Now on tap for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is the most exciting first corner of the season this side of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The hard right-hander at Portland International Raceway invites aggression, and that usually leads to congestion. Front wings often get knocked off, and cars get turned around. Often, the machines involved must be retrieved and returned to their teams on the hook of a truck. Even with light damage, the drivers are shoved to the back of the pack.
SEE: Starting Lineup/Tire Choice
There is no place that is immune from trouble as evident by the start of last year’s Grand Prix of Portland. The entire front row missed the corner, ended up off course and were relegated to the rear for the restart. Already this weekend, the pole sitter of junior category races was damaged in that corner.
“Man, it is the worst first corner in the whole series,” said Will Power, the 2019 winner of the Grand Prix of Portland.
Said Colton Herta: “There’s not (safety) anywhere.”
Yet, the corner and the tricky two corners that follower are unavoidable. Marco Andretti once found himself upside down after a tangle. The 25-car field will look to get through that section of the track as cleanly as possible, knowing full well that they must navigate it 109 more times throughout the afternoon.
But no trip through there will be like the first, which should occur at 3:30 p.m. ET, just seconds after the green flag drops. The NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts of the season’s penultimate race begin at 3 p.m.
INDYCAR hopes to avoid such trouble by allowing an acceleration zone for the pole winner coming out of Turn 12.
“It’s (Turn 1) such an inviting corner,” said Power, who will start from the front row alongside Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin, who Saturday won his third NTT P1 Award of the season. “As we’ve seen with the (support) races this weekend, it’s even (troublesome) for the pole sitter.”
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who will start eighth while serving a six-grid penalty for an unapproved engine change following last month’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway, didn’t know how to prepare for the start.
“I don’t know what to tell you, honestly,” he said. “It’s different every year. Hopefully it’s nothing too bad. It can be chaotic here, and we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Imagine how precarious it is for the drivers in the middle of the field. Callum Ilott will start 14th.
“I won’t do what I did last year, which was to use Romain (Grosjean) as my braking point,” the Juncos Hollinger Racing driver said. “That didn’t work out so well.
“You’re in the middle, and it’s going to be a bowling pin fest, a crash fest. Hopefully I come out of it (unscathed).”
All the drivers polled Saturday said they planned to study videotape of past races to create their best strategy. Rinus VeeKay said he will try to get to the inside lane since contact tends to send the afflicted to the outside. But it’s a crapshoot.
“Again, it’s hard to know,” Newgarden said. “I would think it would be better to be on the inside, but depending on where you are when the crash is happening, it could be good or bad.”
“It’s pretty brutal,” Herta said of the unpredictability. “Nobody wants to build up all these race cars, make them all fast and go into Turn 1 and ruin them. So, we’ll see what happens.
“It’s so easy to (cause trouble). It’s like a hole opens up, and there’s so many spots to (gain), and then you hit everybody.”
There is plenty on the line, too, including a championship pursuit that still includes seven drivers. The top two in the standings, Power and Newgarden, are separated by just three points followed by Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson 14 and 17 points in arrears, respectively. CGR’s Alex Palou is fifth (minus-43) followed by McLaughlin (minus-54) and Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward (minus-58).
The title contenders will start first (McLaughlin), second (Power), fourth (Palou), fifth (O’Ward), eighth (Newgarden), 16th (Dixon) and 18th (Ericsson).
Also, there is a Rookie of the Year Award to chase. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard, who leads David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 11 points, will start the race from the third position while Malukas rolls off 11th.
However, it all begins with Turn 1.