When Helio Castroneves left Gateway Motorsports Park as the Verizon IndyCar Series race winner in August 2003, little did he or anyone else realize it would be 14 years before he’d be able to defend his victory.
With announcement today of the 2017 INDYCAR schedule, Castroneves will get the chance to do just that. Gateway, the 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval in Madison, Ill. – just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis – is back in the fold as the 15th of 17 events on the calendar. The race is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, and no one may be happier about it than the 41-year-old Team Penske driver.
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“I think it’s great that we’re going back to Gateway,” Castroneves said. “Personally, I like it because I’ve had success there, but also that I used to race for Hogan (Racing, which was St. Louis-based, in 1999), which makes it a special place to me.”
Gateway has played host to seven Indy car races – under CART sanction from 1997-2000 and INDYCAR from 2001-03. The list of race winners at the track reads like the Indy car hall of fame: Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Al Unser Jr., Gil de Ferran and Castroneves.
“I won there with Team Penske in 2003 and there was an all-Brazilian podium with Tony (Kanaan) and Gil,” Castroneves said. “I remember that we had a really good car. I think we started from the pole and led a lot of laps (96 of 200).
“I know that the people of St. Louis will get a heck of a show. The track isn’t a typical oval with the irregular shape which makes it challenging. It’s a track well suited for INDYCAR. I’m looking forward to it.”
The return to Gateway could not have taken place without the efforts of Curtis Francois, a St. Louis native and former racer who drove in the 2002 Indy Lights race at the track. Francois took over ownership of the shuttered facility in 2012, invested $20 million in capital improvements and has added NASCAR trucks and NHRA drag racing to the schedule that also includes a multitude of club races and karting events.
Adding the Verizon IndyCar Series to the docket “is the first step in putting on a successful international-level event like an Indy car race,” Francois said. “The next step is to secure partnerships with civic and business leaders so we can bring to life an entire INDYCAR festival the week leading up to the race that will bring together tens of thousands of people to a charity golf tournament, bike race, charity walk and so much more.”
Ed Carpenter, the team owner and driver, tested at Gateway last year to confirm its feasibility as a track for today’s Indy car. He left impressed and can’t wait to get back in 2017.
“I am very excited to be coming back to Gateway,” said Carpenter, who also had finishes of third (2002) and fourth (2003) in a pair of Indy Lights race at the track. “Having raced there in the past, I think that it will be a great addition to the INDYCAR schedule. It is a very unique and challenging track, and will be a very exciting race.”
Tickets for the Gateway Motorsports Park race go on sale Oct. 11. For more information, visit http://www.gatewaymsp.com/.
Watch the 2003 Verizon IndyCar Series race broadcast from Gateway Motorsports Park, won by Castroneves, below: