Portland Preview

For the first time since reunification in February 2008, there will be open-wheel racing at Portland International Raceway this weekend. Like Road America and Toronto, Portland was one of those races that fell victim to the reunification of IndyCar in February of 2008.

Prior to that, CART/Champ Car raced for twenty-four consecutive years at Portland from 1984 through 2007. For years, we knew it as the Budweiser/GI Joe’s 200. Contrary to popular belief, GI Joe’s was not the military action figure, but a retail chain for sporting goods and auto parts in the Pacific Northwest that is now defunct.

The traditional date for the CART race at Portland was always in June – many times falling on Father’s Day. It usually coincided with the Portland Rose Festival, a three-week festival that is very popular in Portland.

Many things come to mind when I think of IndyCar racing in Portland. I remember one Father’s Day race in 1986 at Portland, when Michael Andretti was leading his father, Mario, on the last lap coming out of the last turn onto the massive front straightaway. As Michael had the checkered flag in sight, he suddenly lost fuel pressure and Mario caught and passed him at the line. In victory lane, a dejected Michael Andretti told his father “Happy Father’s Day, Dad”.

I also remember another close finish in 1997. Mark Blundell gave Pac West Racing the victory as he barely beat Gil de Ferran and Raul Boesel at the line. It was the closest three-car finish in CART history.

I also think of rain. Being in the Pacific Northwest, rain is not an uncommon occurrence. There were many Portland races that were run either in a light mist or a driving rainstorm. If you’re a spectator on site, that may not be a good thing. But if you are dry and watching from your den, it can really spice up the show.

The track at Portland is not your typical natural terrain road course. It is actually located Delta Park, which is a city park. From what I understand, it is right in the northern part of the city – not in a remote area like Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, Barber or Road America.

The main straightaway is long and wide, with a chicane added about two-thirds of the way down. Starts and re-starts can be interesting as many cars go through the runoff area when they cannot make the sharp right-hander. There have been many pileups at that corner over the years, even more so in the rain. With the chicane added, the track has a total of twelve turns and a length of 1.964 miles. Following the chicane, there is a carousel turn at the end of the full front-stretch, that winds around to a long sweeping backstretch that bends to the right. A series of left and right turns leads back onto the very wide front-stretch again.

The front stretch lends itself to lots of passing, but there are many other passing zones. I remember Portland as one road course that had a lot of passing. It’ll be interesting to see what this current aero package will allow.

Looking over the list of previous winners at Portland, there are very few that never won a CART championship. In fact, Blundell, Adrián Fernández, AJ Allmendinger and Max Papis are the only ones that won at Portland, yet never won a championship. Some of the more notable names that did win a Portland and also a championship include Al Unser, Jr., Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Danny Sullivan, Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Alex Zanardi, Gil de Ferran, Christiana de Matta and Sébastien Bourdais.

Not only will I be keeping my eye on the four realistic championship contenders (Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden), but I’m also going to be watching Zach Veach. This young rookie just keeps getting better and better with every race. From what I can tell, Veach is as humble and likeable out of the car as he is tenacious in the car. We could be watching the next bonafide star growing right before our very eyes.

There will be twenty-five cars in this race. Dale Coyne will have Bourdais, Pietro Fittipaldi in their regular cars, but will have Santino Ferrucci in a third entry. Meyer Shank Racing will return with Jack Harvey, while Juncos Racing is bringing back Alfonso Celis, Jr. for his second start of the season.

Only a few of the current drivers have ever raced at Portland. Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal and Bourdais have raced there in an Indy car. For the rest of the field, it’s going to be brand new. Will eleven year-old experience help those six drivers? I certainly don’t think it will hurt them.

For a west coast race, it has an early starting time. Sunday’s live coverage on NBCSN begins at 11:30 Pacific/ 2:30 EDT.

Who is my pick to win? My pick of Tony Kanaan at Gateway didn’t work out so well. This week I’m going with the driver who has had better results over the least three races than anyone – Alexander Rossi, who has finishes of first, first and second over a three-race span and trails Scott Dixon by only twenty-six points. I predict that this may be the race that Dixon has a problem and Rossi will leave Portland with the points lead or gust shy of it. We’ll see.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Portland Preview”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I just hope Rossi and Dixon come out of it still really close to each other to make the finale exciting. It’s been fun watching them battle each other in the points and I hope it comes down to the very end of the Snoozenoma race before being decided.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Really cool to have Portland back. Not quite Cleveland-level crazy on the start, but still enjoyably crazy. Always enjoyed the long shot down the straight and into the chicane on TV, almost iconic.

  3. This is just to add that Ryan Hunter-Reay has raced previously at Portland, too, while he was still in ChampCar. The best resumé of the drivers who have run here before has got Sebastien Bourdais who has won this race before. If I recall correctly, he is the only previous winner in the field.

    Here’s very much looking forward to the highlights reel (or “Up To Speed”, as they call it) on youtube because Portland is way out of my Central European time zone.

  4. I am happy to see a race for the fans in the NW of America and nearby Canada at long last become available again.

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