Ken Roberts is a respected veteran journalist in the St. Louis area.
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By KEN ROBERTS
MADISON, Ill. (AP) _ Until Josef Newgarden touched with teammate Simon Pagenaud as Newgarden passed him for the lead with 30 laps remaining, Team Penske drivers looked like they were going to sweep the podium Saturday night in the IndyCar series return to Gateway Motorsports Park in front of crowd estimated at 40,000 fans.
But Newgarden took away what Pagenaud gave and the 26-year-old driver from Tennessee drove away to his fourth victory of the season. It was Newgarden’s third win in the last four races.
“Simon gave me a lane to work with,” Newgarden recalled. “I had a good tow to work with. I saw that opening and got halfway along side of him. The only thing I didn’t want to do was touch him too hard.
“If I stayed too much to the left, I would have jumped the curb and taken both of us out. I tried to move or get Simon to move over once we were getting to the opening of the corner. Fortunately, it worked well for us on the 2 car side. He didn’t get up into the wall so I’d say it worked out for him to.”
While Newgarden was upbeat describing the incident, Pagenaud was just the opposite.
“I think if it wasn’t me, he’d be in the fence with somebody else,” said a disappointed Pagenaud. “He doesn’t have respect from me. I’ve never seen Scott do that to his teammates throughout his career. I respect the hell out of this guy (Dixon). At the moment I don’t want to talk about it with (Newgarden). He doesn’t have any respect from me.”
What turned out to be the move of the race took place on lap 218.
Pagenaud was in front heading into Turn 1, but he left a lane open for Newgarden, who got his nose under Pagenaud as they quickly exited Turn 2.
When Pagenaud didn’t give, Newgarden forced the issue and bumped Pagenaud forcing the 33-year-old Frenchman from Le Mans, France to fall back into third.
“I was just worried about a flat tire,” Pagenaud said. “My momentum was dead. It was just a real sham.”
That allowed Dixon, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, to get by Pagenaud, but he could never catch Newgarden, who beat Dixon by 0.6850 seconds.
Pagenaud managed to hold onto third, while Penske driver Helio Castroneves was fourth and A.J. Foyt driver Conor Daly ended in fifth.
“It was kind of all we could do to hang there,” Dixon said. “We could kind of get to them and that was it.”
Newgarden led 170 of the 248 laps on the 1.25-mile oval en route to his seventh career victory and Penske’s fourth at Gateway and 196th overall. The Indy car race was the first at Gateway since 2003.
He now leads the points with 547 over Dixon (516), while Castroneves is third (505) and Pagenaud is fourth (504).
The first 17 laps were run under yellow after the caution came out before the cars could make an official lap when Tony Kanaan spun out at the exit of Turn 2.
Then when the green flag finally flew, pole-sitter Will Power immediately dropped to third entering Turn 1 as Newgarden took the lead. But, before Power could make it through Turn 2, he spun, hit the outside wall and Ed Carpenter flew in the air and over the top of Power’s machine.
Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato also spun in the melee. All three were unable to continue.
There were five cautions for the race for 43 laps and there were 12 lead changes.
ST LOUIS, CA – AUGUST 26: Josef Newgarden, driver of the #2 Team Penske Chevrolet, and Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #1 Team Penske Chevrolet, hold up their trophies in Victory Lane after the IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 on August 26, 2017, at the Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire)
Santi Urrutia held off Juan Piedrahita to win the IndyLights 75-lap race Saturday night before the Verizon IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline race.
Urrutia led 28 laps with an average speed of 121.399 miles an hour. Colton Herta was third, Kyle Kaiser fourth and Nicolas Dapero ended in fifth.
“Drivers, Start Your Engines.”
Like she did on the track, Jackie Joyner-Kersee takes her duties as the Grand Marshal of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline like she was preparing for the Olympics.
“I have an appreciation for all (motor sports),” said the 55-year-old three time Olympic gold medalist, originally from East St. Louis, who now resides in Chesterfield, Mo.
“I just think the pure focus and determination (the drivers have). And, the technology and science that’s all in it. You can’t blink. It’s a credit to their (the drivers’) focus.”
When Joyner-Kersee, the world’s most famous female athlete, was asked by GMP owner Curtis Francois to say the four most famous words in motorsports to startSaturday night’s Verizon IndyCar Series race, she didn’t hesitate.
But, she’ll have to watch herself so she doesn’t say the wrong thing.
“I have to really think,” she said with a laugh. “Drivers….I’m used to saying ‘Runners, take your marks.”
Joyner-Kersee was successful on the track because of her determination and hard work. Saturday night, she will use that same discipline.
Victor Franzoni rolled to a 4.6962 second victory over rookie Anthony Martin in the Pro Mazda Championship Series race. Franzoni, who started on the outside of Row 1, took over the points lead over polesitter Martin with the win. Franzoni has 287 points to Martin’s 285.
Indy Lights series has finished its qualifying and Juan Piedrahita captured the pole with a two-lap average of 55.9620 seconds at 160.823 miles per hour.
Starting on the outside of Row 1 will be Santiago Urrutia, who had a two-lap average of 55.9626 seconds at 16-.822 mph.
The Indy Lights race presented by Cooper Tires is set for 6 p.m.
Before the Indy Lights race, the Pro Mazda Championship Series presented by Cooper Tires race will start at 4:55 p.m.
And, before those two races, the 21 Verizon IndyCar drivers will sign autographs from3:30-4:30 p.m. in the IndyCar fan village.
Their race, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline, is set for8:45 p.m. Pre-race activities begin at 8 p.m.
Qualifying for the Pro Mazda Series has ended and rookie Anthony Martin won the pole with a two-lap average of 64.2854 seconds at 140.001 miles per hour.
Starting outside on the Row 1 is Victor Franzoni, who had a two-lap average of 64.5469 seconds at 139.433 mph.
Up next is the Indy Lights qualifying.
SATURDAY: Good morning from Gateway Motorsports Park.
Race Day with the Verizon Indy Car Series has finally arrived at the 1.25-mile newly paved oval.
This is the day owner Curtis Francois has been waiting patiently for for over a year. All the legwork just to get the series to return to the once failing facility after a 14-year hiatus is now over.
It’s time for the track to shine under the bright lights of a national television audience and an expected crowd of nearly 40,000 race fans.
The weather will be Chamber of Commerce weather and Francois, general manager Chris Blair and all of their employees who have worked long, hard hours to make the track shine will finally get to show its true colors.
If you see Francois and/or Blair hop-scotching around the track, and they will be, stop them and tell them thanks. I know they’ll appreciate the kind words.
And to borrow a line from the late, great St. Louis Cardinals baseball broadcaster Jack Buck after Mark McGwire clubbed his 61st home run on Sept. 7, 2008, “Pardon me while I stand up and applaud!”
That’s what I’m going to do when polesitter Will Power takes the green flag tonight to start the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline.
It’s time for Gateway’s version of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Enjoy the day and the race.
Happy Hour for the IndyCar series drivers has ended Friday night and Verizon Series points leader and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden was the fastest turning a lap of 184.079 miles per hour around the newly-paved 1.25-mile oval.
Second was Ed Carpenter, who went 183.435 mph. He was followed by polesitter and Team Penske driver Will Power (183.295), Power’s teammate Helio Castroneves was fourth (183.079) and 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi was fifth (182.949).
The track is now closed and on-track activities will begin on Saturday at 1 p.m. when the Pro Mazda Championship series presented by Cooper Tires has a 30-minute qualifying session.
Spectator parking lots open at 10 a.m. on Saturday and spectator gates and the Gateway Kartplex open at 11 a.m.
Plenty of tickets remain for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline race, scheduled for 8 p.m.
Good night from Gateway Motorsports Park.–30—
Up, Up and Away: Firestone, which provides the tires for the IndyCar Series, has 1,300 tires at Gateway Motorsports Park for Saturday night’s IndyCar 500. Those tires would fit 2.25 times under the highest point of the Gateway Arch.
The Arch, which is 630 feet tall at its highest point and is “The Gateway to the West”, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the United States.
Each entry will receive 11 sets of tires for the race, which is 248 laps long on the 1.25-mile repaved oval. The track was repaved after the series did its test in early May because several teams had tire issues because of the asphalt track.
The original track was laid down in 1997 and had worn out its welcome.
Castroneves, Kanaan and de Ferran: Those three Brazilian drivers finished 1-2-3 the last time the series visited what was then-Gateway International Speedway on Aug. 10, 2003 for the then-Indy Racing League.
That finish is the last time the series has had a Brazilian driver sweep.
Castroneves earned $131,000 for his winning efforts.
Interestingly, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Castroneves has never won a series championship.
Homecoming Weekend: Three IndyCar officials are coming back home _ albeit for just the weekend.
**Vince Kremer, vice president of operations for IndyCar, is originally from St. Louis. He went to Mercy High School, which is now closed and spent some college time at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL).
**Jay Frye, president of competition and operations for IndyCar, is from Rock Island, Ill. But he graduated with a marketing/education degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., where he played tight end and offensive tackle for four years (1983-87) for the football team under Warren Powers and Woody Widenhofer.
**Natalie Fenaroli, 22 and an IndyCar technical official originally from Raymore, Mo. near Kansas City, grew up racing in the St. Louis area.
In fact, she captured her first national karting championship in Pevely, Mo., which is about 30 miles south of St. Louis on the property of I-55 Raceway, a 3/8-mile dirt track owned by former NASCAR star and St. Louisan Kenny Schrader.
The Indy Lights drivers have finished their final practice Friday night and Santiago Urrutia was the fastest with a speed of 162.438 miles per hour. Second was Dalton Kellett at 162.138 mph.
Next on the track will be the Verizon IndyCars as they practice for the final time in Happy Hour.
INDYCAR QUALIFYING: Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying has ended and Will Power, last week’s winner at Pocono, led a Team Penske four-driver sweep of the first two rows for Saturday night’s Bommarito 500 presented by Valvoline.
It was Power’s 50th pole of his career and sixth this season.
Power set a track record with a two-lap average of 47.4579 seconds at 189.642 miles per hour. Points leader Josef Newgarden is on the outside of Row 1 after taking 47.7921 seconds at 188.316 mph.
Third was Helio Castroneves at 48.0109/187.457 and Simon Pagneaud starts fourth after touring the 1.25-mile oval in 48.1936 seconds at 186.747 mph.
“It was not like it was uncomfortable (out there),” said Power, who was quickest in practice (24.2521 for one lap at 185.551 mph) and last to hit the track for qualifying. “I’m very happy for the pole. Qualifying is something I really enjoy. Qualifying is something we can give absolutely everything.
“Driving for Penske really helps and week in and week out to contend for the pole and race wins.”
Newgarden said he wished he was the one who had the last shot at qualifying in the 21-car field. Instead he was second to last after running second (24.2635/185.464) in the only practice session of the day Fridayafternoon.
“It’s always the best to go last on a short oval,” he said. “You get the most rubber. You get the coolest track temperature. I knew he had a shot. I was hoping he didn’t get it done. But I knew he had a great shot.”
After a 14-year hiatus, the Verizon IndyCar Series hit the track for the first of two practice sessions Friday afternoon and the speeds were nearly off the charts.
Will Power was the fastest of the 21 drivers touring the newly repaved 1.25-mile oval in 24.2521 seconds at 185.551 miles per hour.
Power, 36 of Toowoomba, Australia, who is fifth in the points race with 452, drives for Team Penske.
Power’s teammate and series points leader Josef Newgarden, 26 of Henderson, Tenn., was second (24.2635/185.464), followed by teammate Simon Pagenaud (24.4552/184.010) and teammate Helio Castroneves (24.4598/183.975). Rookie Ed Jones (Dale Coyne Racing) was fifth (24.5365/183.400).
The Verizon IndyCar series is now on the track for qualifying for Saturday night’s Bommarito 500 presented by Valvoline. Stay tuned for words from the pole siter and his reaction.
Before the Verizon series drivers started qualifying, rookie Anthony Martin was the fastest driver in the Pro Mazda Oval Challenge practice going around the 1.25-mile oval in 31.9231 seconds at 140.964 miles per hour.
By Ken Roberts
MADISON, Ill. (AP) _ When Sebastien Bourdais got the call from his doctor asking him if he was ready to return to racing, Bourdais was a little surprised.
“Yeah, that was kind of late (asking if) we could do that,” he said of the Wednesdaynight phone call.” But no, it’s just really good to come back, and really looking forward to it.”
The fact that the 38-year-old Bourdais, who drives for Dale Coyne Racing, is back this season at all is probably considered a miracle considering the horrifying accident he had on May 20 while attempting to qualify for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
Bourdais, originally of Le Mans, France, had just completed two laps of over 231 miles per hour at Indy and was well on his way to a probable front-row starting spot for the race.
But a crash going into Turn 2 at 227 mph that registered 108 G Forces put Bourdais in the hospital for several days as he underwent surgery for a fractured pelvis and a fractured right hip and it stopped his season for nearly four months.
Bourdais hit the wall when the rear end of his car wiggled and he tried to correct it. The car flipped and caught fire before he was rescued after about 10 minutes.
Still, getting back to racing, was the one thing he wanted to do this season even if there are only three races to remaining of the 17-race schedule.
Bourdais will take part in Saturday night’s IndyCar 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park, at Watkins Glen next Sunday and end the season at Sonoma, Calif. The last two races are road courses, while Gateway race marks the last oval race of the year.
“Yeah, that’s really the whole thing for me, to get back in the saddle, obviously prove to everybody that nothing has changed, that I’m still the same guy, plus a little bit of hardware, but that’s another thing,” he said with a smile.
“And at the end of the day, just get back in the groove and, yeah, just go racing. I don’t think — I don’t expect anything to be different other than maybe I’ll be a bit more conservative on balance and setup in qualifying, but that’s just a little safety net that maybe I used to have and that for 500 I kind of took away, and that didn’t seem to be the right and smart thing to do.
“So we’ll hit the reset for that, but yeah, it’s just important that obviously I get back in the groove, rebuild the end of the season towards next year and feel like we are completely ready to go racing and give it a shot for whatever we can achieve next year.”
As for what will happen at Gateway, Bourdais didn’t have any answers. He tested his car at Mid-Ohio at the end of July, but hasn’t been on the track competitively untilFriday.
He was 15th on the speed chart with a top speed of 181.322 miles per hour. Will Power led the one-hour session with a top speed of 185.551.
“Now it’s kind of hit the reset button and kind of go off of what we know from Phoenix because that’s the closest (Gateway is) obviously you’re going to get to — with the grip, the pavement quality, the fact that there are no bumps and everything and the setup of the track. Pretty excited to come back and try the new surface.”
FRIDAY, 4:45 p.m. — By Ken Roberts
MADISON, Ill. (AP) _ Helio Castroneves has won three Indianapolis 500 races, 30 races overall and has captured 50 poles in his 19-year driving career in the IndyCar series.
But the 42-year-old driver originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil has never won an IndyCar championship.
He hopes to change that this season. With three races left, including Saturday night in the IndyCar 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park, Castroneves sits third in the points with 472 and trails teammate and leader Josef Newgarden by 22 points. Scott Dixon is second with 476.
“I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” Castroneves said of not winning a points title. “We’re in a battle here. There are a lot of points to go with three races (left). Right now, we’ve got to keep scoring points and doing what we’re doing. It’s still up in the air. It’s not for lack of trying.
“Not for a lack of being competitive. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. It’s unfornature, but (not winning) keeps me motivated. Keep trying harder. Keep pushing.
“I don’t think just because of a title it’s going to destroy what I have done. We’re going to keep pushing. It ain’t over until it’s over. But I’m really looking forward to coming to this place. It can really help us a lot.”
This place is Gateway where Castroneves was the last winner in 2003 before IndyCar quit coming to the facility. He beat fellow Brazilians Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran in that race and it still remain as the last 1-2-3 Brazilian sweep for the series.
Now, IndyCar returns to Gateway after a 14-year absence. There is a new owner in former open-wheel racer and St. Louisan Curtis Francois, who has put over $15 million of his own money in revitalizing a track that was a mere hours from being closed forever in 2011.
Castroneves, who now drives for Team Penske, has fond memories of Gateway not only because he won here but because he drove for the late Carl Hogan in 1999 and still counts the Hogan family as close friends.
“This place is very special for me,” he said. “The family has always received me with open arms.”
Castroneves hopes the newly repaved 1.25-oval likes him as well.
“I really love this place,” he said. “It can really helps us a lot. But I can’t wait until we go to Sonoma (on Sept. 17). It will be worth 200 points (it is a double points race) in the game and that’s a lot. Everything is still wide open.”
Former points champion Tony Kanaan said his fellow Brazilian is “doing just fine” when asked if Kanaan had any advice.
“This championship, if it ever comes for him, I’ll be extremely happy for him. But if this championship doesn’t come, I think he’ll be OK.”
As for the points battle, Newgarden, one of Castroneves’s three other teammates, likes being on top with three races remaining.
“You’re either chasing or your leading and I’d rather be leading,” Newgarden offered. “It’s easier to pad your lead or extend it when you’re in front. I think we’re in a good spot. I’m happy about it.
“We’ve got three races to go so it’s not a sure thing. We’ve got to look after it. It doesn’t really matter where you’re at, as long as you put yourself in a spot where you can control your destiny, that’s really important.”
Dixon, who is a four-time points champion and drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, wants to make sure he stays within striking distance in the last three stops on the 17-race schedule.
After Gateway, which is the last oval on the schedule, the series moves to the road courses at Watkins Glen next Sunday and Sonoma on Sept. 17.
“The tracks we have coming up are going to be very, very tough for (our car),” he said. “We’re going to have to try to at least reduce the damage. Watkins Glen has been a strong track for us.
“We have to get some decent points. We will take each weekend as they come. If we can do that….”
FRIDAY, 12:15 p.m. — Friday greetings from Gateway Motorsports Park where the weather is perfect for racing _ bright sunshine, low humidity and a nice breeze _ as we await the cars and stars of the Verizon IndyCar series, the Indy Lights series and Pro Mazda series to hit the newly paved 1.25-mile oval for practice in preparation for their Saturday races.
The Verizon IndyCar race, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (248 laps) presented by Valvoline, is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday, while the Indy Lights race presented by Cooper Tires is set for 6 p.m. Saturday and the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires race starts at 4:55 p.m. Saturday.
First, though, today the Verizon IndyCar drivers will practice from 4-5 p.m., the Pro Mazda series drivers hit the track from 5:15-6 p.m., the Indy Lights drivers practice from 7:45-8:30 p.m. and the Verizon IndyCar series drivers will have their Coors Light Happy Hour final practice from 9-10 p.m.
Parking lots open at 1 p.m., spectator gates, paddock and The Gateway Kartplex open at 2 p.m. and plenty of tickets remain for today and Saturday.
Friday, August 25 — Coors Light Pole Night Showdown
1 p.m. — Parking lots open.
2 p.m. — Spectator gates, paddock and Gateway Kartplex open.
4-5 p.m. — First Verizon IndyCar Series practice.
5:15-6 p.m. — Pro Mazda series practice.
6:30 p.m. — Verizon IndyCar Series Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline qualifying.
7:30-11 p.m. — Music on Coors Light Main Stage.
7:45-8:30 p.m. — Indy Lights series practice.
9-10 p.m. — Verizon IndyCar Series Coors Light Happy Hour final practice.
11 p.m. — Gateway Kartplex closed.