And then there were two. It’s hard to believe Sunday will be the next to last race of the NTT Indycar Series. Portland International Raceway hosts the race for the second consecutive year after a successful return in 2018. CART race on the island track from 1984 until 2003. Champ Car then sanctioned the event for four more years. Indycar returned last year ending an eleven year absence.
There have been some close finishes at Portland. Mark Blundell beat Gil De Ferran by 0.027 seconds in 1997. Mario Andretti beat son Michael to the line when the younger Andretti ran out of fuel in the last corner. Most of the time, however, the victories have been decisive. Al Unser, Jr. beat Geoff Brabham by 39.61 seconds in 1984.
Takuma Sato, winner of last week’s thriller at World Wide Technology Raceway, won last year’s Grand Prix of Portland by taking advantage of a caution period to move into the lead. His 20th starting position was the farthest back a driver has won from at this track.
While one eye will be on the race itself, the other one will be looking at the championship. Josef Newgarden leads Simon Pagenaud by 38 points and Alexander Rossi by 46. I think it will take two very bad races by Newgarden for him to lose the title. Portland is Rossi’s last chance to go into the finale at Laguna Seca with any hope of capturing the title. Pagenaud has been lurking all year and took over second place last weekend. I wouldn’t count him out. Both Pagenaud and Rossi need help from Newgarden, however, and I don’t see Josef cooperating.
Portland’s festival curves have been the sight of many first lap incidents. Lastyear a five car pileup nearly cost Scott Dixon the title. He somehow got the car refired and after some repairs in the pits, he wen. t on to a fifth place finish. The flat course has some other areas to be wary of. Turn 11 can be tricky.
In 24 Indycar races at Portland, only four drivers have won the race from the pole. In 2018, Will Power won the pole, but a gearbox issue put him seven laps down and he fished 21st. Power is not having the best of seasons this year. Although he has a win and three poles, which would be a great season for many drivers, this year’s results are far below his typical season.
Rossi needs to win this race and i think he will. Newgarden and Pagenaud could be having their own battle. They are too good to ruin each other’s races. One of the issues I have with the double points in the finale is that it can widen the gap between contenders more than it can bring them closer. The points difference between points is wider, giving the points leader an advantage. As close as the points chase usually is going into the finale, double points in my opinion have never been a necessary thing to make a closer title fight.
Portland Spotter’s Guide
I will be on site in Portland with updates after each session and will also keep you posted on the Road to Indy championships.
Per Adam Stern, the 202 schedule could be released at the end of the week. It appears Pocono will not return. My thoughts on that when the announcement is official.
Who would have thought that there would be a season where Sato would have more wins than Will Power has?
Indycar now has two last laps to incorporate into next year’s commercials- the final lap at Mid Ohio and last Saturday night’s run off turn 4 to the checkered flag. I’m hoping for another promo worthy finish on Sunday.
Charlie Kimball has added Portland to his original five race schedule. He was originally sitting out this week and just running the finale in three weeks.
Reminder: The race is on NBC. The big network. You might need to make sure your DVR is set to record the correct channel.
As reported yesterday, Adam stern tweeted that Richmond Raceway will be on the 2020 NTT Indycar Series schedule. The 3/4 mile D shaped oval will be the shortest oval on the schedule. Iowa is 7/8 of a mile. I’m not sure how I feel about two short tracks of nearly identical length. It takes away some of the series’ diversity.
Late Breaking News
There are reports that Marcus Ericsson will be in Spa with Alfa Romeo this weekend instead of racing for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Conor Daly will drive the 7 car at Portland.
There seem to be conflicting reports about whether Ericsson is driving or there in his reserve role. In any case this is a huge opportunity for Daly. ASPM will be the third team Daly will have driven for this season.
The statement from ASPM: