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Keeping it Off The Wall

A Think Tank Victory?
St. Louis Pre-race Report
Round 17 of 20

 by
Ed Donath 
September 14, 2000
 
Previous events on the 1.27-mile egg-shaped oval have been held during Memorial Weekends. With the Indy 500 just 250 miles away, Gateway's weak attendance - only 37,000 in 1999 - has precipitated this event's withdrawal from CART's 2001 schedule. 


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Seven weeks have passed since the Champ Cars turned a wheel at an oval speedway. This weekend's event, the Gateway 300 at Madison, IL (that's just across the Mighty Mississippi from St. Louis in the shadow of the Gateway Arch) breaks the string of four consecutive road and street course circuits.

Previous events on the 1.27-mile egg-shaped oval have been held on Saturday during Memorial Weekend. With the Indy 500 just 250 miles away, Gateway's weak attendance - only 37,000 in 1999 - has precipitated this event's withdrawal from CART's 2001 schedule. The need to make room on the schedule for new races in Europe, Mexico and Texas had the St. Louis event living on the bubble for quite some time.

Defending Gateway Champion Michael Andretti needs another great result in St. Louis. His bout with the mysterious CART Flu last week at Laguna Seca was a contributing factor to Michael's relinquishment of his Championship points lead. He finished 14th at Monterey, about 26 seconds off the pace. Gil de Ferran's strong second-place finish to his Marlboro Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, combined with disappointing results from Paul Tracy and Adrian Fernandez, helped vault de Ferran from fourth to first in the points.

CART's current top-10: Gil de Ferran - 132 points, Michael Andretti - 126, Adrian Fernandez - 118, Kenny Brack - 116, Roberto Moreno - 115, Helio Castroneves - 108, Dario Franchitti - 92, Jimmy Vasser - 91 and Juan Montoya - 84. This is CART's closest multi-driver points race ever!

If there is, in fact, a 2001 ovalmeister in the top-six it is Andretti with podium finishes at Motegi (Mikey won there), Milwaukee, Michigan and Chicago.

The Gateway track could be tailor-made for rookie Kenny Brack. His consistency, his strong will to win and his IRL oval background make this venue the very likely site of his breakthrough Champ Car victory. Few people doubt the likelihood of Brack scoring at least one victory during his very successful freshman CART campaign.

Gateway is also one of a growing number of locations at which Team Kool Green stable mates Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti have made contact with each other. Though Dario eventually made it to the podium at Gateway in 1999 behind Andretti and Helio Castroneves after the accident, Tracy's day came to an abrupt end right there on Lap 147 of 236.

Last year's event - criticized by most drivers for difficult-to-drive low downforce Handford Device usage - had 9 full-course cautions for a total of 72 laps (about a third of the race) under yellow.

Strategy-wise, four pitstops are the norm for Gateway. But a lot of yellow could easily cut that back to three stops. Watch for the fuel-gambling Patrick Racing Team to come up with a wild fuel-mapping program for their fuel-conservative driver Adrian Fernandez to follow - especially if the yellows come out early and often. 

Adrian already has a pair of fuel gamble "paper clip" race wins on the similar Motegi oval on his resume. The Patrick brain trust seems to love building victories in the think tank as well as in the fuel tank.

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