INDIANAPOLIS — Friday will spark a 9 car test at the Portland International Raceway. Among the teams going are Team Penske, AJ Foyt Racing and Andretti Autosport. A notable one missing is Chip Ganassi Racing.
See, most teams have just 1 test date left. A few have 2. Penske and Ganassi, the main players for this year’s NTT INDYCAR Series championship have 1 test date each. They chose opposite tracks to be at.
Penske is among the teams in Portland on Friday and will being all 3 drivers. Ganassi is electing to skip Portland’s test in favor of Laguna Seca. This is a highly interesting game of chess to see which wins out.
Penske and Ganassi have won all but 1 INDYCAR championship since 2008 including 9 straight. Right now, they have the top 6 drivers in points with 2 races remaining. Odds are, a Penske or Ganassi driver is hoisting the Astor Cup in 2 weeks.
That’s why these tests are so interesting.
With testing dates so limited now, a common trend occurring is that which ever teams test on a track that is upcoming, they typically fare well.
Just look at recent history. Team Penske was among those testing at Iowa. They dominated that race weekend. Andretti Autosport and Arrow McLaren SP were among the teams that tested in late June on the IMS road course. When we came back in August, AMSP won the pole and took 2 of the top 3 starting spots while Andretti won the race.
Just look at how Portland and Laguna Seca went last year. Ganassi tested at Portland. They won the pole and the race. In fact, they took 2 of the top 3 in the starting lineup and on the podium.
For Laguna Seca, Andretti tested there. They swept the front row and won the race via Colton Herta leading 91 of the 95 laps.
That’s likely why Ganassi is skipping Portland since they tested there last year. They have those notes but knows they could then turn that Portland performance into Laguna Seca.
Palou finished 2nd there last year but Dixon was 13th and Marcus Ericsson in 6th. If they can gain from this test, then watch out.
However, Penske is hoping to gain from the Portland test. They’ve struggled there. They finished P5-P9-P13 last year. Josef Newgarden has 3 top 10’s and 2 top 5’s but neither finish was better than 5th. Will Power has 1 win but his other two results were 21st and 13th respectively. Scott McLaughlin was 9th in his lone Portland start a year ago.
On natural road courses this year, McLaughlin has scored the most points in the 5 races. Power is 2nd. Newgarden is 5th. They have the leg up on the Ganassi’s so if they can gain in Portland, can they open a big enough lead over the Ganassi’s to just get by in Laguna?
Power leads Newgarden by 3 points. Dixon is 14 points behind Power and 11 behind Newgarden. Ericsson is 17 points behind Power and 14 behind Newgarden. Palou trails Power by 43 and Newgarden by 40.
If Penske can be ahead of the Ganassi’s there’s a strong chance that Power and Newgarden could open up a 20+ lead on all 3 of them heading to the season finale in Laguna Seca.
However, that’s a big IF. Ganassi has been better at Portland in the past than the Penske’s and did their test last year win them this year’s championship because they can stay ahead of the Penske’s and in turn maybe close the gap instead.
The other factor is Andretti. They’re at Portland too. Alexander Rossi is coming off of an Indy win the last time out on a natural road course, has the 3rd most points accumulated on them this season and was 3rd and 2nd respectively the last 2 times out at Portland. Colton Herta was 4th and 8th in his 2 Portland starts. What happens if they improve?
They could in theory play a role into things. Then at Laguna Seca, Herta has won the last 2 years there in dominating fashion, Rossi was quick last year and Romain Grosjean was 3rd as a rookie with Coyne. What if their pace is still strong. They could finish ahead of the Penske’s with the Ganassi’s and if the Andretti’s take spots away in Portland maybe Ganassi has the advantage too.
It’s why these test dates and who’s testing where is so crucial.