Gateway’s strong return, Newgarden’s forceful pass big for IndyCar


Whereas last week at Pocono Raceway the Verizon IndyCar Series delivered arguably its best race of the season, on Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park it delivered its most pleasant surprise.

With an actual crowd of fans on site at the 1.25-mile oval just outside downtown St. Louis in Madison, Ill., there was a proper pre-race buzz so palpable it was on par with IndyCar’s marquee events on each of its three types of circuits: Indianapolis (ovals), Long Beach (street courses) and Elkhart Lake (permanent road courses).

And then when Josef Newgarden delivered his second statement, authoritative pass for the lead of one of his Team Penske teammates in three races – he snookered Will Power at Mid-Ohio and forced his way past Simon Pagenaud in Gateway – it showcased a will-not-be-denied moment of glory that could net him his first series championship.

Those combined elements provided IndyCar an excellent capper to its six oval races for the year, following IndyCar’s return to a track that last hosted a race in 2003.


A two-year process to bring IndyCar back to Gateway reached its conclusion this weekend.

The initial series test in May brought about the subsequent repave prior to August, which were the latest signs of the commitment from Gateway officials. Title sponsor Bommarito Auto Group was hailed across multiple outlets for its local activation.

Week-long fan events were front and center in downtown St. Louis all week, culminating with a several-hour fan fest on Thursday afternoon prior to the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres baseball game, ensuring fans knew the race was on and close to the area.

Pagenaud and Newgarden in happier times, earlier in the week. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s amazing to see the community come together, between the city, civic leaders and race fans. It’s been an amazing opportunity to bring this event back to St. Louis,” Curtis Francois, Owner & CEO, Gateway Motorsports Park, said Thursday at a media lunch in the Ballpark Village outside Busch Stadium.

Fans started trickling in on race day even prior to Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires qualifying sessions at 1 p.m., which was as impressive as it was surprising. Single-car qualifying for fields of 15 cars or less don’t usually qualify as “scintillating,” but this was proof positive fans heeded the advice to come early, beat the traffic, and get situated.

Then with the autograph sessions happening on race day, long lines were evident for all three series competing, between IndyCar, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Some of the MRTI drivers said they were impressed and surprised with the turnout for their autograph sessions.

Both Pro Mazda and Indy Lights put on entertaining shows as buzz built in the infield with fans either coming through the paddock to watch the IndyCar race preparation or competing on the Gateway karting complex. That made it difficult to get places at times because of the swath of people, but again, not a bad thing.

Photo: IndyCar

Inevitably for a first-year or returning event, there were a few kinks that needed to be ironed out. There were some complaints witnessed about signage, credentials and ticket pickup, and parking that arose on social media. Leaving the track post-race was made a bit more complicated by a train derailment that closed I-55.

Then the actual start of the race left a bit to be desired with a handful of people in the paddock suggesting dust and debris from the pre-race fireworks display, more than rubber from the previous series, actually dirtied the track. That may have contributed to Tony Kanaan’s spin before the green flag and then the Turn 2 accident that involved Will Power, Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato all making contact, so race action didn’t get going until Lap 18.

But compared to some of the other first-year or returning events INDYCAR has had in recent years – street races in Baltimore and Houston and the one-year NOLA Motorsports Park experiment come to mind – there was nothing at Gateway that suggested these were elements that can’t be fixed. Instead, the cohesion between the sanctioning body, the track officials and the city of St. Louis combined to create a first-year event without most of the first-year headaches.

“Curtis Francois, Chris Blair and the staff did a phenomenal job,” Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations, told NBC Sports. “Everything we did from day one exceeded our expectations, which were very high going into the event. We can’t thank them enough for all the hard work and enthusiasm they did for the effort.

“Curtis had a great vision for the future of this track and this event, and we had great confidence in Curtis. They showed what had to be done, and they did it. Those are the type of people you enjoy working with.”

Once the front straight grandstand was close to filling up, the crowd was eager to witness a good race. And thanks to the race winning pass, the estimated 40,000 in attendance weren’t disappointed.


IndyCar is better with rivalries and thanks to Josef Newgarden’s forceful move on Simon Pagenaud for the win Saturday night, one may have just been launched within Team Penske.

The move itself has ignited debate on whether it was a cheap move by Newgarden to contact Pagenaud, or whether Pagenaud could have defended better to where the inside line wasn’t left open in the first place.

The attitudes by both drivers after the race reveal a lot about where they sit mentally at the moment.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 25: Simon Pagenaud of France, driver of the #77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda Dallara, pits during the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 25, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Pagenaud’s attitude about the pass is an interesting case study in his psyche. Consider Pagenaud has said the late Ayrton Senna is his racing inspiration, and he was able in a very cool moment to pay tribute to him with a Senna-inspired helmet design at the 2014 Indianapolis 500, his last year driving a Honda-powered IndyCar (above).

Would Senna, known for his ruthlessness on track, have gone for that gap that Pagenaud left slightly ajar – but enough ajar – that Newgarden did? It’s hard to say no, and very easy to imagine yes, even though we never got to see Senna, like Nigel Mansell, race on an oval.

“I think if it wasn’t me, he would be in the fence with somebody else. That’s what I’ve got to say,” Pagenaud said Saturday night in perhaps his most tense, angry moment in IndyCar.

“There’s no crash (so it wasn’t reviewed); it’s more, how do you call it, a driver rule. It’s how much you respect each other,” he added.

“When you think the gap is open enough to risk it on an oval. I’m not talking road course. I think on a road course, that was a beautiful pass. But we’re not on a road course. There we are going 40, 50 miles an hour. Here we’re doing 190 there. It’s completely different story.”

Pagenaud knows of what he speaks because last year at Mid-Ohio, he delivered arguably his best pass for the net lead yet in IndyCar when he barged his way past Power in the Carousel.

Yes, it was at a slower rate of speed – but the point still exists that he went for a gap, made contact with a teammate and got ahead in the process. Such a pass was key to him securing last year’s championship, and created a 20-point swing in a single move.

Newgarden knows that just as well, because his move did just the same. What would have been only an 18-point lead had Pagenaud held off Newgarden has swung to a 43-point lead now with two races to go.

And Newgarden was far from angry in the post-race press conference. He wasn’t oblivious to the controversy; he was more matter-of-fact about it.

“I mean, Simon gave me a lane to work with,” he said. “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 on the 2 car side. Pagenaud, didn’t get up into the wall or anything like that, so I would say it worked out okay for him, too.”

Where Pagenaud made a mistake in this case was by leaving the inside open to begin with, and if I had to guess, was probably more upset about that than he was the fact there was contact.

It was showcased in the two earlier MRTI races Saturday that moving from outside of the track to the inside, and forcing drivers to go around the outside, would be the way to defend the lead and break the draft. Had Pagenaud mirrored Power’s late-race defense of Newgarden last week at Pocono, he may well have held him off.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, prepares to practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The big question I’ve had with Pagenaud all year is if he’s been in the same excellent state of mind he was last year, when he immediately declared himself the team leader at Penske courtesy of his incredible five-race start of three wins and two runner-up finishes, which created a championship gap he worked to maintain the rest of the year.

Pagenaud executes at his best when he’s the clear team leader and has the full focus of the team around him. This was often the case for him in sports car racing and when he was at Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports his first few years in IndyCar, and was also true for the better part of last year as he ascended up the unofficial Penske depth chart.

This year, it seems he’s been playing catch-up both on pace and in the headlines.

AVONDALE, AZ – APRIL 29: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet walks to driver introductions before the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 29, 2017 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Newgarden’s arrival dominated the winter discussion, even as Pagenaud was enjoying the spoils of his first championship, and got to celebrate at home in France. Will Power had a baby over the offseason and has been far more laid back all season, as he keeps wracking up the poles, but has fought inconsistency. Helio Castroneves’ future has been a talking point in his 20th season, with his future in a Penske IndyCar for the following year not assured for the first time in a decade.

That’s left Pagenaud, who’s been most consistent of all of them this year but not quite as fast, almost overlooked.

Pagenaud and Newgarden were utilized in a couple videos together throughout the 2014 season, notably one when they were both lost within the Iowa corn fields. However a funny video emerged Monday looking at how their relationship has changed, set to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.”

Pagenaud had a chance Saturday night to deliver his first real statement he was ready to defend his title, had he held off Newgarden for the win at Gateway.

But the pure optics and undertones of the new Penske driver, driving car No. 2, forcing his way past the defending champion in car No. 1, was too sweet and savory to ignore.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”