NTT IndyCar Series: Grand Prix Of Portland Preview

Sebastien Bourdais has seven starts at Portland International Raceway, most among this weekend's entered drivers. [Photo by: Karl Zemlin]

Sebastien Bourdais has seven starts at Portland International Raceway, most among this weekend’s entered drivers. [Photo by: Karl Zemlin]


by Paul Gohde

With just three events remaining on the 2021 IndyCar schedule, the series moves to the West Coast for races at Portland International, Monterey (Laguna Seca) and the finale at Long Beach (a race that was rescheduled from April 18th during the pandemic scheduling scramble). With just 60 points separating the first-five drivers, anything can happen as teams prepare to compete on a tight road course, a swopping natural course and an iconic street circuit in this late-season run for the championship.

Race Facts: Indy car racing has been a constant at Portland since Al Unser Jr. drove to victory in the initial 1984 CART event. The 12-turn, 1.964-mile compact road course, opened back in 1961 as a sports car venue located on an abandoned post-war housing complex called Vanport. That facility was later destroyed in a disastrous 1948 flood and the current circuit opened on that site. Sunday’s race will be stretched this year to 110 laps/ 216.04 miles. IndyCar qualifying record: Will Power, 57.2143 sec. (123.577 mph), 2018…IndyCar race record: Power, 1:58:430 (104.225mph), 2019.

Recent Portland Race History: The Portland IC race was taken off the schedule in 2020; the victim of the pandemic race cancellations. The 2019 contest was won by Will Power/ Team Penske over Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi. Colton Herta started on the pole and finished fourth. The tight turn one proved the undoing of Zach Veach and Graham Rahal as Rahal’s late charge into the chicane on the opening lap took out both. Also collected in the melee were the SPM cars of James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly. Rahal was assessed a time penalty and was listed last in the results.

Current 2020 IndyCar Statistics: NTT IndyCar Series Driver Points:  1) Pato O’Ward, two wins, 435 points…2) Alex Palou, two, 425…3) Josef Newgarden, two, 413…4) Scott Dixon, one, 392…5) Marcus Ericsson, 2, 375… Other Winners: Colton Herta, (1) …Will Power, (1) …Rinus Vee Kay, (1)…Helio Castroneves (1)… Manufacturers Points: Honda) 7 wins, 1,092 points…Chevrolet) 6, 1057…Top Five Entrant Points For the 2022 Leaders Circle Contracts: 1) #5 Arrow McLaren SP, 435…2) # 10 Chip Ganassi Racing, 425…3) #2 Team Penske, 413…4)#9 CGR, 392…5) #8 CGR, 375. Top 22 entered cars earn Leaders Circle contracts for 2022 season. Twenty-six cars have earned Entrant Points so far in 2021.

Entries: Twenty-seven cars are entered with a new face and one older one competing. The new partnership of Juncos and Brad Hollinger, preparing for a full-time, two-car IndyCar entry in 2022, has British driver Callum Llott competing at Portland in his initial try at IndyCar. Llott, a Ferrari test driver, and Alfa Romeo F1 reserve pilot, is thought to be a possible 2022 pilot for that new team. Joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan for the three-race West Coast swing will be Oliver Askew as Bobby Rahal works at settling on a long-awaited three-car entry for next season. Where current RLL driver Takuma Sato lands in the future will help the team determine its 2022 driver lineup.

Notes: TV: Qualifying…Saturday, Sept. 11, NBCSN, 11:30 p.m. ET, (Delay). Race…Sunday, Sept. 12, NBC network, 3:00p.m. ET… The 27 cars entered for Sunday’s race are four more than the 23 that ran at Portland in 2019. IndyCar has seen a rise in car count, even during the pandemic, and with 27 or more envisioned for 2022, they are on their way to achieving that goal…Charlie Kimball will return to the circuit at Long Beach with an appearance for AJ Foyt racing…Rookie Callum Liott tested recently at the Indianapolis road course in preparation for his initial try at Portland…Power, Sato and Sebastien Bourdais are the only three active drivers who have won at Portland…Sunday’s race will be the 27th Indy car race at Portland.

Our Take: With the first five drivers in the 2021 championship chase just 60 points apart, the West Coast, three-race swing will likely determine a champ who is a road/street course talent. Palou, O’Ward, VeeKay and most of the rest have driving talent, but what if two of the three final events were on an oval? Some have called for IC to move the final race to Gateway giving the oval masters a chance. But are there any of those guys left? Back in the day AJ, Mario, Bobby U and most of the others found glory winning on the Springfield dirt mile on Saturday and the Wisconsin State Fair paved mile on Sunday. Many (including the Captain Roger Penske) have called for a few more ovals to return to the schedule. But fans seem to like the “event” atmosphere of the road courses; Road America and Long Beach being good examples. NASCAR has a good blend of Super Speedways, short and medium ovals and more recently a few more road courses. They even ran a rather phony “dirt” race at Bristol. It might be worth a try for Indy Car to find (even if they self-promote) a few more ovals to even the event schedule a bit and give the Kyle Larsons of the world a reason to try IndyCar racing.

“They Said It”: Oliver Askew, #45 RLL Hy-Vee Honda: “I’ve done a couple of races this year in IndyCar, standing in for a couple of drivers. My first impressions of Portland came in 2018, in an F2000 car, that reminded me of a karting track. It’s very tight and narrow and has a good mix of slower and high-speed corners. It takes a lot of commitment in turns 11-12. My favorite memory there was having my first Indy car experience when I had a test with Chip Ganassi. This year I filled in for Felix Rosenqvist in Detroit and Rinus VeeKay at Road America. I think I’m ready for these last three races. This car is very capable.”

Next Race: Sunday, September 19, Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.




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