5 things I’m watching for Sunday’s Portland Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Turn 1, Lap 1

Death. Taxes. Crash in Turn 1, Lap 1 of the Grand Prix of Portland. It happened again last year and this time, ironically enough helped those that were involved. Still, when we come back here this weekend, we have to know that a crash could occur and could do so at any spot in the field. I mean this one happened with the guys up front. Since we’ve came back here in 2018, we’ve had an opening lap crash in the first corner every time.

I mean the situation isn’t a good design. From a wide front stretch with a lot of real estate to work with on a straightaway that span 2,450 feet to then dive into a tight right hand corner and a quick left after.

“There’s always room on the inside,” said Power. “They’re used to braking on the very outside of the track, it’s super wide. Obviously [on the inside] your 90 degrees is going to be much sharper. You’re going to have to brake much earlier than you have been. I think that’s most of the issue.”

With 25 cars fighting for the same spots, nothing good can come out of it. With massive championship implications for Portland, I’m curious who gets through Turn 1 unscathed at the start and who doesn’t.

Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson each start midpack in 16th and 18th respectively. They could be right in the thick of it. So could Josef Newgarden who has that 6 position grid penalty and will go from a front row starting spot to 8th. That’s 3 drivers right in the heat of things.

“It’s definitely the most unpredictable turn in the series,” Newgarden said. “I can tell you that. When it goes according to plan, it’s fine. More times than not, that doesn’t happen.”

However, INDYCAR has made a chance to the start procedure allowing Scott McLaughlin and Will Power to accelerate exiting Turn 12. That’s in hopes of spreading out the field entering Turn 1.

While they’ll be going faster, it also could create some space in a way that the cars behind will be slowing in Turn 12 before accelerating themselves.

The alternative was having everyone on the front straight in hopes of a slower Turn 1 entry but in seen in support races, that is creating more havoc.

“We gave them input at the Christmas meetings,” said Power. “We suggested that they start on the back straight. I’m not sure where starting extremely late came from. I could understand you don’t get the tow effects, getting up to speed to get a tow effect.

“But if you had half the field in turn 12 when you went green, that’s half the cars that are spreading out. Might be better to go really early.”


Scott Dixon at the Portland International Raceway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

How Many Drivers Will Be Championship Eligible Leaving Here

7 NTT INDYCAR Series drivers enter Sunday’s race with championship hopes still alive, I’m watching how many will remain intact leaving here after 110 laps of racing.

Anyone leaving 54 or more points out will be mathematically eliminated. However, you get 5 points for starting the race so in theory if you’re 49 points out, you really have no shot.

A max points day is 54 for a race weekend. 50 for the win, 1 point for a lap led, 1 point for a pole and 2 points for most laps led. You get 5 points for finishing 25th on back. That’s means anyone 49 points or further back will get eliminated.

The top 4 are separated by 17 points. Alex Palou is 43 points back in 5th. Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward are 54 and 58 points back entering respectively.

For Chip Ganassi Racing, Sunday is all about damage control. With Dixon starting 16th and Ericsson in 18th, they need to just minimize the damage to the Penske’s who seem to be the toast of the town this weekend.

There’s a good chance a Penske driver wins on Sunday so you hope you don’t fall behind too much if you’re in the Ganassi camp. Newgarden went from 18th to finish 5th last year so it’s certainly possible for Ericsson and Dixon to climb up.

Palou starts in the Fast 6 so he has a shot to stay afloat. But being 43 points out could be hard to make up enough ground if the Penske’s stay there with him.


Josef Newgarden at the Portland International Raceway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

The Test Helped Penske, Can They Seal The Deal

The test on the off week a couple of Friday’s ago certainly helped Team Penske. They were quickest in the first two practice sessions of the weekend including taking 2 of the top 3 spots in Practice 1 and sweeping the top 3 spots in Practice 2. They also put all 3 cars in the Fast 6 in qualifying on Saturday in going 1-2-3.

Now, can they seal the deal on Sunday and win the Grand Prix of Portland?

It’s one thing to be quick in practice and qualifying, it’s another in the race. A lot can happen over the course of 110 laps so Penske has to hope they can capitalize this weekend.

The main concern I have is, while Josef Newgarden qualified 4th, he’ll actually start 10th. That’s because of his 6 spot grid penalty due to an engine change. That incident was a direct reflection of the engine problems in Toronto back in July. It finally caught up to them.

Where this is crucial is, Newgarden enters this weekend just 3 points behind in the championship. But to have to start 7th is big because 10 of the last 11 races at Portland have been won from a top 3 starter. Also, 21 of the last 23 races here in Portland were won from a starter in the top 5 at that.

He won’t be in the top 3 rows now.

That also puts him right in the middle of danger of the likely Turn 1, Lap 1 carnage that will probably ensue. Can he avoid that or does this grid penalty cost him a shot at a championship?

The other 2 drivers share the front row and can avoid any opening lap carnage by playing nicely together.


Graham Rahal at the Portland International Raceway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

RLL/Andretti Playing Spoiler?

While Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing and Andretti Autosport don’t have a driver in the hunt to win this year’s championship, that’s not stopping them from playing spoiler this weekend in Portland. Andretti tested here with Penske a couple of Friday’s ago and it paid off. Colton Herta was in the top 5 of both practice sessions while Alexander Rossi was 4th on Friday.

Rossi has 2 podiums in 3 Portland tries including a runner-up last year. He starts 9th.

Herta was 4th in 2019 and 8th last year. He’ll roll off 8th.

Graham Rahal is also having himself a weekend. He led a lot of laps here last year and was also 8th and 6th in the opening 2 practice sessions to the weekend. Rahal has 5 top 10 finishes in his last 8 starts to the season in comparison to 3 in first 7. The Ohio native also has 4 top 10’s in the last 6 at that. He starts 11th.

His rookie teammate Christian Lundgaard has 6 top 11 results over the last 8 races including 2 top 8’s in his last 3 at that. In his first 7 races he had just 2 of them. He was 5th quickest on Saturday morning and will roll off 4th.


David Malukas at the Portland International Raceway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Rookies

Christian Lundgaard leads David Malukas by just 11 points in the Rookie of the Year standings. Each have scored runner-ups in 2 of the last 3 races on the season. Both are also having solid weekend’s thus far too.

Malukas was 2nd quickest on Friday. Lundgaard was 5th on Saturday. They’ll start and 10th (Malukas) and 4th (Lundgaard) respectivley.

I’m also watching Callum Ilott who was 14th and 9th in practice and qualified 14th. Kyle Kirkwood could make some noise too. He tested here a few weeks ago, won a race here in Indy Lights last year and shares Row 6 with Ilott in starting 13th. Kirkwood was 7th and 14th in practice this weekend.

That’s 4 rookies in the top 14….

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