IRL: Gateway: Pre-event notes

Gateway Indy 250 could help, hurt title contenders; tight championship race continues in St. Louis. MADISON, Ill., Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2002 -- St. Louis is known as the "Gateway to the West." On Aug. 25, Gateway International Raceway will be...

Gateway Indy 250 could help, hurt title contenders; tight championship race continues in St. Louis.

MADISON, Ill., Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2002 -- St. Louis is known as the "Gateway to the West."

On Aug. 25, Gateway International Raceway will be the site of the gateway to the championship as the Indy Racing League begins the final three-race stretch of the 2002 season with the Gateway Indy 250, just east of St. Louis. The race on the 1.25-mile oval begins at 2 p.m. (CDT) and will be televised live on ESPN.

With three races remaining, seven drivers are eligible for the $1-million bonus that comes with winning the Indy Racing League championship. And of those seven, the top four drivers are separated by only 17 points.

The name at the top of the points chase is a familiar one: Sam Hornish Jr.

Hornish, driver of the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, is the defending Indy Racing League champion who was third in points throughout most of June, July and the early part of August but regained the top spot after a second-place finish Aug. 11 at Kentucky Speedway.

He has scored three wins this season, at Homestead-Miami, California and Richmond, and has five other top-three finishes.

Hornish, who finished third last year at Gateway, has 399 points and leads two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves by four points. Castroneves is the only other multiple winner in 2002, scoring a win at Phoenix and winning his second straight Indianapolis 500. Castroneves, who drives the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, is nine points ahead of his teammate, Gil de Ferran who has 386 points.

de Ferran, driver of the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, led the points since July but finished 21st at Kentucky after he touched wheels with Richie Hearn on Lap 23 and had to make a long pit stop for repairs. He dropped from first to third in the standings.

If there is one advantage for Castroneves and de Ferran, both have plenty of experience at Gateway. Castroneves competed at the track in the CART series from 1998-2000, finishing in the top 10 each time, including a second-place finish in 1999. de Ferran competed in CART at Gateway from 1997-2000 and finished in the top 10 three of those four years, including a third-place finish in 1997. This will be the first start at Gateway for both drivers as full-time members of the Indy Racing League.

Marlboro Team Penske has enjoyed success this season at tracks where handling is crucial. Gateway is well suited for the team, as it is a 1.25-mile track with long straightaways and tight corners that form almost a paperclip shape.

Castroneves won from the MBNA Pole at Phoenix, a tricky 1-mile oval with a dogleg on the backstretch, while de Ferran scored his only win this season from the MBNA Pole at Pikes Peak International Raceway, a 1-mile track where good handling is essential.

Felipe Giaffone, driver of the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing G Force/Chevrolet/Firestone, sits fourth in the point standings and is coming off his first career victory Aug. 11 at Kentucky Speedway. Giaffone has 382 points, just 17 points behind Hornish. He has finished in the top 10 in 11 of the 12 IRL events this season and in 21 of his 25 career IRL races. But he finished 20th last year at Gateway after handling problems ended his day after 44 laps.

The final three drivers eligible for the championship are Alex Barron, 283 points; Scott Sharp, 262 points; and Airton Dare, 253 points. Each driver has won a race this season, with Barron and Dare being first-time winners. Nine different drivers have won Indy Racing League events this season, tying a league record set in 1996-97. In addition, a first-time winner has emerged in six of the last seven races.

The first-time winners this season are Jeff Ward (Texas), de Ferran (Pikes Peak), Dare (Kansas), Barron (Nashville), Tomas Scheckter (Michigan) and Giaffone (Kentucky).

So if the trend continues, the biggest question is: Who's next?

Sarah Fisher, a native of Commercial Point, Ohio, became the first woman to win the pole position for a major-league open-wheel race in North American motorsports history, capturing the MBNA Pole at Kentucky. She also produced a stirring drive July 28 at Michigan, leading four of the last 16 laps of the race in the No. 23 Team Smart Blade/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing G Force/Infiniti/Firestone before finishing eighth.

Rookie Tony Renna, driver of the No. 78 Kruse Special Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone, also could break through for his first win. Renna, from Deland, Fla., finished 10th at Nashville, fourth at Michigan, and seventh at Kentucky in three starts this season for Kelley Racing.

One of Renna's Kelley Racing teammates, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., is the defending champion of the event and will drive the No. 7 Corteco/Bryant Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

The Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series, the new Indy Racing League development series, will race at Gateway International Raceway for the first time with the Gateway 100 at 11 a.m. (CDT) Aug. 25.

A.J. Foyt IV, grandson of the legendary A.J. Foyt, leads the series with 188 points after winning three of the first four races in the No. 14 Harrah's/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone.

Cory Witherill, the only full-blooded Native American in major-league American motorsports, is second at 137 points with a victory at Nashville in the No. 92 WSA Healthcare entry fielded by Hemelgarn Racing.

Ed Carpenter, driver of the No. 2 Menards/Jack K. Elrod Co./Futaba/Delphi entry is third with 135 points, while Arie Luyendyk Jr., son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, is fourth with 128 points in the No. 5 Luyendyk Racing entry.

GATEWAY INDY 250 NOTEBOOK

Schedule: The Gateway Indy 250 IRL race starts at 2 p.m. (CDT) Sunday, Aug. 25. MBNA Pole Qualifying starts at 3:45 p.m. (CDT) Aug. 24.

Indy Racing League practice sessions start at 10 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. (CDT) Aug. 24, and 9:30 a.m. Aug. 25.

The Gateway 100 Infiniti Pro Series race starts at 11 a.m. (CDT) Aug. 25. Pole qualifying starts at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 24.

Infiniti Pro Series practice sessions start at 9:15 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. Aug. 24.

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On the air: The Gateway Indy 250 will be televised live on ESPN at 3 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 25. "Indy Racing 2Day" will be televised at noon Aug. 25 on ESPN2.

The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 25, followed by the live race broadcast at 3 p.m. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast a qualifying wrap-up show at 5:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 24. The area affiliates are KFNS-AM 100.7, St. Louis and WFNS-AM 950, St. Louis

Highlights from the Gateway 100 Infiniti Pro Series race will be televised at 6 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 19 on ESPN2.

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Tickets: Tickets for the Gateway Indy 250 and Gateway 100 race are available by calling the Gateway International Raceway ticket office at (866) 35-SPEED or online at www.gatewayraceway.com.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Al Unser Jr. , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Arie Luyendyk , Airton Daré , Cory Witherill , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , A.J. Foyt IV , Richie Hearn , Alex Barron , Tony Renna , A.J. Foyt , Ed Carpenter , Mo Nunn , Sam Hornis
Teams Team Penske