MADISON, Illinois – If early impressions prove correct, Gateway Motorsports Park is ready for a grand return to the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Eight drivers, one representing each of the eight fulltime entrants currently racing in the series, tested today at the 1.25-mile oval, which underwent a complete repave this summer. The track resurfacing comes in advance of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline on Aug. 26, the first Verizon IndyCar Series event at the track in 13 years.
The result of the repave, according to the drivers who tested, is one of the smoothest surfaces of any that the series visits.
“It’s smooth like a baby’s bottom,” said three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who won the last Indy car race at the track in 2003. Castroneves is in the middle of the photo at right, talking with track owner Curtis Francois (left) and Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations.
“A great surface and a great job by the Gateway Motorsports Park," Castroneves added. "It’s a night-and-day change. All the other drivers will feel a great relief and I think we’ll put on a great show for the fans.”
After Verizon IndyCar Series teams experienced issues with the surface during a May 2 open test at the oval outside St. Louis, track officials undertook a multimillion-dollar renovation of the racing surface. The repaving project began June 19 and was recently completed.
“It feels really grippy and it’s a lot faster than when we tested here before,” said Conor Daly of AJ Foyt Racing, who posted the fastest time in the May test in his No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. “I still enjoy driving here. (Turns) 1 and 2 are so different from (Turns) 3 and 4. It’s challenging but I still like it. We’re still quite fast, but it’s always going to be competitive come race weekend.”
Despite popup rain showers, which cut the test short after a little more than two hours of running, the drivers who tested said the event in just over three weeks has the potential to be “the best short oval race of the year.” They credited Francois and his staff for their quick response following the open test in May.
“Not a lot of people would put in the commitment to help us put in an Indy car race, so we’re really appreciative of Curtis and Chris Blair and everyone,” said Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal, shown in the photo below left talking with Blair (Gateway’s executive vice president and general manager), Francois and Kevin Blanch, INDYCAR technical director. “It will be the best short oval race of the year. There will be good drafting and a lot of passing in this one.”
“What a difference,” added Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe. “No expense was spared in bringing it up to spec for what we need to go racing, but Curtis and his group have gone above and beyond. It’s going to make for great racing and I feel a lot more comfortable in the car.
“You’ll see good short-track racing,” Hinchcliffe continued. The straights are long enough to get good runs. It will be a short track that almost races like a speedway.”
Ticket and schedule information for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 weekend is available at gatewaymsp.com. NBCSN will telecast the race live at 9 p.m. ET Aug. 26.