Portland Grand Prix Preview- Return to the West

Start of the 2018 Grand Prix of Portland. Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The end of the Indycar season seems to come faster every year. This season has flown by, and it has been one of the best years I can remember. The close title fight, great racing, and a variety of winners have combined for a great 2021. While Indycar doesn’t have a playoff (thank goodness), the final three races will come as close to a playoff as any three final rounds have been. These races were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, so 20201 is also Indycar’s return to the west coast.

Portland is a two day event for Indycar, with the first practice Saturday at noon Eastern time on Peacock. Today is Indy Lights practice and qualifying for race one.

Indycar raced at Portland from 1984 through 2007 and was a casualty of unification. The race returned in 2018. While everyone will be watching the title contenders and eagerly awaiting NBC’s Points as They Run graphic every six laps, there are other storylines as well. Let’s start with the five contenders.

There seems to be a rivalry building between Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward. O’Ward has twice passed Newgarden late for his two wins this year. Newgarden held off O’Ward and Gateway to win. This pair have two of the three fastest cars in the field right now. I look for them to be the two fighting for the Astor Cup at Long Beach. along with Alex Palou.

Alex Palou has been nothing short of brilliant this year. I really like his race craft. He has lead the standings for most of the season by not overreaching what the car has on a given day. His last two finishes of 20th and 27th were out of his control. Before dropping out, he was in a position to maintain his lead.

Scott Dixon has been near the top but has been not talked about much this season. He has three finishes below 15th, which is atypical for him. Dixon has a lot of ground to make up. Except for his win in the first race at Texas, Dixon has been mostly a top five car, but not one to be contending for a win every weekend.

Marcus Ericsson has surged to within 60 points of O’Ward with an average finish of 5.4 over the last four races- the best of the five contenders. Ericsson has been one of the many pleasant surprises this season with two wins and a second.

The Spoilers

There are other drivers who can affect the points, mainly Colton Herta. In 2019 Herta won the pole at Portland and Weather Tech Raceway. Tire strategy cost him the win at Portland, but he came back to dominate the race in Monterey. Herta has one of the three fastest cars, and has a chance to win both of the next two races. Herta’s front row starts have not yielded great results this season, however. He won from the pole in St. Pete, but his other front row starts show mied results:

Gateway- Started second finished 18th

Indianapolis 500- Started second finished 16th

Detroit Race 2- Started second finished 4th

Road America- Started second finished second

Nashville- Started first finished 19th

Mid Ohio- Started second finished 13th

There is also a group of drivers looking for their first win of 2021. Alexander Rossi, Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey, and Graham Rahal are all capable of taking maximum points away from the leaders.

First Turn Follies

To succeed at Portland a driver must get cleanly through turn 1 at the start of the race. In 2018 and 2019, turn 1 has seen multiple cars taken out of the race. In 2018 Marco Andretti flipped at the start. Scott Dixon somehow kept his car going and came back to finish fifth on the way to his fifth title. The key is top qualify up front and avoid the chaos behind.

The first turn pileup in 2018 nearly ended Scott Dixon’s title hopes. Phot by Chris Owens, Indycar

Notes

No driver has won more than two races this season. Usually someone has at least three wins by now and is in a good position to win the championship.

Scott Dixon is still looking for his 52nd win to tie Mario Andretti for second on the all time career victory list.

It is hard to believe Will Power has just one pole this season. He won the Portland race in 2019.

Oliver Askew will drive the 45 car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the final three races. I hope this gives Askew a second chance to be in the series full time next year.

With 27 cars expected to enter each of the three races, traffic for leaders could present a challenge, especially at Long Beach.

Portland Weekend Schedule

The schedule for the Portland Grand Prix came out a couple days ago. It will be another two day show for Indycar with one 75 minute practice before qualifying and a 30 minute practice after qualifying. Friday is dedicated to Indy Lights and ARCA Menard’s Series West.

I hope the series goes back to three day programs next year. Although Iu am not going to Portland this year, if I travel that far, I’d prefer to see Indycars on track all three days of the event.

Portland International Raceway recently issued a masking requirement for fans which applies both indoors and outdoors.

Times listed are Pacific Time and is scheduled for broadcast on NBC.

Next week I will discuss what we know about the 2022 schedule.

Portland Sets Fan Limit; Notes

Photo from Portland International Raceway website

Portland International Raceway announced a fan limit of 25% for all their events this season. This is great news. It means that the Indycar race scheduled for September 12 is a go. Fans who had tickets for the cancelled 2020 race had the option to defer tickets to 2021. Portland is the third track to announce a track spectator limit.

Barber Motorsports Park didn’t set a specific limit, but will only admit fans who park inside the facility. St. Pete has a 20,000 fan limit per day. Mid Ohio is limited by the state of Ohio to 30% of capacity. That should be around 20,000 or so fans.

Still waiting for a figure from Indianapolis Motor Speedway about the fan limit for the Indianapolis 500.

All announced limits are subject to change as the COVID situation changes. Let’s hope all changes point in the direction of more fans allowed.

Indycar iRacing Tonight

The first of three Indycar iracing events takes place tonight at 6:30 pm Eastern time. Tonight’s track is Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. this should be a fun track for Indycar. The live stream is on Indycar.com/iRacing.

Sebring Broadcast Times

Broadcast times and channels for the 12 Hours of Sebring Saturday:

I’m disappointed at the small amount of over the air television time, but that is less time to hear about Jimmie Johnson. At least the final three hours is on. After sunset is when this race gets crazy. More on Sebring tomorrow.

Portland Extends Grand Prix Through 2023

The Portland Grand Prix, a casualty of the pandemic will host Indycar races through 2023 in an extension announced this afternoon. Indycar returned to the track in 2018. The full announcement:

 
 
 
 
PORTLAND, Ore. (August 20, 2020) – After reaching a three-year extension to their current agreement, City of Portland and Green Savoree Portland LLC officials announced today that theGrand Prix of Portlandwill return to the Pacific Northwest and Portland International Raceway (PIR) through at least 2023.
 
The 2021 date for the Grand Prix of Portland at PIR will be announced by the NTT INDYCAR SERIES later this year. The event was cancelled this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and Oregon’s statewide restrictions on public gatherings.
 
“I was fortunate as a teenager to attend the Indy 500,” says Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “I remember the excitement then and we saw the same energy at the 2018 and 2019 Grand Prix of Portland races. As the only event of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, the race not only provides tremendous thrills but also contributes $12-$15 million in economic benefits for the city. I’m excited to see this premier race in Portland for at least the next three years.”
 
“We are very pleased to have ‘Portland’s Fastest Park’, the Portland International Raceway, hosting the Grand Prix of Portland NTT INDYCAR SERIES race for three additional years,” says Portland Parks & Recreation Director Adena Long. “The Grand Prix has established itself as a summer tradition as Portlanders enjoy the festival atmosphere, the cars, and camaraderie. We look to 2021 through 2023 with great anticipation.”
 
“We’re disappointed to not be able to bring IndyCar racing back to the great fans in the Pacific Northwest later this summer, but our team is excited to be back in 2021 and beyond through this continued partnership with the City of Portland and the Portland Parks & Recreation division,” said Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, organizers of the Grand Prix of Portland. “We appreciate Mayor Wheeler, the commissioners, Director Long, E.C. (Mueller) and the entire PIR team for their ongoing support of the Grand Prix of Portland, and working with us to make the Grand Prix of Portland even better when it returns next year.”
 
Ticket purchasers on file for the 2020 event will receive a direct communication from Green Savoree Portland LLC soon on their available options. Ongoing Grand Prix of Portland updates will be posted toportlandgp.com. Race fans can also stay up to speed on the event via social media by following #PortlandGP.
 
ABOUT GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND
Portland International Raceway (PIR) is the home of the Grand Prix of Portland. PIR is a 1.964-mile, 12-turn permanent road course owned by the City of Portland and operated under the Portland Parks and Recreation. Opened in 1960 to host sports car and drag racing, the 268-acre property hosts over 550 events annually including automotive and motorcycle road racing, motocross, cruise-ins and other special events including the Rose Cup Races. PIR has been the site of many memorable Indy car races. Al Unser Jr. won the inaugural one in 1984, and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returned in 2018 after an 11-year absence with Takuma Sato the winner and another Indianapolis 500 champion Will Power winning in 2019. The Father’s Day race of 1986 featured Mario Andretti victorious over his son Michael on the last lap by less than a second. The closest three-way road racing finish in Indy car history took place at PIR in 1997 when the top three were covered by just 0.055 of a second. The Grand Prix of Portland is owned and operated by Green Savoree Portland, LLC, whose affiliates also promote three additional INDYCAR races, The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (2020 date postponed), Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Oct. 23-25, 2020), and Honda Indy Toronto.
 
For more information, visit portlandgp.com, ‘like’ its Facebook page @PortlandGP or follow updates on Twitter @Portland_GP and Instagram at @Portland_GP using #PortlandG

The New World of Sport

Be prepared for a brave new world, race fans. Racing is set to resume, albeit under very different circumstances. NASCAR and Indycar will begin the season with no fans in the stands and strict procedures for teams during the events. This may be how we see racing for awhile. Every track presents a different set of circumstances, so the Texas model won’t work everywhere. It seems to be a good way to run oval races.

While I am as anxious as anyone to get to a race track, I want to be able to attend knowing my health is assured. The teams and drivers are assuming risk by participating in theses early races. Might it be better to wait until the country as a whole has a better handle on the situation? What happens when someone involved in one of the early races tests positive for COVID-19?

Indycar has the luxury to see how things go in the May NASCAR races. Future decisions might be based on what happens this month. The NTT Indycar series indicated yesterday that they are committed to completing the last schedule published April 6.

Track Updates

The governor of Oregon has announced that no fans will be at sports events in the state through September. That means no fans at the scheduled Grand Prix of Portland September 13.

The two Indycar races I see as least likely to happen are Toronto and Richmond. Canada has stricter lockdown procedures than the United States. The end date would not allow enough time for the track build. Richmond’s stay at home order expires June 10, two weeks before the race. It is a Porpermanent oval. In talking to people who live in the area, it doesn’t sound as if fans are going to be allowed at that race, if it goes on.

I also spoke with someone last night about Road America. It appears they are planning to have fans at the Indycar race. Whether that number will be limited has not been determined. The first part of the Indycar schedule could be a race with no fans, a race with fans, and another race with no fans.

Mark Miles said on Trackside Tuesday night that the Indianapolis 500 could be run as late as October if necessary. I would be fine with that, especially if it allows all fans wishing to attend to do so.

In these strange times, don’t expect a race to actually occur until you turn on your television and see it. We can ride this through. Stay safe and wash your hands.

Grand Prix of Portland- Quick Thoughts

Will Power has returned. After finally winning a race this year at Pocono, he has now won two out of the last three races. Two wins and htree poles is still a somewhat substandard year for Power, but he has come alive in the last part of the season. One of the things that didn’t feel right about this season was Power not being a threat to win every week.

A great run for Spencer Pigot in sixth. Pigot is another driver who has begun to show better the last third of the year.

Matheus Leist earned A. J. Foyt Racing another top ten. This is the team’s fourth top ten since Iowa.

While Alexander Rossi gained on  Josef Newgarden, Newgarden still increased his lead. Rossi is back in second place, 41 points behind. Simon Pagenaud is just one point behind Rossi.

Scott Dixon is likely done as far as the championship is concerned. Has to be a frustrating day for him.

The first lap yellow seemed to take a long time to clean up. It looked like the wreckers had  hard time hooking the cars up to the trucks.

I’m not sure what Ryan Hunter-Reay was thinking on the restart.

I feel awful for Conor Daly not getting a chance to show what he could do for Arrow Schmidt Peterson. This is the second race in which both ASPM cars were taken out on the first lap.

Felix Rosenqvist has two second place finishes in the last five races. Here is another driver finally emerging late in the year.

Here are two photos I took of the start and the chaos that followed. if you look from Veach and behind him, you can see how it developed.

IMG_7363
Zach Veach (blue and gold car on the left) and behind him is where the first lap accident began

IMG_7364

Look for a full race report tomorrow on Wildfire Sports. I’ll be back next week with comments on the 2020 schedule and the changes at A. J. Foyt Racing. Thanks for following along this weekend.

 

 

 

Race Day at Portland

Good morning from the Great Northwest as the NTT Indycar Series is about six hours away from the start of Round 16. It has been a tough week in the motorsports community. It always helps to get back to racing.  Today will also be a busy news day.

The 2020 NTT Indycar Series schedule will be announced during the pre race show which begins at 3:00 pm Eastern on NBC. The green flag will fly at 3:40 Eastern time.  I don’t expect more than one change to next year’s races. I will have my thoughts on the schedule in a couple of days.

Today is about the Grand Prix of Portland. Yesterday’s scrambled qualifying should make for an interesting race. The outcome, and a possible effect on the championship, could be determined by who and who doesn’t get through the  first set of turns. After that, pit strategy and yellow flags will play a big part in the final result.

After Practice 3 yesterday the drivers lined up for a moment of silence for F2 driver Antoine Hubert, who died in an accident at Spa yesterday. It was a touching moment and a reminder of how the racing community is not just each separate series in isolation. Photo from Indycar

 

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Quick Thoughts- Grand Prix of Portland Qualifying

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Was that qualifying or boxing match? What a tremendous battle between Colton Herta and Will Power. They traded the lead back and forth for three rounds before Herta emerged on the pole. Power’s miscue in turn one on his next to last lap may have cost him the pole. Herta was quick all weekend, though, and the result isn’t a surprise.

This session was the best road/street course qualifying of the year. There was drama throughout.

Scott Dixon is the only one of the top four in points to get in the Fast Six. Leader Josef Newgarden starts 13th, a dangerous place to be going into turn 1 at the start here. Simon Pagenaud starts 18 and Alexander Rossi 7th. Watching the championship contenders’ progress in the race will be an interesting task tomorrow.

Jack Harvey has done a great job all year. In eight races to date, he has  finished in the top ten in four of them.  Today is the fifth time Harvey has advanced to at least the second round of qualifying. Today is his second Fast Six. I can’t wait to see what he does as a full time driver next year.

Conor Daly did it again. He jumps into a car for a different team and puts it into Round 2. Daly will start 9th, his best starting spot of the season. This is his second time in Round 2. He also has two top ten finishes. Daly deserves a full time ride in 2020. I don’t know what else he can do to prove himself.

Great job the Arrow Schmidt Peterson team to get both cars into Round 2.

Five teams in the Fast Six always makes the final round fun.

Felix Rosenqvist missed turn1 in two consecutive rounds but still made the Fast Six.

Power said after qualifying that there is not as much difference between the red and black tires this year as there was last year at Portland. He still thinks cars will be able to pass during the race.

Herta gambled by waiting to run one final lap on reds. He was nearly as fast on blacks.

Chalk up another one for the 2019 rookies. The scoreboard- 3 poles, 1 win.

Back tomorrow morning with a race preview. It looks like we will have a fun race tomorrow.

Herta Fastest in Practice 3; Qualifying Groups Set

Photo: Kyle McInnes

First, news I hate reporting about. Sad news from Spa. F2 driver Antoine Hubert suffered fatal injuries in a horrific crash at the start of the race this morning.

Colton Herta led his second session of the weekend in final practice this morning for the Grand Prix of Portland.  Herta was the only drive to turn a lap in less than 57 seconds and turned the weekend’s fastest lap yesterday morning. His time of 57.9939 seconds beat the second quickest time of series points leader Josef Newgarden by 0.1083 seconds. Will Power was third, followed by Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.

Red flags flew twice. Matheus Leist spun in turn 2 and stalled as he attempted to restart the car. Late in the session Santino Ferrucci’s car stopped just after exiting the pits. Practice resumed after the car was towed back to his pit. It was an adventurous session for Ferrucci. Rossi was coming out of the pits as Ferrucci entered turn 1. The cars nearly touched and Ferrucci needed to go through the chicane.  He was not happy with Rossi.

Hondas again dominated practice. The Team Penske cars of Newgarden and Power were the only Chevys in the top ten.

Qualifying Groups

Group 1`                                                                        Group 2

Newgarden                                                                     Herta

Dixon                                                                                Power

Hunter-Reay                                                                   Rossi

Rahal                                                                                Harvey

Bourdais                                                                         Rosenqvist

Sato                                                                                  Chilton

Hinchcliffe                                                                     Ferrucci

Veach                                                                              Andretti

Daly                                                                                 Pagenaud

Leist                                                                                 Pigot

Kanaan                                                                            Kimball

Jones

 

Notes

Katherine Legge will drive the 2 seater at the start of tomorrow’s race. She says she is working on a ride for next year’s Indianapolis 500.

The 2020 schedule will be released near the beginning of the pre-race show on NBC tomorrow.

Another nice crowd on hand at Portland International Raceway today.

From earlier today:

https://thepitwindow.blog/2019/08/31/qualifying-day-at-portland/