by Steven Burkett
Gateway International Raceways road course uses the NASCAR oval as well as the infield for a 1.65 mile, 7 turn course.
At the end of the front straight is the fastest turn on the track, Turn One. T1 takes you off the very slightly banked front straight and into the infield. It is very very fast. You should work your way up to the point that you are just giving it a very quick brake to settle the front end and help your confidence. I use the painted ad banners on the pit wall (left side) as brake markers. Many cars can go flat out but it is very dangerous to do so until you are absolutely confident. There is an escape route if you over shoot, but if you spin you will likely hit the outside tire wall at very high rates of speed.
If you have to bail or abort the turn, NASCAR T1 is open. In order to return to the track, you must turn around and re-enter AT T1. The T1 corner workers (at the exit of the hot pits) will signal when you are clear to re-enter the track.
A row of cones separates pit out from the apex of turn one. Don’t follow the cones, that will be too early a turn in, just go a little deeper than feels natural and then head down into one. There is a transition bump from the oval to the road course. You absolutely MUST have your right foot planted and the car settled as you transition across the bumps leading into the infield. The closer to the cones you are, the smoother the transition is. There is a seam down the middle of the road, and you’ll follow just to the outside of that and stand on the brakes hard dropping to probably third gear as soon as your back on smooth track. Look way ahead into Turn 2, it’s easy to turn early. You don’t need to go all the way outside on the exit of one to go through 2 fast. There’s actually a fair amount of runoff exiting T2, and you’ll track out just past the end of the rumble strips on the outside.
There is a short shoot following 2 and into a left/right ess called 3A and 3B. You’ll brake hard at first, but eventually be close to flat out through 3A, depending on how fast you came out of two. The turn in is just past the access road and corner station on the right. Look ahead and make a nice smooth transition, there are tall FIA curbs on both apexes that you can bump without incident but will upset the car badly if you ride up too far on them.
Exiting 3B you’ll cross a crown in the road and if you’re really at the limit, or if it is wet you’ll have to unwind a bit. Watch out here, a lot of people spin, especially in the wet and there is a nearby wall on the outside. Keep turning smoothly to the right and go back across the crown and look for the apex of four, which is a very fast left hander. If you are doing it right, you’ll be flat out all the way from 3A to the breaking zone of five.
Going back to 3A you’re turning the whole way, each movement of the wheel a little less severe – left – slight pause – riiiiiiiiight – leeeeeft – unwind – hard brakes going into five, never really going straight at all.
Turn 5/6 is really one big decreasing radius right hand carousel, about 210 degrees. If you can avoid it, don’t track all the way back to the grass, maybe stay out a half car width or so and brake deep then get right back on the throttle and let the car track to the outside, then a brief brake and possibly downshift as you pick up your late apex for six. The 5/6 complex is the most challenging section on the track, with lots of different “good” lines. Track out of 6 is onto some flat gator teeth, which you can use, but it’s easy to drop two wheels off and there’s usually a slight washout to the left of the gator teeth. It’s also not a huge deal here if you don’t yank it back on to fast. Ease the car back across to the right for Turn 7 which is a 180 hairpin slow – 2nd gear – to the left. There’s very little to see for a braking marker. You’ll want to take as late an apex as you can and still keep the car at the limit unless you’re in traffic, in which case you have to take a tighter line or they’ll run under you. This leads back up onto the oval, (around to the left) and is essentially the start of the straight. You have to track almost out to the wall, past the end of the tires, so there’s a bit of a gut check here.
Almost every car can go around the oval flat. But it’s unnatural. The G loads are huge. If the car feels twitchy, try to make sure you have light hands on the wheel. Let the car drive wherever it wants to to get the throttle down flat, but ideally you want to turn in early and stay low all the way around. You might feel a spooky “pull” right toward the wall as the banking drops off and you head onto the straight, be prepared for it, but it’s not a big deal.