Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Simran Kanthi
The NTT IndyCar Series kicks off its West Coast double-header at the Portland International Raceway, where the race to become champion is still prevalent as ever. The 'Championship Seven' has been whittled down to a 'Championship Five' as Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou all have a realistic shot at being crowned the NTT IndyCar Series Champion for 2022.
With only two rounds left in the 2022 season, before the champion is decided at Laguna Seca on 11 September, Portland will be a critical event for those in the championship hunt. Last year's event was won by Alex Palou, who took a key step toward securing his championship at the circuit when title rival Pato O'Ward could only manage 14th.
Palou will be looking for similar fortunes this year, but has not won since the Portland event last year and will almost certainly require a victory if he wants to retain his championship title, as he lies 43 points behind the championship leader Will Power.
Portland has also been a happy hunting ground for Power who won at the circuit in 2019, whilst Takuma Sato is the only other winner at the track since it made its return to the IndyCar schedule in 2018.
Portland is a small but challenging circuit for the drivers, with lap times under a minute in both qualifying and race trim. The main overtaking opportunity is into Turn 1, where a tricky chicane meets the drivers, which has seen carnage on the opening lap in recent years, particularly in 2021, when the top seven drivers all failed to navigate round on cold tires.
The circuit then goes into a narrower, twistier section where overtaking will be limited from Turn 4 to Turn 8 before the back straight, which provides a good overtaking spot into the left-right flick at Turns 10 and 11 before a quick right-hander takes the drivers back to the starting line.
Portland comes two weeks after the last oval race of the season at World Wide Technology Raceway, which saw Josef Newgarden take his 5th victory of the season as he crept into Power's championship advantage, as the Australian could only muster 6th place after equalling Mario Andretti's all-time pole record on Saturday. Power took pole in Portland in 2018, and a repeat of that feat would mean he takes the pole record outright.
Newgarden drove impressively at World Wide Technology Raceway, but it was David Malukas who was the star of the show, as the rookie for Dale Coyne Racing outstandingly finished P2 after an epic around-the-outside move on Scott McLaughlin, who rounded off the podium. Unfortunately for McLaughlin, and 4th place finisher at Gateway, Pato O'Ward, a championship challenge looks to be too extreme for either with two rounds left, with the two lying 54 and 58 points behind respectively, despite O'Ward being crowned the oval champion for 2022 after his victory in Iowa, and runners-up spots in Iowa and the Indianapolis 500.
As the battle for the title ramps up, the Rookie of the Year title is just as tense, with 11 points separating Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas, after Malukas' excellent second-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway. With both currently being in a strong spell of form, the battle to claim top rookie will be a factor to watch out for at Portland.
110 laps await the field of 25 at Portland International Raceway on Sunday, 4 September. With the championship battle as close as it has ever been in IndyCar history, the 'Championship Five' will be battling it out on the short but thrilling road course at Portland, and with the unpredictable nature of the NTT IndyCar Series, it will remain to be seen who could potentially take a huge step towards the championship crown.