Sato steals victory in stunning race at Portland, Dixon holds championship lead

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Takuma Sato (JAP), Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Portland
Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

Takuma Sato earned his first road course Verizon IndyCar Series race win in the 2018 Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver started deep in the field down in twentieth place, but he found himself at the front of the pack for the closing stages of the race after a chaotic beginning to the race and a number of cautions mid-way through the event.

After a superb performance in qualifying, Will Power was determined to convert his pole position into a race victory. He got a great start and was well clear of his rivals heading into turn one for the first time, but the field would soon bunch back up after a big crash brought out the caution.

The incident was triggered when James Hinchcliffe tried to pass Zach Veach on the exit of the first chicane. Hinchcliffe got onto the inside kerbs and lost control of his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. He spun across the track and in front of the oncoming pack of cars, with a number of drivers unable to slow down and avoid him.

Marco Andretti had the wildest ride through the melee as he hit Hinchcliffe in reverse. Andretti was sent over the top of Hinchcliffe’s car and ultimately wound up facing the wrong way up in the dirt. Graham Rahal and Ed Jones were also involved and were eliminated from the race, but the most notable driver involved was the championship leader Scott Dixon. Scott was unable to avoid the incident as he was unable to see through the dust kicked up by those ahead of him. Miraculously, he only gained slight front damage to his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and he was able to continue on; the only driver involved in the crash to be able to do so. He would, however, be right at the back of the pack.

Much of the opening half of the race was dominated by Alexander Rossi, who took over the lead early from polesitter Power after Will’s Team Penske Chevrolet developed a gearbox fault; costing him numerous positions. Rossi’s pace looked ominous at times, as he opened up a four-second lead on his second-placed team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay, but Alexander’s race would come undone shortly after he lost the lead to Penske’s Josef Newgarden on lap forty-nine.

It was on lap fifty-six that the third caution of the day would take place after Zach Veach spun off of the circuit at the final corner. The incident came at a terrible time for the leaders, Rossi and Newgarden; with their ensuing pit-stop under yellow putting them deep in the field. Another caution followed shortly after when Santino Ferrucci stopped out on track, which did nothing but further hinder Josef and Alexander. The pair made some progress during the remainder of the race, but they never quite recovered to get back into contention for the win.

Zach Veach (USA), Andretti Autosport, 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Portland

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

With the former race leaders back down in the midfield, an opportunity arose for Takuma Sato. Despite starting right near the back of the field, he found himself in the lead of the race after the final caution, with Ryan Hunter-Reay snapping at his heels; but being held back by his Andretti Autosport crew who needed him to save fuel.

The gap between Sato and Hunter-Reay stayed level at a couple of seconds for much of the final twenty laps, but it was within the last five laps that Hunter-Reay was given the go-ahead to give it everything and to attack Sato for the win. Hunter-Reay slowly but surely closed the gap between himself and Sato, but Takuma seemed to have enough speed in the middle sector of the lap to be able to keep Ryan in his mirrors.

Ultimately, Takuma Sato would take the chequered flag with just over half a second separating him from Hunter-Reay. The victory would, unbelievably, be Sato’s first win on a road course in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It would be his third career win in the series and his first return to victory circle since taking the 2017 Indianapolis 500 win.

Hunter-Reay perhaps needed just a lap or two more to have been able to attempt an overtake on the race-winner. Second place was nonetheless a fantastic result for Ryan, but it was not enough to keep him within mathematical contention for the championship at the season finale in two weeks time.

The final spot on the podium would go the way of Sebastien Bourdais, with the Frenchman completing an incredible comeback after a crash in final practice threatened to undo his whole weekend. The third-place finish in the race was a great way to reward his Dale Coyne Racing crew for their hard work to repair his #18 Honda; with the result also meant that Bourdais has finished on the podium in Portland at his last five visits to the circuit; albeit with an eleven year gap between now and his previous race back in 2007 in Champ Car.

Spencer Pigot put in another sensational performance to take fourth place, despite having started seventeenth. The young American went head-to-head with some of the biggest stars of the championship and came away with a fantastic result; with his recent run of form perhaps proving crucial in his hunt to secure a drive for 2019.

Despite all adversity, Scott Dixon managed to come back from being almost eliminated from the race on lap one to take fifth place. It was an incredible comeback from the championship leader, who also had to deal with a penalty for speeding in the pit-lane during the race. The result means that he has extended his lead in the championship for the first time in three races; which could prove vital in the season-finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Scott Dixon (NZL), Chip Ganassi Racing, 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Portland

Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud came home in sixth place and was the highest-placed Penske driver; which you would not have seen coming after he was well off of the pace of his team-mates in qualifying on Saturday. Charlie Kimball finished just behind him to take seventh place, earning himself and Carlin‘s sixth top ten finish of the season.

Alexander Rossi will be left rueing what might have been after his race was undone by ill-timed caution periods. The Andretti Autosport driver eventually recovered to take eighth place, his the gap between him and Dixon has risen, albeit slightly, to twenty-nine points heading into the final race. It is still all to play for, as Sonoma will be a double-points race, but Rossi could well have taken the championship lead away from Dixon at Portland if he had been dealt a slightly different hand.

Pietro Fittipaldi put on his best performance of his short IndyCar career so far, with the rookie coming home in a hugely impressive ninth place. The Brazilian is still not fully back up to full health after his crash at Spa-Francorchamps earlier this year, but that didn’t stop him from racing fantastically to take his highest finishing position yet.

Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden completed the top ten in the tenth position. The Penske driver, like Rossi, was able to undo some of the damage done by the late cautions, but he now has an eighty-seven point gap between himself and Dixon in the championship standings.

Early on, arguably the most impressive performances were coming from two British drivers. Jordan King was running as high as third place near the start of the race, with King coming out on top after a brief battle with fellow countryman Jack Harvey and fellow rookie Zach Veach. The race would not end well for any of the three drivers; with King and Harvey nose-to-tail in fifteenth and sixteenth and Veach further back, one lap down, in nineteenth place.

Finally, it was a weekend of two halves for polesitter Will Power. After his gearbox issue cost him the race lead, Power hit further strife when he skated off of the race track and into the barrier at turn twelve; where many other drivers had struggled during the run-up to the race. Power would ultimately finish seven laps down as the final classified finisher in twenty-first place. The Penske driver now finds himself level on points with team-mate Newgarden, with eighty-seven points separating him from the lead of the championship.

The crazy race at Portland has set up what looks to be a two-horse race for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship at the season finale at Sonoma Raceway. Scott Dixon will enter the race with a twenty-nine point lead in the championship over Alexander Rossi; with Will Power and Josef Newgarden essentially hoping for both Dixon and Rossi to retire to give themselves a chance at the crown.

The 2018 Grand Prix of Sonoma will take place in two weeks time on Sunday, September 16.

Takuma Sato (JAP), Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Portland

Credit: James Black / Courtesy of IndyCar

2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Portland – Race results:

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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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