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IndyCar: Grand Prix of Portland Preview

Sebastien Bourdais in the opening practice for the INDYCAR Grand Prix. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Sebastien Bourdais won the last GP in Portland back in 2007. [John Wiedemann Photo]

by Paul Gohde

The Verizon IndyCar Series finally returns to the Pacific Northwest Sunday for the Grand Prix of Portland. Current IndyCar driver Sebastien Bourdais won the last GP here in 2007 and will be one of just seven entered IndyCar drivers who competed here ten seasons ago. Track conditions and failing attendance caused Champ Car to abandon the event then, but IndyCar has been trying to return the series to this area for some time since. Vancouver, BC once hosted a successful street race, but road changes forced them to drop it and Seattle was more than happy to host a return to the region over Labor Day weekend.

The Portland International Raceway track site was once a booming 1940’s town called Vanport, built to house 40,000 residents, most of them shipbuilders during WW-II. But the town was wiped out due to a devastating 1948 flood and was never rebuilt.

Racing was held on the abandoned streets of the town in the 1960’s, and a more permanent track hosted Trans-Am and other sportscar events in the 1970’s. The first of 24 Indy car races (1984 -2003 CART and 2004 -2007 Champ Car) was won by Al Unser Jr. with Bourdais taking the ’07 finale.

Race Facts: The current PIR track measures 1.96 miles with 12 turns and runs clockwise with long straightaways.  Sunday’s race, the 16th of 17 on the 2018 calendar, will be for 105 laps / 2006.22 miles; approximately the same distance as in past events. The qualifying record, set by Justin Wilson in a 2005 Champ Car race, is 57.507sec. / 122.756 mph. Bourdais set the race record, 1:45:42.774 / 114.816 mph in 2007. Only seven drivers: Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Bourdais have competed in Indy cars here prior to this weekend. The field will be on equal footing when they hit the track for Thursday practice as cars, tires, motors, aero and driver experience are all quite different since they raced here 10 years ago.

Past Portland Races: Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. have each won three times here, so perhaps Andretti’s current team could have a bit of extra knowledge going into the weekend. Six drivers: Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Gil de Ferran, Alex Zanardi, Cristiano da Matta and Bourdais have won twice, thus, 18 of the 24 past races were won by just eight drivers. The past Portland races were run in connection with June’s Rose Festival, but IndyCar chose Labor Day weekend as a lead-up to the double-point championship finale in Sonoma, CA two weeks from now.

2018 So Far: Standings: 1. Dixon (568 points, 3 wins) 2. Alexander Rossi (-26, 3) 3. (Power (-68, 3) 4. Josef Newgarden (-78, 3) 5. Hunter-Reay (-147, 1). Other winners: Hinchcliffe and Bourdais one each.

The Field: Twenty-five cars should meet the green flag on Sunday. Jordan King will run here and at Sonoma for Ed Carpenter, while Jack Harvey returns for Meyer Shank with Schmidt Peterson for the final two races. Dale Coyne will field a car for controversial Santino Ferrucci but SPM has yet to announce a driver to replace the injured Robert Wickens. Gabby Chaves will suit-up for the Harding crew and Alfonso Celis Jr. returns to the grid for Juncos.

Notes: TV: Qualifying, 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday (Same day delay). Race, 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday (Live)…James Hinchcliffe claimed his first Atlantics championship win at Portland 2006…The last Portland Indy car race, won by Bourdais, was the 100th win for the legendary Newman/Haas Racing team …Bourdais was also on the Champ Car podium for four years in a row (2004-’07) with two wins, a second and a third.

Our Take: With the first four drivers in points each having three wins, the championship is coming down to who is the better road racer and who can finish the highest when not winning. Scott Dixon is finally being recognized for his four series championships and being one of the best drivers of his era. The double-points at Sonoma could stir the pot should Dixon run into problems, but Rossi may be his strongest contender. We’ll pick the Ganassi Honda driver to win Sunday and finish well enough at Sonoma to take his fifth title.

Final Words:  Graham Rahal (No. 15 Mi Jack Honda): “Portland is a great venue that has held a lot of historic Indy car races…The layout is slightly different, but in-essence, it’s very similar to what it originally was. There are definitely some wider corners leading onto the back straightaway that could open up some passing opportunities if people are feeling feisty…It’s great for Indy car fans in the Pacific Northwest. This is really a key event for the region…The (Thursday) test day is key for us. Having the test day is a great opportunity.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”