Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar Preview: Bommarito Automotive Group 500

Leave a comment

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

Follow@KyleMLavigne

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.