NTT IndyCar Series: Grand Prix of Portland Preview

Sebastien Bourdais © [Dan Bathie / Spacesuit Media]

Sebastien Bourdais at Portland International Raceway. © [Dan Bathie / Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

With two races remaining to determine a 2019 champion, the NTT IndyCar Series moves to Portland International Raceway, a track that the series made a successful return to last year after 11 years away. Takuma Sato won here last season and comes back on a high after snatching an exciting win at Gateway last week.

Race Facts: The 1.964-mile, 12-turn, natural road course, was once the site of Vanport, a town of 40,000 WWII shipyard builders that was destroyed by a flood in 1948. Sunday’s race will run for 105 laps/206.22 miles. This will be the 26th Indy car race at Portland, a race that was once connected to the city’s annual Rose Festival. The competitive circuit is the home of the all-time closest road course finish in Indy car history. In 1987, a three-wide finish saw Mark Blundell edge Gil de Ferran by just 0.027 seconds.

 2018 Portland Race: Starting 20th in the series’ first race at Portland since 2007, Takuma Sato avoided a first lap shunt to grab his first series’ win since the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Scott  Dixon, who was chasing his fifth NTT IndyCar crown, was involved in that first lap altercation in the tight Turn 3 that saw Marco Andretti flip over James Hinchcliffe and Ed Jones. After a stop under the caution to check for damage, the soon-to-be champ used a two-stop strategy to secure fifth, keeping his Chip Ganassi team in contention for the title. Sato moved through the field after his poor qualifying spot and led 20/25 laps at the finish to edge Ryan Hunter-Reay by 0.06 seconds with Sebastien Bourdais third.

2019 So Far:  Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden has led the point’s chase after every round except the Indianapolis 500… Standings after 15 races: 1) Newgarden, 563 points, 4 wins…2) Simon Pagenaud, -38, 3 wins…3) Alexander Rossi, -46, 2 wins…4) Scott Dixon, -70, 2 wins…5) Will Power, -111, 2 wins. It is likely that only the first four in points will realistically compete for the championship at Portland and in the final at Laguna Seca.

The Field: Twenty-four cars are now entered for Sunday’s race. Jack Harvey returns to drive for  Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow Schmidt Peterson…Max Chilton replaces Conor Daly in Trevor Carlin’s #59.And in a last-minute addition, Conor Daly takes over the Arrow Schmidt Peterson #7 for the weekend. He’ll be back driving for Carlin later in the month at Laguna Seca.

Notes: Indy Lights driver Rinus Vee Kay tested an Indy car at Portland in early August as he hopes to move up to the NTT series in 2020…McLaren Racing director Gil de Ferran won two CART races at Portland in 1999 and 2000…Six drivers have won at Portland after starting on the pole as passing here is often at a premium…20 of the 23 drivers entered for Sunday’s race competed in the 2018 event when IndyCar returned to Portland.

Our Take: In past Portland races, as well as last year’s return, traffic jam incidents have often occurred on the tight first lap. Avoiding such crashes in the early going will be key to the championship efforts of the top four drivers. Qualifying up front will be important to those four drivers who maintain hopes of an incident-free race. As we’ve said in the past, remember that the final race at Laguna Seca pays double points. That fact, however, doesn’t give Newgarden, Pagenaud, Rossi or Dixon a license to make a mistake here. Dixon is lying in the weeds (4th in points), hoping that a mistake by others could give his conservative style a chance for him to move up in the standings. We’ll know more by Sunday evening.

Final Words: Takuma Sato (No. 30 MiJack Panasonic Honda): “It’s great to go back to Portland as the defending winner, and also won in St. Louis (Gateway last week)…The fans waited a long time for the return of Indy car racing and I’m honored to be the first winner for the new generation of racing there. It’s a tough track and the time difference between the front row and the bottom was just a few tenths (of a second). Last year (when he started set up 20th), we ran a unique strategy in terms of fuel and succeeded. I don’t know if that can happen this year, (but) our road course set up is more competitive than it was last year.

Next Race: The season’s double-points finale has moved this season from Sonoma to Laguna Seca, a natural road course that has hosted Indy car races from 1983-2014. The season’s championship decider will run on Sunday, September 22, at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca.




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