For the first time in two years, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is back in the Pacific Northwest for the Grand Prix of Portland on the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course.
An abundance of intrigue and unknowns leading into today’s race at Portland International Raceway is sure to make this an action-packed Race Day.
With last year’s race in Portland canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has never competed here with the aeroscreen, meaning the playing field is significantly more even than usual. What’s more, 10 of the 27 drivers in this field have never competed in a race at this track, including three of this year’s championship contenders: leader Pato O’Ward, second-place Alex Palou and fifth-place Marcus Ericsson.
Firestone is supplying more than 1,500 tires for the Grand Prix of Portland, but it’s not the same tire the series used in its last outing at PIR in 2019. The primary tire compound will exhibit a slight decrease in grip, reduced wear and an increased rate of temperature gain, while the alternate tire will display similar grip, decreased wear and a decreased rate of temperature gain. Each entry has received six sets of primary (black) tires, four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain (gray) tires.
It’s a picture-perfect day in Portland, Oregon, for today’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES race. Temperatures are expected to be near 70 degrees by the time the green flag drops, with zero percent chance of rain. The partly cloudy day is expected to feature 54% humidity and 7 mph winds.
You can catch the action live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 3 p.m. ET. You can listen to the radio broadcast live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 205, INDYCAR.com and INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.
Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action:
Beware of Turn 1
Very few things are guaranteed in the unpredictable NTT INDYCAR SERIES these days. But one thing you can count on: Turn 1 at Portland is almost sure to be a chaos corner. The Turn 1 chicane is a tight right-hander followed by an immediate left-hand turn and another right that comes in the middle of a long straightaway.
In the two races since the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returned to Portland in 2018, there has not been a clean start thanks to Turn 1.
In 2018, a five-car accident brought the race under full-course caution before the full field even made it through the first corner, involving drivers James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ed Jones, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti.
In 2019, a four-car pileup halted the field on Lap 1 and included Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly, Rahal and Zach Veach.
Two-time Portland winner Sebastien Bourdais knows a thing or two about winning in the Pacific Northwest, and he said the key to success is to win the NTT P1 Award for pole like Alex Palou did Saturday, brake late into Turn 1 and get away while the carnage ensues behind you.
“As soon as you start second, third row and back, anything can happen,” Bourdais said. “It’s awfully inviting to go one up on the inside, and then the next thing you know you’re five- or six-wide going into Turn 1 with an impossible corner to make.”
The driver of the No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, who won a Portland race from pole in 2004, admitted that understanding how to navigate the tricky Turn 1 is easy away from the racetrack. But once drivers strap their helmets on, it all changes.
“It’s easy to just get sucked into the moment,” Bourdais said. “It’s one of those where if you get a run, you tend to kind of forget that there’s already another three guys that are side-by-side going for it, as well, and unfortunately at Portland going in that chicane, you’re all going to meet at the exact same inch point between Turns 1-2, if not at the apex of Turn 1.
“That definitely puts on a scenario that ends up in tears with cars torn up more often than not.”
During today’s race, you’ll see drivers tackle the corner in many different ways. Some will cautiously enter with the racing line, others will dive-bomb the corner race and over the rumble strips, while some will have to navigate through the cones after missing the corner.
But that’s after the dust of Turn 1 Lap 1 settles.
Start Up Front, Stay Up Front
If history has anything to say about it, qualifying is of the utmost at Portland International Raceway.
Only two times in the 27-race history of the INDYCAR SERIES at Portland International Raceway has the race winner started outside the top 10: Mark Blundell started 11th before winning in an iconic three-wide finish in 1997, and Takuma Sato started 20th before edging Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2018.
Six drivers have won the Grand Prix of Portland from the pole, including Sebastien Bourdais in 2004, one of just three former Portland race winners in the field. That bodes well for NTT P1 Award winner Alex Palou in the No. 10 PNC Bank Honda, who will be looking for his third win of the season after winning his first career pole.
Aside from the pole position, all drivers starting in the top five should be considered favorites for today’s race, but especially second-place starter Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation Honda.
The second-place starting spot has been the most successful in Portland: Seven times has the second-place starter won the race, a feat accomplished by Will Power in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ most recent race at Portland in 2019.
Following the front row, the third-place starter has won five times, fourth place found Victory Circle twice, and the winner has started fifth just once.
It’s Slick Out There
NTT INDYCAR SERIES athletes have had two practice sessions to get ready for the Grand Prix of Portland. Championship contender Alex Palou paced the Saturday morning session, and Scott Dixon, fourth in points, was fastest in the final 30-minute session late Saturday afternoon.
But the nearly two hours of practice taught us something else: This racetrack is slick, and staying on the black asphalt may be harder than one might think.
Practice 1 saw several drivers go off course, including six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon, NTT P1 Award winner Palou and NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Scott McLaughlin.
In Practice 2, Sato, Marcus Ericsson and Conor Daly found themselves spinning in Turn 12, the same spot as Palou and McLaughlin.
Many other drivers dipped their tires in the dirt on Saturday, and incredible onboard cameras from drivers such as Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward provided wild views of drivers sawing at the wheel of their power steering-less machines on every aspect of the racetrack.
The new tire Firestone is providing this weekend was designed to decrease grip in the primary tires and make these athletes earn their keep in the Pacific Northwest. By that standard alone, this Firestone Firehawk compound is working, and the fans are going to be the biggest benefactor of it.