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IndyCar Preview: Grand Prix of Portland

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

Who’s ready to crown a champion? The IndyCar Series sure is, as they head to Portland International Raceway for Round 16 of 17 in the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series, with Alex Palou in prime position to claim his second IndyCar Series title backing up his 2021 crowning. Palou missed his first opportunity at Gateway, however Palou heads to one of his strongest tracks, with a podium all he needs to officially seal the title.

Looking back at the previous race in Gateway, Palou’s title celebrations were put on hold by the master, Scott Dixon. Similarly to Indianapolis, Dixon cycled to the front from a fortunately-timed caution, but still had to pull the rabbit out the hat regarding strategy. Many others failed, however the maestro also known as Scott Dixon executed it perfectly, winning his second consecutive race and cutting Palou’s lead to 74.

As already mentioned in my Gateway preview, Josef Newgarden had history on the line, as he aimed to sweep all the ovals in a calendar year. Things were looking bright for Newgarden, who was locked into battle with Pato O’Ward, but things eventually fell apart from Newgarden, as he ran high into the marbles and was unable to guide his Penske away from the Turn 2 barrier, ending a sensational run of oval victories.

Referring to O’Ward, he was the main man on the conventional strategy, and was the only one seemingly able to take the fight to the mighty Newgarden. However, Dixon’s excellence meant another destined victory fell out of O’Ward’s grasp, as he had to settle for a fourth runners-up spot in 2023, and his seventh podium of the season. David Malukas continued his stellar Gateway performances by claiming consecutive podiums at the circuit, picking up an unlikely, but well deserved P3.

A 1.964 mile (3.161km) clockwise circuit, Portland International Raceway is nestled in the city centre, a short but fast-paced lap, filled with overtaking opportunities. This includes a variety of corners, and a testing challenge for the 27 drivers to do battle over 110 laps on Sunday.

The Lap starts with a very wide pit straight, which dramatically narrows into a particularly tight right-left chicane, which continues to constrict until drivers get on the gas exiting Turn 2. The corner has been the scene of many accidents, particularly on Lap 1, with chaos happening on the opening laps in each of 2018, 2019 and 2021. Last year’s visit was the first since Portland’s return not to feature a Lap One accident.

Turn 3 is a flat-out right-hand kink, before the high-speed dual-apex right-hander of Turn 4, which very invitingly opens up the tighter right-hander of Turn 5, with cars progressively slowing through the apexes of Turn 4. Turn 6 is an even slower left-hander at a 135 degree radius, before a similarly tight right-hander at Turn 7.

However, once drivers have their foot to the floor on the exit of Turn 7, they could keep it there for several hundred metres through the kinks at Turn 8 and 9, before a high-speed chicane at Turns 10 and 11, where drivers will only shift down once to make the apex. However, they will immediately have to grab ahold of the brakes for the much slower Turn 12 right-hander which brings you back onto the main straight, all for a Lap which can be completed in less than a minute.

There are a few driver changes to look out for this weekend in Portland as well. Marcus Armstrong is back, as he looks to effectively seal the Rookie of the Year crown over Agustin Canapino, despite not running the ovals. Simon Pagenaud is still suffering from repercussions due to his monster accident at Mid-Ohio. Pagenaud will be replaced by Tom Blomqvist for both Portland and Laguna Seca where the next round takes place. Blomqvist will be racing for the team in place of Helio Castroneves for the 2024 season, with this year’s final two races a good way to get his eye in for 2024. Linus Lundqvist has taken over from Pagenaud in the last three events, however anymore would put him over his rookie quote for 2024 - which would be bad news for both him and his future employers, Chip Ganassi Racing in 2024.

Conor Daly stepped into the #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan car in Gateway in place of Jack Harvey, but it’ll be a former F2 driver, Juri Vips, who will make his IndyCar debut at Portland, as well as Laguna Seca. Vips joins the recent F2 crop of Armstrong, Lundgaard and Ilott, all of whom have impressed, and Vips will be looking to emulate Lundgaard in RLL, when he starred in his one-off in Indianapolis back in 2021. Vips is an exciting talent regarded by many, who is looking to make a career in IndyCar, definitely one to watch out for this weekend.

But who has been successful at Portland? Four different drivers have won since the circuit returned to the schedule in 2018, with three of them racing in the 2023 event. Will Power won the race here in 2019, and could have well won last year too, had he not had the championship on his mind. The defending champion is still yet to taste victory in 2023, a repeat of 2019 would change that. It’s a similar story for Penske teammate, Scott McLaughlin, who won the event here last year in particularly assuring fashion, after he took pole and led the entire race. Neither Penske or Chevrolet have won on a non-oval since Alabama, Portland could represent a fantastic chance to turn that around.

Last Year's Victor

Who else has been strong here? All of Benjamin Pedersen, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, Rinus VeeKay and Pato O’Ward have won in Portland in Indy Lights, with O’Ward’s victory being particularly impressive, as he dominated the 2018 weekend, where he sealed his Indy Lights crown.

O’Ward could be another one to look out for in Portland. He is somehow still yet to win a race this year, despite the seven podiums, and although Portland isn’t his best track on paper, he could well be very strong. He was right in contention last year, until an optimistic move dropped him outside of the podium slots, and was in the front-pack for the majority of the 2021 race until his strategy fell apart. O’Ward knows he has nothing to lose, and with the Mexican desperate to break his 2023 win duct, Portland represents his best chance to change that with his do-or-die attitude.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan could also be a very strong bet. Christian Lundgaard was particularly incredible here last year, qualifying fourth, and their road course package has been even stronger this year, with Graham Rahal right in contention for the race victory here in 2021, with a fifth-place finish last season - could he be one to break his win duct?

I’d keep an eye out for Felix Rosenqvist too. Portland might be his best track on the schedule, with finishes of 2nd, 6th and 8th in his three visits to the circuit, and he could well be in the mix for the 2023 season. His teammate, Alexander Rossi has also typically gone strong here, finishing 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 8th so far in his IndyCar career. His ex-teammate, Colton Herta has never finished outside the top eight either, and has taken a pole too in Portland, yet ANOTHER driver to keep your eye on.

The other potential winner here? Alex Palou, who cycled from the back to the front in 2021 after he got caught out in the Lap One carnage. A similar story in 2023 would crown Palou the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series Champion. Palou lies 74 points ahead of Scott Dixon in the championship, with Dixon needing to narrow the gap to 54 points to take the title officially to Laguna Seca, (albeit Palou would effectively win the title due to the five points earned for starting the race)So what must Dixon do to stop Palou? If Dixon wins and leads the most laps, a non-podium finish for Palou would take the championship to Laguna Seca. However, Dixon would realistically require Palou to finish lower than 6th if he has any chance at winning the championship in Laguna Seca, due to the bonus points.

If Dixon finishes second (let’s ignore the bonus points for the rest of these calculations, and assume Palou starts the race), Palou would have to finish outside the Top 10, a third for Dixon would require Palou outside the Top 15 (an event that hasn’t occurred since Road America last season).

The rest possible permutations are as follows:

If Dixon finishes Fourth, Palou must finish lower than 17th

If Dixon finishes Fifth, Palou must finish lower than 20th

If Dixon finishes Sixth, Palou must finish lower than 23rd

If Dixon finishes Seventh, Palou must finish lower than 24th

If Dixon finishes Eighth or lower, Palou will be crowned Champion

IndyCar’s points system doesn’t make this the easiest calculation, but long-story short, a podium for Palou would officially seal him the title whatever happens to Dixon, with a 5th place finish simply requiring him to roll off the line in Laguna Seca to clinch the championship. If Dixon does not win, he needs to be above Palou by approximately 10-15 places to claim the title. Don’t worry, the broadcast will keep you up to date.

How has Dixon done at Portland? In his four visits to the circuit, Dixon has finished 5th, 16th, and a pair of 3rd places. It’s a respectable record, but Dixon would need something slightly stronger to keep his title chances alive. But, as proved by the New Zealander in Indianapolis and Gateway, this is Scott Dixon - we can never count him out. Palou’s form, although still impressive, has gone off the boil since his latest contract dispute - can Dixon take full advantage of this?

There are so many stories to look out for in Portland, from the debut of Juri Vips, to Tom Blomqvist’s return. Can Marcus Armstrong wrap up the Rookie of the Year, or does Agustin Canapino have something to say? Can Will Power, Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi or Felix Rosenqvist break their win ducts at tracks they go particularly strong at? Can Pato O’Ward or Scott McLaughlin put the pressure on Josef Newgarden for third in the standings? Can O’Ward finally stand on the top step this year after all his misfortune?

But, most importantly, can Alex Palou crown himself the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series champion, or will Scott Dixon delay the celebrations to Laguna Seca to keep the championship battle going until the final race for the 18th year in a row? Let us know in the comments below.


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