By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The pageantry of the Indianapolis 500 is over, but the madness NTT IndyCar Series provides continues as they’re now entering the second half of the season with some drivers still searching for answers while others have stood out at a positive light.
Simply put, there’s no other track that could carry good momentum the 500 provided but a Gateway doubleheader where it has been a fan favorite over the past few years. Unlike previous races, there’s a big catch. Those races were held at night.
Not this year because both races are being hold on a scorching afternoon, changing the landscape of the race. It doesn’t mean the quality of the race will decline by any means because one way or another, the championship trail will see a massive shift.
Defending Gateway winner Takuma Sato has all the momentum in the world following his second Indy 500 triumph and of course the worldwide spotlight that comes with winning The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. However, it’s back to business for the fierce Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing competitor as he’ll look to continue hitting his stride to get himself perhaps in the battle for a top-three points finish.
That’s because the man sixth in points trails Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Pato O’Ward, who currently sits third in the championship trail, by just eight points. While it has been “The Scott Dixon Show” as he leads second-place Josef Newgarden by a whopping 84 points, the battle behind them will ignite and when this weekend concludes, it’ll be a reality.
A strong weekend will help anyone’s morale because we’ll either have to wait until October for what may be the final three races (Harvest GP doubleheader and St. Petersburg) or a few weeks pending on if and when the doubleheaders at Mid-Ohio gets rescheduled (rumored to be September 11-13). Either way, the season is winding down fast, so there’s zero room for error going forward.
One thing is certain, this weekend will be Tony Kanaan’s final race weekend for 2020. It’s no secret he plans of extending his #TKLastLap Tour through 2021 to really give his thanks to the fans, something it was taken away from him due to the pandemic. Whether or not he’ll be back at AJ Foyt Racing next season is a mystery, but rest assure the 2004 series champion will have a few more races left in him.
By the Numbers
What: Bommarito Automotive Group 500s, NTT IndyCar Series Races No. 8 & 9
Where: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway – Madison, IL (Opened: 1967, first INDYCAR event was 1997)
When: Saturday, August 29 and Sunday, August 30
TV/Radio: NBCSN 3:00 p.m. EST (Saturday & Sunday) / Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 205)
Track Size: 1.25-mile oval
Race Length: 200 laps, 250 miles
2019 Race Winner: Takuma Sato – No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda (Started fifth, 61 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet (23.7206 seconds, 189.709 mph – August 25, 2017)
From the Driver’s Seat
Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
“I think I just getting more and more comfortable with speedways. I think a lot of what I learned in Iowa is going to help at Gateway, short oval. For sure, in a speedway trim, feeling out what the car does with such high speeds, when you’re really on the edge of the speed, the grip, it was a great learning curve.”
Takuma Sato – No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
“St. Louis is a great track. It’s quite challenging. Turn 1 and 2 and Turns 3 and 4 have quite different characteristics, and that makes for great fun for all of us. Last year it was such a special moment. We had a difficult week the week before and leading up to the event was a tough situation, but I was so pleased with the warm welcome at the venue. So many fans came up to me and cheered us on. What an amazing race result with the win.
“Even though it was midnight, so many fans remained for the podium. Once again, a great strategy worked, and the No. 30 team was extremely strong. I was very proud of that moment. It is good to return to defend our win after having just won the Indy 500 for a second time.”
Last Time at Gateway
A week removed from the lowest point of Takuma Sato’s career, he sure won the fans and peers once again after pulling off a spectacular drive at Gateway.
Sato had received a lot of criticism due to his “No Attack, No Chance” driving style on the opening lap of the 500-mile race at Pocono where a multi-car crash occurred that led to Felix Rosenqvist hitting the fence, but fortunately escaped without serious injury.
However, evidence showed Sato held his lane instead of the opposite like Alexander Rossi had felt. Once that was settled, Pocono was in the drivers rear view mirror as they had a 250-lap race to deal with.
Last August was slowed down five times with four being crashes that eliminated Will Power, Marcus Ericsson, Spencer Pigot and Sebastien Bourdais, but as the race was winding down, pit strategy was the name of the game where we saw unusual suspects battling for the win.
Sato had been leading since Lap 188 due to such circumstances, but slowly but surely, Ed Carpenter was catching him after starting 17th out of the 22-car field.
Coming to the white flag, Carpenter caught Sato and had the race been a lap longer, the outcome might’ve been different. Instead, Sato just eked out Carpenter by 0.040 seconds to score his second and last win of 2019 in thrilling fashion.
A relieved Sato described how thankful he is for the support he’s received from his fans to get him through a rough bump on the road.
“This year the cheering, (the fans) screaming my name so much. I just can’t find the words to thank you for all the support,” said Sato. “It was special, particularly like you said, after the difficult circumstances, to come here, qualify strong, which I’m really proud of the team.”
“A difficult start. I was sandwiched, then go backwards. It was difficult to get away the first stint. Head down, did our job, believe in ourselves, take the moment for the chance to come back. We came back. I think this is the whole effort of the team. They are completely behind me. So happy to bring the car to the win for them. I’m very, very happy.”
Carpenter was dejected about being this close of getting his first win since Texas in 2014, which still remains his last series win to date. That in mind, he knew that finishing his year on a positive was still key.
“Even just another straightaway, I maybe could have gotten Takuma! We were really good on the long runs tonight. Qualifying so bad didn’t help us,” said Carpenter. “Early in the race, the guys asked me what I needed and I said clear track more than anything. I thought the race was really good and we had made really good adjustments to it.
“Days like yesterday are really tough and dejecting for the whole team. We kept our heads down and never gave up, came back strong tonight and got a result. This was a great way to finish the year. It would have been a little better if we could have gotten a win, I definitely gave it all I had. It was fun to be back up at the front again.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, August 28
- NTT IndyCar Series Rookie Practice (4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – NBC Sports Gold)
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice (5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – NBC Sports Gold)
Saturday, August 29
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. – NBC Sports Gold)
- NTT IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Race No. 1 (3:00 p.m. – 200 laps, 250 miles – NBCSN)
Sunday, August 30
- NTT IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Race No. 2 (3:00 p.m. – 200 laps, 250 miles – NBCSN)