IndyCar Preview: Bommarito Automotive Group 500

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Round 14 of the Verizon IndyCar Series sees a return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. With only four races remaining, the championship picture is now in full focus and, if last year is any indication, Gateway could prove to be one of the most pivotal moments in the championship fight.

The aforementioned 2017 outing saw champion-to-be Josef Newgarden make an aggressive pass on teammate Simon Pagenaud for the win, asserting both his status within Team Penske and his willingness to do whatever was necessary to claim a championship, including “roughing up” a teammate a little.

Newgarden is again in the title picture this year, but only on the fringe – he sits 66 points behind leader Scott Dixon. Better positioned, however, is Alexander Rossi. The winner of the last two IndyCar races sits 29 points behind Dixon and has the gumption to challenge the great Dixon. Expect an all-out duel between them if they’re at the front together.

Talking points ahead of Gateway are below.

Wickens At the Front of Everyone’s Mind

Robert Wickens continues to recover from injuries sustained in the horrifying crash at Pocono Raceway last weekend Photo: IndyCar

One week removed from the horrifying accident that produced arm, leg, and spinal injuries for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens, the 29-year-old Canadian remains in everyone’s thoughts.

Several updates have come in this week on Wickens’ condition, and the most recent one details that he underwent surgery to have titanium rods and screws placed in his spine to stabilize what has been described as a thoracic spine injury, and the procedure was completed successfully without complications.

It is never easy to continue racing in the aftermath of such an ordeal, but that’s exactly what the teams, drivers, and series will do. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, in particular, should be commended for their handling of the situation. They have provided updates as often as they can and in a manner that is appropriate and sensitive to the severity of the situation.

James Hinchcliffe, who suffered cuts to his hands in the accident last Sunday but was checked, cleared, and released, will be behind the wheel of his No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda. The team has also elected not to field the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda that would have been driven by Wickens, meaning Hinchcliffe will be flying solo this weekend.

Already fan favorites, Hinch and SPM will undoubtedly be the sentimental favorite at Gateway. And given that Hinchcliffe is a winner on the most recent short oval (Iowa Speedway), don’t be surprised if he and SPM find themselves at the front again.

Short Oval Thrills

The 2018 aero kit has been a winner on short ovals in 2018. Photo: IndyCar

While the super speedways have left a little to be desired in 2018 in terms of the on-track product, short ovals continue to be an absolute thrill show.

ISM Raceway featured an improvement over the previous runnings, helped by Alexander Rossi unlapping himself under green on his way to finishing on the podium.

And Iowa Speedway was one of the best short oval races in recent memory, with nearly 1,000 on-track passes that culminated in the aforementioned Hinchcliffe chasing down Josef Newgarden for the win.

Gateway is not the bull ring that ISM and Iowa are, but it is nonetheless classified as a short oval – it stands at 1.25 miles in length.

Further, it was one of the best events of 2017 and featured a crowd reportedly greater than 40,000, making it one of the best attended races on the schedule.

If that type of a crowd returns, and if the racing we saw at ISM and Iowa comes to the fore, then Saturday night could be another night to remember.

Rossi/Dixon Title Fight Could Be One for the Ages 

Alexander Rossi has become the star everyone hoped he would be after winning the 100th Indianapolis 500. The Californian who spent most of his junior career in Europe quickly assimilated himself back into the American Racing scene, and has become admired the world over for a hard-charging style. And while it has occasionally gotten him in trouble, it has more often than not paid dividends.

Alexander Rossi has won back-to-back races. Photo: IndyCar

Rossi is the challenger, but Dixon is the master.

Dixon’s legend has been widely reported on of late, and deservedly so. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is the greatest of his generation, and is among the greatest drivers anywhere in the modern era.

Scott Dixon remains every bit of his dominant self and currently leads the IndyCar championship. Photo: IndyCar

What is on the table is a classic duel between the long-established master and the hungry newcomer. Last year, Josef Newgarden – the “hungry newcomer” that year – came out on top ahead of people like Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power.

This year, despite featuring fewer players, is set up in a similar way…and it could lead to a genuine classic that we may be talking about for years – either because Dixon outdueled one of IndyCar’s young lions, or because Rossi outdueled the master.

Misc.

  • Gabby Chaves returns to the No. 88 Chevrolet for Harding Racing at Gateway. Conor Daly ran the previous three races for them, but is competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America this weekend.
  • Since this is the final oval of 2018, it marks the final race of the year for Ed Carpenter, who will yield to Jordan King for the final two races at Portland International Raceway and Sonoma Raceway. Carpenter has top 10s in four of his previous five starts in 2018, but is still looking for his first victory since 2014.

The Final Word…

From Alexander Rossi, winner of back-to-back races entering Gateway:

“I’m so thrilled to be returning to Gateway Motorsports Park after the spectacular event we had last year. I think this track is one of the absolute best in terms of the effort that they put in to promote our series, and I hope to put on a great show for them. We are obviously nearing the end of the season, so we will be looking to continue to close the gap to Scott (Dixon) this weekend. With that said, all of our thoughts are still with Rob (Wickens) and his family at this time.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule: 

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, Aug. 24
12:15 p.m.- 1:15 p.m. (1:15 – 2:15 ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
4:00 p.m. (5:00 p.m. ET) – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps), RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)/NBCSN (Taped, 7:30 p.m. ET Aug. 26)
8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  (9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series final practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, Aug. 25
7:00 p.m. (8:00 p.m. ET) – NBCSN on air
7:35 p.m. (8:35 p.m. ET) – Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (248 laps/310 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Josef Newgarden
2. Scott Dixon
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Conor Daly
6. Alexander Rossi
7. Charlie Kimball
8. James Hinchcliffe
9. Carlos Munoz
10. Sebastien Bourdais

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After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit

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DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”