By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. – Last Sunday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway certainly had its opinions.
Some see it as Scott Dixon dominating the race as he lapped all but the podium en route to his second win of the season. Others look at the oval debut of the Firestone alternate tires as either overhyped or arguably worsening the product at Gateway.
On paper, the race saw 10 lead changes but Dixon and Josef Newgarden led a combined total 221 of 260 laps. It’s resulted in some drivers wondering what can be done to improve the racing at the fan favorite 1.25-mile oval.
Rookie Agustin Canapino, who finished 22nd, said he hopes the action improves at Gateway, sharing the sentiment of the oval being difficult to gain ground. Let alone, pass somebody when tucked in line.
“We need a more interesting race. We need to do something different because Gateway is impossible to overtake when you’re in line,” said Canapino. “Iowa is different, you can overtake every line because tire wear is massive, and you have different lines to use.
“The series needs to analyze what happened and try to offer drivers and teams some alternatives to make some difference during the race and have a more interesting race.”
Dixon, who led a race-high 123 laps, explained after his victory how difficult it was managing the alternate Firestones. He hopes that tire deg will double next year and like Canapino, used Iowa as an excellent example of how much it matters for the competition.
“I know Firestone doesn’t want to do it because that’s the product they produce, they produce very good tires – but I think for falloff like we see at Iowa where you go from an 18-second lap all the way to 22s, 23s, you have good cars coming and going, people able to make changes throughout the race. I think that’s what they need to bring back here, a little bit more aggressive for next time,” said Dixon last Sunday.
“Ultimately it worked out. It was a tough tire to manage. Probably 15, 20 laps into my stint, I thought we were going to have to bail. We actually saw (Will Power) bail off it very quickly. There were a few others you could see were really struggling with it and ultimately had to bail, as well.
“You really had to manage it, which is nice to have another kind of dimension to the race, something you really had to kind of look out for. I think they could be more aggressive next year.”
During Thursday’s ride-along at Portland International Raceway, both Ed Carpenter Racing drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rinus VeeKay weighed in on the impact the oval alternates had.
“It wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it would be,” said Hunter-Reay.
“It didn’t feel like it was way grippier,” VeeKay replied.
“It went off a little bit faster, but nothing dramatic. Just the balance changes a little bit. That was the biggest thing in the end, but it didn’t impact the race too much.”
“It didn’t impact the race,” Hunter-Reay commented.
Recently announced 2024 INDYCAR rookie Linus Lundqvist made his oval debut at Gateway for Meyer Shank Racing, where he finished 18th. The newly signed Chip Ganassi Racing driver had a contrast opinion on the alternates as he felt no difference were found by running it.
However, Lundqvist was happy with INDYCAR for trying something different compared to what other racers, who’ve been in this dance for a period of time, are used to.
“It wasn’t as soft as the wet tires on the road courses,” said Lundqvist. “I’m glad to see that INDYCAR is willing to try to throw something different. You can always develop and make the racing better, so I’m happy that they’ve tried it.”
Marbles and finding grip at Gateway was also on the mind of INDYCAR’s top drivers, including defending Portland winner Scott McLaughlin, who finished fifth.
McLaughlin said the amount of marbles dropped made it excruciatingly painful to create a second lane.
“Whether we rubbered up the second lane or not, it’s always going to be the same unless we can actually run up there,” said McLaughlin. “Once we’ve made one lane, the reason we can’t get up to there is because of the marbles.
“If we have a tire that wanted to degrade, that creates marbles. But if we can somehow not have as many to be affected by them as much as we can. That’ll allow us to run up the lane a little bit better.”
Pato O’Ward, who was one of the only other lead lap finishers along with Scott Dixon and David Malukas, vouched for Gateway to be a two-lane track. Like others, the alternates did no wonders on the capability of passing cars when track marbles are being built up.
“The marbles were worse this year than what we’ve had in the past. I think the alternates didn’t help that, but the issue is you have no place to pass people,” said O’Ward.
“If you’re going to pass somebody, even if you got the speed, your tires get filled with marbles. It’ll take a few laps to get those marbles off the tires. But the issue is there’s not a second lane.”
For now, all eyes shift from the final oval of the season to the penultimate round of the championship, beginning at Portland.
Race coverage of the BITNILE.com Grand Prix of Portland begins Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC. McLaughlin won last year’s 110-lap event in dominant fashion, leading all but six laps.