Fantasy Expert: Steve Wittich

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Because the 2018 edition of the Grand Prix of Portland had results jumbled by an ill-timed caution, I suggest looking beyond that boxscore to find your penultimate #INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone drivers.

The members of my Rose City foursome this weekend were carefully chosen utilizing a mix of natural terrain road course results, pace across all of the sessions last year, some secret sauce and a little intuition.

The last time the NTT IndyCar Series visited a natural terrain road course was over one month ago at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The winner that weekend, Scott Dixon ($31), is the anchor for my fantasy squad this weekend.

The Kiwi has scored 184 points in first five natural terrain road course races. That’s 40 more than second-place Alexander Rossi and 44 points more than championship leader Josef Newgarden.

After a disappointing finish in the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas, Dixon has reeled off natural terrain road course finishes of second, second, fifth and the victory in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Dixon’s secret sauce? The Kiwi rebounded from his only other 20th or worse place finish this season with a win.

Sebastien Bourdais ($24) is currently eighth in road course points but only 21 points shy of Rossi, who has the second-highest total. The Frenchman, despite a hard practice crash, was quick all weekend at Portland International Raceway last year. Bourdais led two of the three practice sessions, made the Firestone Fast Six and finished on the podium.

“I am looking forward to going to Portland,” the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver said. “We returned last year after not being there for a long time and it was a great event. It seemed like the whole city was behind it. The track is challenging, the fans are knowledgeable and the atmosphere in the city and at the track is great. I’ve had great success at PIR over the years but last year was kind of special. I had a good car, we were fast all along, but I made a mistake in final practice and crashed the 18 very hard. The entire team, everyone on Dale Coyne Racing and Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan pulled together to get the car repaired and back on track for qualifying. It was pretty impressive. We qualified fourth after probably one of the biggest hits I have ever had on a road course. In the race, we got swallowed up in an incident on the first lap, but we fought back and finish third. Just an amazing effort from the whole team.”

Bourdais’ secret sauce? The Frenchman has a string of five straight Portland International Raceway podiums, including wins in 2004 and 2007.

It’s mainly intuition that leads me to choose Spencer Pigot ($23) as the third member of my team this weekend. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver notched the sixth fastest lap during the Grand Prix of Portland last year on the way to a fourth-place finish. Also, two of his more impressive drives for the year, a fifth place on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and seventh place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, occurred on natural terrain road courses.

Pigot’s secret sauce? Rinus VeeKay tested at Portland International Raceway for Ed Carpenter Racing earlier this month, giving the team a leg up on data collection.

The final member of my Portland International Raceway fantasy team is Colton Herta ($21). The Harding Steinbrenner Racing rookie won on a natural terrain circuit at Circuit of The Americas in March and has been quick all year long on twists all year long. The Californian was the quickest driver in the race at Circuit of The Americas and Road America as well as qualifying inside the top ten in all five natural terrain road course races.

Herta’s secret sauce? The 2019 Grand Prix of Portland isn’t the first time that Herta has been in an NTT IndyCar Series car at Portland International Raceway. The 19-year-olds first IndyCar test occurred on the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course last year.

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The NTT IndyCar Series heads to Portland, Ore., for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland. Live race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET (noon PT local) with the green flag at approximately 3:45 p.m. Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).