Portland Preview

For the third weekend in a row, the NTT IndyCar Series will race on a different type of circuit. Two weeks ago, they ran the 2.5-mile super-speedway at Pocono. last Saturday night, they ran on the 1.25-mile short oval at Gateway. This weekend, the series will take on the twelve-turn 1.967-mile road course at Portland International Raceway.

For twenty-four years, CART/Champ Car contested races at Portland, before that event fell victim to the reunification of the two open-wheel series back in 2008. Many longtime CART events fell off of the unified schedule, but many like Toronto, Road America and Portland have come back. The only ones I’m still anxiously awaiting to return are Surfers Paradise and Cleveland. Recent talks to bring back Surfers Paradise have stalled and I’ve not even heard a whisper about Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport circuit returning – but I can still hope.

Portland used to run in June during the Portland Rose Festival, usually on Father’s Day. My father introduced me to IndyCar racing, by taking us to the Indianapolis 500 each year when I was growing up in the sixties. One Father’s Day, I invited him to come to my house to watch the 1992 Portland race. He was not impressed. It was that day when I realized how much he disliked road racing, when he said “I want to see cars go fast. I get nothing out of watching them slow down for turns.” From that day, until he died about two and a half years later, I never subjected him to another road course on television. We only watched ovals together.

I guess June is the rainy season in Portland, because it seemed more times than not that it rained at some point during the majority of the races I watched at Portland. That’s why when IndyCar first returned last year after an ten-year hiatus, I was so surprised at the weather. It was sunny, hot and dry – so unlike most races I had seen there. When they had the big pile-up at the chicane on the first lap, there was so much dust engulfing the cars – you couldn’t tell who was involved.

It is looking more typical for what I think of for the Portland race this weekend. Temperatures will be in the low-80s and there is a chance of rain on Sunday. Quite honestly, it wouldn’t bother me if Sunday’s race was affected by rain – especially since I’m not there. Another surprise podium like last weekend could really help spice up the championship weekend at Laguna Seca three weeks from now.

Sunday’s race will be broadcast on Big NBC (over-the-air network). Practice One will be carried live on NBC Sports Gold at 1:50 pm EDT. The second practice and the pit stop practice will be shown live on NBC Sports Gold beginning at 5:40 pm EDT. Practice Three will commence at 2:00 pm EDT on NBC Sports Gold, while qualifying will be shown live at 6:00 pm EDT on NBCSN. Sunday’s race broadcast on NBC begins at 3:00 pm EDT, and the green flag flies at 3:35 pm EDT.

Takuma Sato won last year’s return race at Portland in dominating fashion, winning by over six seconds over Ryan Hunter-Reay. If you listened to Trackside the other night, you heard Curt Cavin mention that with last weekend’s win at Gateway, Sato has now won three races in the last seventeen. Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are the only other drivers that can make that claim. His win last year at Portland was very popular in the Pacific Northwest.

Another point made on Trackside was that Sébastien Bourdais has scored five straight podium finishes at Portland, including last year’s third place finish. Two of those podium finishes are wins. Bourdais and Sato will be the only Portland winners in Sunday’s field. Other than Bourdais, the other drivers that have more than one IndyCar start at Portland are Simon Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal.

What does all of that mean? Probably absolutely nothing, but it’s a fun statistic to throw out there.

Conor Daly will be back in the field, but with a different team. Marcus Ericsson asked to be released from his duties with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this weekend, so that he could be on standby for Alfa-Romeo for the Grand Prix of Belgium at Spa. I have an idea Ericsson probably realizes he is not in McLaren’s plans for next year at Arrow McLaren Racing SP and he needs to explore all possibilities. Therefore Conor Daly has been tapped to drive the No. 7 Arrow car. This will be Daly’s third different team to drive for this season. He drove for Andretti Autosport at Indianapolis and Carlin for the remaining oval races. He is scheduled to close out the season at Laguna Seca, back where he started – at Andretti Autosport in a car sponsored by the US Air Force.

After last week’s wild race at Gateway, several drivers need strong runs this weekend at Portland – whether it is to keep their championship hopes alive, keep their jobs or simply keep their self-respect. Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi now face an uphill battle in their championship hunt. Dixon is down seventy points and Rossi is forty-six points behind. Worst of all for Rossi, he did only have one person to chase in Newgarden. Last weekend, Simon Pagenaud jumped ahead of him. Not only does he need a strong race, he now has to wish for two drivers to encounter bad luck, and not just one. Dixon has to perform in the next two races and wish for three strong drivers to all encounter problems in the next two races. That’s a tall order.

Portland is one of the few tracks that rookie sensation Santino Ferrucci has raced an Indy car before. Will that help him this weekend? I would guess it would. He has been spectacular on most tracks that he has been to for the first time. Ferrucci finished twentieth at last year’s Portland race. I expect he’ll make a substantial improvement this year.

Josef Newgarden is not having the best of runs either. He has spun out on the last lap in two of his last three races, after having good, but not great cars. Last year, he had a forgettable tenth-place finish at Portland after starting second. Although he has a comfortable lead in the championship, Simon Pagenaud has made up some ground on Newgarden in the last few races. Newgarden needs momentum on his side leaving Portland this weekend, so that he doesn’t have three weeks to think too much about it and limp into Laguna Seca.

But I don’t think it’s going to be that easy. There was a surprise winner last year at Portland and a surprise winner last weekend. We have gotten to that point in the season where most drivers are out of the championship hunt and have little to lose. When they are racing alongside drivers that have everything to lose, interesting things happen.

What they said on Trackside the other night keeps sticking with me – in regards to the five straight podium finishes by Sébastien Bourdais. That’s a very impressive stat. He’s angry with himself for crashing in Turn Four late in the race at Gateway. Think he will be strong right off the truck this weekend. I say Sébastien Bourdais will earn his third Portland win on Sunday. I also think that Josef Newgarden will have a lackluster weekend and cause a semi-shakeup in the points battle – at least enough to make things interesting in three weeks.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Portland Preview”

  1. People seem to be reading a lot into Ericsson going to Spa. He’s been an Alfa reserve driver the whole season, Kimi pulled a leg muscle and they were positive he’d be able to race so Marcus is on standby. This has been a possibility all year, don’t think there’s anything deeper going on there.

    There’s rumblings about Burke Airport being closed and turned into other properties, I guess it only gets about four flights a day.


  2. billytheskink Says:

    Though I have never been, I rank Portland very highly among my favorite tracks on the schedule, as I have some great memories of watching the race. Wins from personal favorites like Al Unser Jr., Mark Blundell and Max Papis; the thrilling 97 finish; de Ferran winning on Goodyears in 99; the ever-present threat of rain mixing things up; the wildness of the Festival curves…

    I see Katherine Legge is driving the two-seater this weekend, according to the spotter’s guide. Good to see her back around the series, though it would be better, obviously, to see her on the grid.

  3. The 1986 Fathers Day finish as Mario nipped Michael in a photo finish! 👍🏎

  4. I watched F1’s first practice yesterday. It showed what looked to me like a very unhappy Marcus standing against the wall of Kimi’s garage. I may be reading something into this, but it looks like he won’t be in the Alfa Romero this weekend after all. (I haven’t watched quali yet for Spa, so not sure if Kimi is out there).

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