While Team Penske’s Will Power was adamant prior to qualifying that a second lane could — and should — open up on Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway for Saturday night’s Bommarito Auto Group 500, he didn’t get a lot of support for his view. “Absolutely not,” declared Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi of prospects for two-lane racing, and while the top two qualifiers were a little more hopeful Power might be right, they weren’t counting on it.
“I don’t know. I mean, last year was obviously very much of a struggle to pass,” noted second-starting Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing. “I think it put a lot of emphasis on qualifying and track position. I don’t think it’s going to be very, very different. I think the package we have makes it very difficult to be flat on your line in (Turns) 3 and 4, and therefore once you get some dirty air, it’s impossible to be flat. So building the run from out of 1, 2, to back around is just hard.
“Last year we saw a lot of differing strategies with some fuel saving and things, which definitely mixed things up and opened some opportunities for passing. So hey, if it’s a very static race, starting second, I think I’ll be all right with that.”
Polesitter Josef Newgarden knows firsthand that making a move at Gateway can require some extra risk-taking, having had to push right to the edge to make a winning pass on Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud here two years ago and earning the Frenchman’s ire in the process. The championship leader acknowledged such a move might be necessary again — and indicated he wouldn’t shy away from it if it is.
“It’s possible. You know, this place could breed it. We’ve seen it. Maybe it will repeat; I don’t know,” he said of 2017’s bump-and-run with Pagenaud. “Hopefully not. Hopefully we’re up the road and nobody has got to worry about that. But this place, because the straightaways are just long enough, I think it invites a little bit more of that late move. You saw last year, too, every move is late. You’re kind of late into Turn 1, and it’s just the style of racing here. So I think everyone kind of knows the drill after a couple runs.
“It’s really going to be kind of down to, is it different than last year as far as lane usage. We were kind of pinned on one lane last year, which hurts the racing, unfortunately. But can we open that up this year, will we get a second lane? That’s what we need to figure out tonight. I will say, though, I think there’s more grip than last year. I think Firestone has brought a bit grippier package. It just feels a little easier to drive.”
Newgarden added that he expects grip levels to climb when the temperatures drop as night descends, although how significant that will be remains an unknown.
“Last year we didn’t change much from daylight to night. I think it depends on the car, but for us we were pretty consistent,” he said. “Grip comes up. We got quicker in the race, and you feel a little bit comfier as you get towards the end of it. It was already getting that way in qualifying. I felt like the grip had come up, aside from the Turn 1, Turn 2 quick dry that was down there. That made it a little bit trickier. But once that gets run off, I think you’re going to have more grip than we’ve had. So (Turns) 3 and 4, it’s very possible we might get flat towards the end of the night. We’ll see. But I just don’t know. I think temperature-wise it’ll be nice for the fans. But racing-wise we don’t know yet.
“Hopefully we’ve got a little bit more ability to pass. That’s the goal for everybody. But we just don’t have answers on that yet.”