Portland Preview

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It’s Labor Day weekend. College football has already started and the NFL kicks off next week. Those are all signs that the IndyCar season is winding down. Since Portland began reappearing on the IndyCar schedule in 2018, it had been run over Labor Day weekend. Last year for some reason, it was run on Sep 12 – the weekend after Labor Day.

Logistically, it makes sense to run this race in September with Laguna Seca being the season finale. It’s easier on the teams and the series to finish up the season with a west coast swing. Personally, I liked Portland in its old slot during the Portland Rose Festival in June, usually around Father’s Day Weekend. That was during the rainy season and everything was lush and green. It also made for some interesting races in the wet. The September date finds a dry and dusty race course; as we saw in 2018 when Scott Dixon got caught up in a first lap incident in the chicane, and his car was absolutely showered in dust, as a dust bowl completely shrouded all of the cars involved. That would not have happened in June.

This is only the fourth installment of this race since its return, as there was no race in 2020 due to COVID. Consequently, there are only three former winners in this field – Takuma Sato, Will Power and Alex Palou.

IndyCar began racing at Portland International Raceway in 1984, with Al Unser, Jr. taking the inaugural win. Mario Andretti won the next two, including a dramatic win over his son, Michael, as Michael ran out of fuel coming off of the final turn – prompting a semi-sarcastic “Happy Father’s Day, Dad” from Michael in victory lane. But Michael got his chances, winning three in a row from 1990-92. Another dramatic win came in 1997, with Mark Blundell winning for PacWest Racing by less than a tenth of a second over Gil de Ferran and Raul Boesel.

Portland was one of the casualties of reunification in February of 2008; meaning that there was no IndyCar race at Portland for over a decade, until it returned to the IndyCar schedule.

Since its return, I’m not sure any of the three races have gotten off to a clean start. Instead, there always seems to be a melee at the chicane of Turn One. Therefore I think you’d have to classify Portland as one of those wild card races; which should cause all of the championship contenders to be scared to death. Takuma Sato was a surprise winner in 2018, after qualifying twentieth. Will Power was not such a surprise the following year, after qualifying second. Alex Palou won last year from the pole, but had to fight his way back from another Lap One incident. He finally took the lead on Lap 86 and led the rest of the way.

Practice One for this weekend gets underway this afternoon at 5:30 pm EDT (3:30 local time) on Peacock and will last for seventy-five minutes. Practice Two begins at Noon EDT. The hour-long practice will be shown live on Peacock. Qualifying will be shown live on Peacock, beginning at 3:05 pm EDT. The final practice will take place late Saturday afternoon at 7:15 pm EDT on Peacock, instead of a morning warm-up. The race broadcast begins on Big NBC on Sunday at 3:00 pm EDT, with a green flag at approximately 3:30 pm EDT.

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As I said earlier, this race can be a wild card. Some of the championship contenders may meet with misfortune in Turn One of the opening lap. While they won’t all crash out, I think this race could produce a surprise winner, just as it did in 2018. My prediction is that Graham Rahal will finally end a five-year winless drought and will visit victory lane for the first time since he swept the double-header at Belle Isle in 2017.

I hope everyone enjoys their Labor Day weekend, but please come here on Monday morning as I will have my usual Random Thoughts post here on the holiday.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “Portland Preview”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    Any title contender who qualifies outside of the first few rows is going to be wanting to borrow Scott Dixon’s golden horseshoe for the start.

    It will be interesting to see if Penske’s decision to to test at Portland instead of Laguna Seca pays off. It should at least help square them with Ganassi, who I otherwise would have favored at this track.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    You make a very good point about this race. I think the reason for so many first turn crashes is the result of a spec car series. Everyone is so desperate to find any advantage, they loose their race craft!!

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