PORTLAND, Oregon — Sure, Scott Dixon misses Watkins Glen International, where the Verizon IndyCar Series spent Labor Day last year. But he’s happy to be in the Pacific Northwest now.
The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion hopes to use a successful weekend here at Portland International Raceway as a strong push to another season title. Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) is the season’s penultimate race. The finale is Sept. 14-16 at Sonoma Raceway. Like The Glen, both venues are permanent road courses.
“I love The Glen for being The Glen, and the team has had success there and I’ve enjoyed driving there,” said Dixon, who won four races at the track in upstate New York. “That’s what I do miss, but it’s cool to be back here.
RESULTS: Practice 1
“Hopefully this race is embraced well. It sounds like ticket sales are really good and everybody has done a good job. It’s nice to be back to tracks, and hopefully we can get back to The Glen soon.”
Dixon has a 26-point lead on Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
Indy cars are returning to Portland’s 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course for the first time since 2007. Dixon hasn’t raced at this permanent road course since 2002, when he finished seventh in a CART race.
“The paving was probably similar to when I was here in 2002,” he said of a track that was resurfaced a decade ago with Turns 4-7 widened. “It’s about the same age maybe, I don’t know. I can’t remember anything from those days. … I remember parking over in the grass over there. The entrance has changed a lot. The rest of it is pretty similar.”
Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda turned the quickest lap in Thursday’s open test at 58.3593 seconds (121.153 mph). Rossi ranked ninth.
Dixon had the second-quickest lap in Friday’s first practice. Sebastien Bourdais, a two-time Portland winner, and Josef Newgarden also turned laps under Justin Wilson’s official track record (57.597 seconds) set in 2005. Bourdais’ pace-setting lap was 57.3975 seconds. He won here in 2004 and ’07, the latter the most recent Indy car race.
Today’s second practice is 5:35 p.m. ET, with a third practice at 2:10 p.m. ET Saturday. Qualifying is Saturday at 6:20 p.m. ET. All sessions will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. A same-day qualifying telecast airs at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN.
Rossi suggested Dixon would have an experience edge at this track, but Dixon sees this race as a level playing field.
“The cars and the tires and everything change so much every year, you might have a fairly decent baseline setup that may carry over,” Dixon said. “As far as getting to the fine-tuning parts and throughout the weekend, the development is quite heavy on dampers too, so I’d say every track each year is quite a bit of change.”
Rossi, a 26-year-old Californian who has emerged as a title contender in this third series season, arrives as the hottest driver with two wins and a second-place finish in his last three starts.
“Nothing has really changed that much,” Rossi said of his recent surge. “Because the results have been there, what we’ve been doing is more on display. I don’t think anything has shifted from Day 1 in (the season-opening race at) St. Pete. I think our Sundays have been better, obviously. I didn’t make mistakes. We didn’t have mechanical issues. When that happens, the pace has always been there, right?
“It was just about cleaning up loose ends and making sure nothing silly happened from either my end or the team’s end or pit stops, then we were going to get results. That no one lost confidence is the thing you’ve got to see the most, just the continual desire to try to pull it off. To be able to execute that under pressure is a real testament to this team.”