Josef Newgarden put one hand on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar series trophy with victory at the Bommarito Gateway 500.
The championship leader secured his fourth win of the season, sealing victory with an audacious move on teammate Simon Pagenaud late in the race.
Newgarden pushes to the front
On the opening lap Newgarden set the tone for the race with an aggressive pass around the outside of pole-sitter Will Power.
Dirty air from Newgarden’s PPG Industries Chevrolet unsettled the Verizon Chevy of Power sending the 2014 IndyCar champion in to the wall.
Scott Dixon kept himself in the hunt for the IndyCar title with a spectacular 2nd place finish, ahead of Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves. Conor Daly recorded a season best 5th place following a strong showing by both AJ Foyt Racing cars.
Behind Daly, Rossi, Hinchcliffe, Kimball, Munoz and the returning Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top 10.
2017 Bommarito Gateway 500 – heroes
Hero – Conor Daly
Its been a bitch of a season for Conor Daly and the AJ Foyt Racing squad. Gateway was a long overdue confidence builder where, finally, expectations matched with reality.
Gateway was always going to be a track that favoured the Chevrolet aero package. For the first time this season, that included the Chevrolet’s of Daly and teammate Carlos Munoz.
Daly and his crew missed the sweet spot on set up in qualifying, preventing him from challenging for a top 10 start. Confident he had a competitive package the American was racy from the get go.
Finishing 5th was reward for Daly and his crew’s perseverance this season as much as their pace on the night. Overshadowing his teammate was no bad thing either, with Munoz coming home 9th.
Hero – Scott Dixon
Damage limitation races are fast becoming Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing’s absolute forte. The Kiwi predicted Gateway would be a struggle for the Honda aero package and he was right on the money.
The Penske Chevrolets were in imperious form all night yet Dixon still managed to keep his NTT Data Honda in contention all night. Alexander Rossi and Charlie Kimball finished 6th and 7th respectively but this did not reflect the ultimate pace of the Honda cars . Dixon’s speed was all him and his 2nd place finish could yet prove very valuable.
Going into the final 2 races of the season – both road courses – Dixon has limited the damage done by Newgarden’s run of four back to back top 3 finishes. In the circumstances he find himself in probably the best position possible to challenge Newgarden for the 2017 IndyCar championship.
Hero – Josef Newgarden
Since Road America in June, Newgarden has looked like a strong championship contender. Back to back wins at Toronto and Mid-Ohio in July made him look like the favorite. Now his performance at Gateway means the 2017 IndyCar championship is his to lose.
From the eye opening move around the outside on lap 1 to the elbows out pass on Pagenaud for the lead, it was clear Newgarden had decided this was his race to win. Castroneves and Pagenaud were not going to let him stroll to victory. Indeed 2016 IndyCar champion Pagenaud thought he had done enough to keep the Nashville-native at bay on lap 217.
Speed and bravery combined with good fortune for Newgarden on Saturday night. He narrowly missed – by a matter of inches – running over an air gun during pit stops and Pagenaud could have easily wrecked both of them. But such twists of fate are what often decides championships.
Hero – Sebastien Bourdais
Coming back from his horror Indianapolis shunt to actually race at all this season is truly remarkable. To do so at a tight short oval with high lateral G-forces and bag a top 10 finish is the stuff of legend.
With only a week’s rest until Watkins Glen, Bourdais will need to summon up another super human performance. But no matter how the Frenchman fares in the final two races of the season, he has proven he is a tough racer and tough as nails.
2017 Gateway 500 – zeroes
Zero – Tony Kanaan
Smacking the wall under yellow before the race actually starts is the last thing any driver needs. For a driver in the twilight of his career and out of contract for next season, it was a disaster. And not just for Kanaan.
To boost Scott Dixon’s championship challenge, Chip Ganassi Racing needed Kanaan plus teammates Chilton and Kimball to be mixing it with the Penske quartet. Instead Dixon was forced to fight alone.
Ever since Kanaan triggered an 8-car pile up at Texas earlier this season, the Brazilian has seemed to lose his mojo. Performances since have been under-par by his standards. Though he was not the only driver to be caught out by the slippery new asphalt, it was the most embarrassing and costly for driver and team.
Zero – Ed Carpenter
As he admitted after his retirement from the race on lap 1, 2018 cannot come quick enough for Carpenter. The eponymous team owner has had a nightmare season across his oval-only runs this season.
Qualifying 5th showed that the 3-time IndyCar race winner has not completely lost his speed on ovals. Irrespective of whether he was caught out on cold tires or just overreacted to the spinning Will Power ahead of him, the subsequent spin and retirement completely undermined it.
With only road races left in 2017, Carpenter has a lot of time to think about 2018 and what the future holds for him and his team. Neither him nor full-timer JR Hildebrand have covered themselves in glory this year.
Zero – Simon Pagenaud
Despite finishing 3rd, Simon Pagenaud gets a zero award for making costly assumptions late in the race.
First he assumed that teammate Josef Newgarden would not go for such a small gap. Second he assumed his teammate would show a degree of intra-team respect. Thirdly – and most crucially – he assumed that at the antepenultimate race of the 2017 IndyCar season, a championship challenger would not go for a tiny gap.
Pagenaud drove like he was shell-shocked after Newgarden steamed through on lap 217. Ever the opportunist, Scott Dixon mugged the defending series champion by following Newgarden through.
Despite having a superior car Pagenaud just did not seem able to gather himself for an assault on Dixon in 2nd, let alone the leader Newgarden. Pre-race Pagenaud admitted he needed to start outscoring his teammates for the rest of the season. Unfortunately for him, he outscored the wrong ones at Gateway.
Zero – Graham Rahal
This is nothing to do with Rahal’s performance at Gateway really. The Honda driver was pretty much anonymous during the race, starting 13th and finishing 12th. Not really heroic or particularly villainous. Which perhaps makes it grossly unfair but I am still pressing on.
Pre-race Graham Rahal – amongst other drivers who tested at Gateway – had confidently predicted a cracking race was in store. In the end we just about got there thanks entirely to Josef Newgarden and his overtakes. Otherwise this was not the thrilling spectacle we were expecting.
Rahal is probably the best spokesperson IndyCar has. His praise of the series is effusive and genuine. I wonder however if he might have over done it in promoting the new race at Gateway.
Race rating – 3.5 out of 5
Not the cracker we were promised. Thanks to Newgarden’s moves, Dixon’s canny tenacity and Conor Daly’s various scrapes on the way to 5th there was just about enough to keep things interesting.
For next year’s race the series and the circuit needs to work out how to get the cars running multiple grooves. On Saturday night going even half a lane up was asking for trouble. Hopefully the new 2018 aero kit will go a long way to addressing that issue.