A Nice Possible Addition For 2017
While it has not been officially announced, all signs are now pointing towards Gateway Motorsports Park joining the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. It had been rumored for a few months, but Robin Miller felt good enough about it to write an article saying it was all but a done deal.
There is a lot of good and very little negative about this if it turns out to be true. The series desperately needs another oval on the schedule. In 2003, IndyCar ran on fifteen different ovals in a sixteen-race season, running at Texas Motor Speedway twice in the days when the series was an all-oval series. This season had only five ovals on the schedule – Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono. That is the fewest amount of ovals on the schedule since the series began operations in 1996. If the Verizon IndyCar wants to tout the versatility of its drivers to run a variety of race courses – it has to run more than five ovals in a sixteen (or more) race season.
There is the argument that IndyCar already has too many races in the Midwest and that they need to branch out more. I think they need to focus on growing the fan base they already have. Yes, I would like to see races in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest; but it’s also important to give the fans that actually go to races more opportunities to do just that – go to another race within driving distance.
Selfishly, I’m very happy. St. Louis is only a four-hour drive from Nashville – the same distance as it is to Indianapolis from here. Of the many things this series needs, one is to have butts in the seats so that each race appears to be a big event on TV. I don’t care if it’s the same people going to every race, they still have to buy tickets. The more people that attend each race, the better off things will be. Now, ultimately the fan base has to grow where the series isn’t relying on the same fans to attend several races. You’d like for each race to stand on its own merit and fan base. Other than Indianapolis, Long Beach and possibly Barber and St. Petersburg – most races aren’t there yet.
Another positive about Gateway is that it is a very unique track. It is a 1.25 mile egg-shaped oval, similar in shape to Darlington and Twin-Ring Motegi. The banking for Turns One & Two is 11°, while Turns Three & Four is 9°. It is reportedly challenging to drive, but most drivers liked it when CART and then the old IRL ran there previously.
Gateway Motorsports Park is located in Madison, Illinois – just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The complex that also includes an infield road course as well as a quarter-mile drag strip, was owned by Dover Motorsports – the same inept group that built and subsequently closed Nashville Superspeedway in 2011. Dover closed Gateway in 2010. Unlike Nashville’s white-elephant, a new buyer emerged and bought Gateway in 2013. Since then, the track has hosted USAC Silver Crown events as well as the Camping World Truck Series.
CART first raced at Gateway in 1997, with the precarious date of the Saturday before the Indianapolis 500. The idea was to not run head-to-head with the Indianapolis 500, but local fans perceived that their venue was being used as a pawn in the open-wheel wars of the late nineties. In 2000, the race was moved to the fall and in 2001, the race switched from CART to the rival IRL. Poor attendance caused the race to be dropped from the IRL schedule after the 2003 race.
Paul Tracy won that first CART race at Gateway in 1997, driving for Roger Penske. Other CART winners at Gateway were Alex Zanardi driving for Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti diving for Newman/Haas and Juan Montoya for Ganassi. When the track switched to the IRL schedule, it was Al Unser, Jr. running for Tom Kelley, then Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves both driving for Penske. As you see, it was pretty much the same teams winning back then as now.
I do fear one unknown regarding what looks like an imminent announcement. Robin Miller reported that the race would probably run in August. On the surface, that sounds good because the August schedule has been a little light for the past few seasons. But I’m wondering…will Gateway be in addition to Pocono or in place of Pocono? Series officials are not going to announce the fate of the Pocono race until this year’s race runs in a couple of weeks. Announcing that IndyCar will not return to Pocono would kill any chance of success this year’s race might have.
But I’ve not heard anything on the fate of Pocono for next season. Some were surprised that Pocono made it to the 2016 slate after three years of poor attendance. One reason why I’m planning to attend Pocono this season is that I’m afraid it won’t be back and I’ve always wanted to go. Waiting to go to Milwaukee didn’t work out so well for me, so I want to make sure I get Pocono in…just in case.
My hope is that Gateway will be in addition to Pocono, giving the Verizon IndyCar Series a whopping total of six ovals. My ideal schedule would feature about twenty races, with ten ovals and ten non-ovals. But that’s assuming that fans will start attending the ovals like they do the natural terrain road courses – like Barber, Road America and Mid-Ohio. I’m hearing positive things about the race at Watkins Glen, which was thrown together at the last minute – but I’ll withhold comment until after the event is held next month.
So there is another venue that will be presumably added to next year’s schedule. It’s an oval and it is within a four-hour drive to my house. What’s to complain about?
Please Note: Susan and I are having out-of-town guests over the weekend. Therefore, there will be no post here on Monday, Aug 8. I will return here on Wed Aug 10. – GP