarden for the championship
    As mentioned, the Tennessean holds a thirty-one point lead over Ganassi’s Scot Dixon heading into the final two races of the season at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, and is unquestionably the favourite at the moment. No one is driving as well as he is right now. He’s got speed, nous and, most importantly, desire.

    We all thought Newgarden would be good at Team Penske this year, but this good? Incredible. Remember, it took Pagenaud – no slouch behind the wheel – a season to get acclimatised. No such worries so far for the kid they call JoNew. He’s looked at home with Penske since the first race of the year. And he may end the season as a champion.

    Helio Castroneves is eleven markers back of Dixon for third, heading into what could be his final two non-Indianapolis 500 IndyCar events.

    Improvement for AJ Foyt Racing
    No sugar-coating things, it’s been a dog of a year for the Foyt squad, who drafted in Conor Daly and Carlos Muñoz in the offseason, to go with a manufacturer switch from Honda to Chevrolet. Nothing has gone right for the team since, but Saturday signalled that there might just be some light at the end of the tunnel – other than that of an oncoming train – after Daly finished a respectable fifth place, with teammate Muñoz not far behind in ninth. Hopefully something to build on for two drivers who are also stellar human beings.

    Takuma Sato to Rahal?
    Racer.com broke the news on Saturday that the defending Indianapolis 500 champion would depart Andretti Autosport at the end of the season, and return to the Honda-powered Rahal Letterman Racing, partnering Graham Rahal.

    It’s good news for the Rahal squad, who continually punch above their weight without the benefits of a multi-car operation, as long as Sato can manage to avoid crashing. His checkers-or-wreckers mentality can grate on a team owner, but his blinding pace, especially on ovals, means he’s going to be a serious shot at Indianapolis year in, year out.

    Andretti Autosport might be switching to Chevrolet for 2018
    With the Sato to Rahal news leaking out, the rumours regarding Andretti making a switch from Honda to Chevrolet for 2018 are probably going to gain some serious traction here. Sato is a Honda-contracted driver, and thus could not drive on a team with General Motors backing, so it stands to reason that there’s been an internal decision made. Of course, there’s a chance that Andretti are merely downsising, given the lack of sponsorship on a few of their cars.

    For now, now, we wait and watch, and wonder what happens to another Honda favourite, Alexander Rossi, if Andretti does join the Bowtie brigade for 2018. Losing the last two Indianapolis 500 champions will be a huge blow for Andretti, who will likely be on the hunt for at least one more driver to join holdovers Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

    Looking forward to Watkins Glen next weekend!

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