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IndyCar Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Preview

James Hinchcliffe and Ed Carpenter sail into Turn 4 during the Open Test at Gateway Motorsports Park. [Photo by: Chris Jones]

James Hinchcliffe and Ed Carpenter sail into Turn 4 during the Open Test at Gateway Motorsports Park. [Photo by: Chris Jones]

Gateway Motorsports Park
Verizon IndyCar Series Race 15/17

by Paul Gohde

Fourteen years have gone by since Indy cars have flown around the 1.25-mile high-speed oval at Gateway Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves was the last winner there in 2003 piloting a Penske-Toyota, and he returns to the Madison, IL facility as the only current Verizon IndyCar Series driver with winning experience there. But Saturday night’s 240-lap, 310-mile Bommarito Automotive Group 500 will see Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Castroneves lead a group of drivers battling for the Verizon Series championship in their final oval track race before moving to a pair of road courses to finish the 2017 season.

Gateway Facts: Opened in 1997 and within sight of the Gateway Arch across the Mississippi River in St. Louis, the low-banked track hosted four CART races (1997- 2000) and three IRL events (2001-’03). Early races had been scheduled around the Indy 500 weekend as the IRL and CART were at odds over control of Indy car racing. The inaugural run was captured by Paul Tracy in front of a reported 45,000 fans on the day before the Indianapolis 500, but the continuing battle over teams and drivers, coupled with movement of race dates, saw the track dropped from the schedule until this season as IndyCar searched for viable ovals to be added to balance out the road-street course/oval track schedule. Castroneves won that final run in 2003, defeating Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran, but only Kanaan, Dixon and Castroneves are entered from that final race for Saturday’s return.

2017 So Far: Last week Will Power held off Penske teammate Josef Newgarden in a close finish at Pocono’s ABC Supply 500, but Newgarden maintained an 18-point lead for the championship over Dixon, Castroneves (-22), Simon Pagenaud (-26) and Power (-42). Power’s win was the 32nd of his 13-year Indy car career and his sixth on an oval. “It seriously means a lot (to win there). I love racing on ovals; every oval win I get I really, really enjoy because we don’t have many of them,” Power noted. The Aussie took the lead for good from Marco Andretti on lap 191 and held off Newgarden and Alexander Rossi for his third series’ win of 2017.There was a Pocono record 42 lead changes among 10 drivers. Ryan Hunter-Reay started 21st after crashing in trials on Saturday, led for 12 laps as late as lap 153, and finished eighth.

The Field: Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who has not competed since suffering serious injuries at Indianapolis in May, was cleared to return to racing activities before last week’s Pocono race, but has yet to rejoin Dale Coyne’s team. Some think that Coyne may run a third car for him in the Sonoma finale. Sebastian Saavedra starts his second weekend for Schmidt Peterson teaming with James Hinchcliffe. Oval-Meister Ed Carpenter takes his final 2017 green flag before Spencer Pigot takes over at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

Notes: TV: Qualifying-NBCSN, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET (Tape Delay). Race-Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET (live)…Three drivers have won at Gateway from the pole: Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Gil de Ferran (2002) and Castroneves (2003)…Michael Andretti won here after starting 11th in 1999…IndyCar measures the Gateway track at 1.25-miles/lap while CART recorded the distance at 1.27…Montoya holds the record race-winning speed at 155.519 mph (2003), while the qualifying mark was recorded by Raul Boesel at 187.963 mph in 1997…Team Penske has won three of the seven Indy car races held here so far.

Our Take: Rossi has been running well lately, but has little experience on tight, short ovals. Penske Chevrolet’s have won the three small ovals (Phoenix, Texas and Iowa) contested so far, so, who’s to bet against them? If you’re a Honda stalwart, continue to look at Scott Dixon. Carpenter may be the best dark horse you could bet on…Could it be his final career race?

The Final Word: Ed Carpenter (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I’m very excited about coming back to Gateway. Having raced (Indy Lights) there in the past, I think that it will be a great show. A lot of racetracks we go to are fairly symmetrical from one end to the other. Gateway isn’t. Turns 1 and 2 in St. Louis are very tight and a little more banky (11 degrees). Very challenging. Turns 3 and 4 are more open radius and fast cornering (9 degrees). It’s similar to Pocono, not layout but in uniqueness and character. When you have that it really makes it a challenge for the driver and the team to get a balance in the car that works at both ends of the track.”

 

 

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Paul Gohde
Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950's, Paul had no idea what "that noise" was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked. The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner's autograph in the pits, something he couldn't do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked. Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt's first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark's historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them. He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats. Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, "a factor that got me hooked in the first place."