All photos courtesy Kevin Theole/Gateway Motorsports Park

IndyCar drivers praise repaved Gateway oval after test

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The Verizon IndyCar Series is on a two-week break of racing but there’s still track activity in the interim, with yesterday’s test at the Gateway Motorsports Park and a further short oval test of the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway for the 2018 Dallara universal aero kit next week.

The Gateway test yesterday was the most important ahead of the August 26 Bommarito Auto Group 500, as IndyCar returns to the Madison, Ill. circuit for the first time since 2003.

An initial test in May featured a voluminous amount of cut tires, but between INDYCAR (sanctioning body) and the track, the decision was made to repave the track, and it appeared a hit from the drivers who tested yesterday.

Here’s the old surface, below, before the new one underneath that.

Photo: IndyCar

 

While times are unofficial, NBC Sports understood from a couple different teams at the track that times were at least one second faster on the repaved surface.

It was a much smoother day as the eight teams present cycled through their programs; not all full-season drivers were there but at least one member from each team was.

Rain halted the scheduled test was scheduled to run from 4 to 9 p.m. CT but started at 2 p.m. due to weather concerns. The eight teams tested from 2 to 4:30 p.m. without incident and it began to rain during the break. Thanks to persistent showers, the session was called complete.

Some driver reactions are below.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.