The Verizon IndyCar Series prepares for its anticipated return to Gateway Motorsports Park in August with an open test for full-season entries Tuesday at the 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Illinois.
Helio Castroneves is one driver who holds very special memories for the track.
The 41-year-old owns the title as the most recent winner of an Indy car race there, albeit 14 years ago, having led Tony Kanaan and Gil de Ferran in a 1-2-3 Brazilian sweep of the podium in 2003. But the win didn’t come without a major obstacle throughout.
“There was one fact very interesting that I don't think a lot of people know,” Castroneves said. “My win there in 2003, when we are on the grid (before the race), I had a glitch in my dashboard, so I raced the entire race without revs information or lap times or fuel consumption information.
“It was kind of difficult, especially on the restarts, because sometimes you're guided by the lights to shift gears. But that didn't stop us to win the race.”
The triumph on Aug. 10, 2003, was the 10th of what are now 29 career wins for the Team Penske driver and his fourth on an oval. It was the last time that the Verizon IndyCar Series raced on the track just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The hiatus will end officially on Aug. 26, when the Bommarito Group 500 presented by Valvoline takes place under the lights (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
Castroneves’ fond memories of Gateway pre-date his 2003 victory, however. Before joining Team Penske, Castroneves drove for St. Louis-based Hogan Racing. Team owner Carl Hogan, who originally paired with Bobby Rahal for team ownership in 1992, started his own Indy car team in 1997. Castroneves drove for Hogan in 1999, the year before he made the career-changing jump to Roger Penske’s outfit.
Castroneves notched the first of two second-place finishes at Gateway in 1999, sandwiched on the podium between fellow Indy car legends Michael Andretti and Dario Franchitti.
“I'm super excited (to go back to Gateway), to be honest,” Castroneves said. “First, because 1999, Hogan Racing, that's the team I raced for, it was based down there. So I have kind of a sentimental (feeling) from St. Louis. That also was one of the races that I finished behind Michael Andretti, which I couldn't believe it.
“When I was racing (that year), I remember, ‘Man, this is Michael right in front of me!’ I remember racing, which is amazing, (nearly) 20 years now, we're going back. My memory is going back.”
The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion finished second to de Ferran in 2002 and has never been out of the top 10 in five Indy car starts at Gateway. He also finished on the podium the one time he raced there in Indy Lights. Hence his eagerness to return.
“I really like the place because the place has been very good to me, and I can't wait to go back there,” Castroneves said. “I know it's a different evolution, of course. We used to downshift and (run) different speeds, probably going to go much faster in the corner when we go back.
“But it's a place that still – it's a great way for us to go to a ‘new’ oval. I feel the people from St. Louis, especially now that they don't have the (NFL franchise) there, I think they're going to find a way for us to becoming the new sport over there. I'm looking forward to going back.”
Tuesday’s test is open to the public beginning at noon ET. Grandstand admission is $20 for adults, and children 15 and younger are admitted free. Parking is free.
On-track sessions are scheduled from 1-4 p.m. and 5:30-8:30 p.m. ET, with an Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires session scheduled in between the two Verizon IndyCar Series practices. A live video stream of testing, along with timing and scoring, will be available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Ticket information for the Bommarito Auto Group 500 weekend is available at http://www.gatewaymsp.com/tickets/.