PREVIEW: 2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Portland

by Jordan Groves

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series is really getting down to business now. Just two races remain until the champion is crowned, with the series heading to Portland International Raceway this weekend for the 2019 Grand Prix of Portland.

Four drivers remain in realistic contention for the championship, but Simon Pagenaud is now the closest challenger to the leader, Josef Newgarden, with Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon also still in the hunt.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s race, where Pagenaud, Rossi and Dixon will need to gain some serious ground on Newgarden to have a shot at stealing the crown.

What happened in 2018 at Portland?

The Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway returned to the NTT IndyCar Series calendar after a ten year absence in 2018.

Qualifying for the race’s return would be dominated by Team Penske‘s Will Power. The Australian would set a new track record in the first round of qualifying with a lap-time of 57.2143-seconds and would go on to take pole position with an advantage of three-tenths of a second over his team-mate, Josef Newgarden.

The start of the race on Sunday was dramatic and had potential championship-altering results. Power would sprint away from pole position as the field filtered down into the tight complex of corners from turn one to turn three. Things got a little too tight, however, as James Hinchcliffe tried to pass Zach Veach but spun on the inside kerbs and came back across the race track.

A pile-up was triggered as a result, with Marco Andretti flying over the top of Hinchcliffe and coming to rest upside down. Graham Rahal and Ed Jones also sustained damage in the incident, but the most important inclusion in the wreck, in terms of the championship fight, was championship-leader Scott Dixon. Despite being totally blind to the cars around him as a result of all of the dust, Dixon miraculously was undamaged in the incident and was able to get back going in the race, albeit now at the back of the pack.

When the race got back underway, Alexander Rossi would soon take over the lead from pole-sitter Power, who would soon fall back with a gearbox fault. Rossi would lead much of the opening half of the race, but shortly after losing the lead to Newgarden later on, both drivers would be caught out by an ill-timed caution that would see both fall back into the mid-field after making a pit-stop during the caution.

The caution would play right into the hands of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato, who would be gifted the lead of the race. Ryan Hunter-Reay would be just behind him for the remaining laps, but would be forced by his team to save fuel and therefore could not attack Takuma.

Hunter-Reay was finally given the all-clear to go full-speed in the closing laps of the race, but the American didn’t have enough time to try and take the lead away. Ultimately, Sato would cross the line to take the win with just half a second between himself and Hunter-Reay in second place. Dale Coyne Racing‘s Sebastien Bourdais completed the podium.

Despite being involved in the pile-up on lap one, Scott Dixon would come home in fifth place after benefitting from the mid-race caution. His closest title rival, Alexander Rossi, on the other hand, would finish down in eighth place.

You can read the full qualifying and race report from last year’s race at Portland by following the link below: 

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

What should I look out for this weekend?

Despite spinning on the final corner on the final lap of last weekend’s wild race at Gateway Motorsports Park, championship-leader Josef Newgarden is in an even stronger position in the standings than he was before. He now has a thirty-eight point lead in the championship, but his closest rival is now his team-mate, Simon Pagenaud, after Alexander Rossi finished outside of the top ten and one lap down last Saturday night.

Despite holding a great lead, Newgarden will still be weary of potential challengers into the final two races, especially as the season-finale at Laguna Seca will award double points. As a result, Josef will hope for as strong of a weekend as he can get in Portland to try and enter the finale with as big of a points advantage as he can muster.

On the other end of the spectrum, Newgarden’s rivals, Pagenaud, Rossi and Dixon, will all be hoping to outscore Newgarden this weekend to try and reduce the deficit to him. A poor result this weekend could all but end their hopes for the title this season. In particular, Rossi will be hoping for nothing less than a victory after dominating for much of last year’s event.

Entering the weekend with arguably the most momentum of anyone is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato. Despite dealing with heavy criticism for his role in the lap one pile-up at Pocono Raceway, Sato put the incident behind him and was ready to pounce when a late-caution would put him in the lead of the race a week ago; just had been the case at Portland last year, in fact.

Entering the weekend as the defending race winner at Portland and as the most recent winner this season, Sato will be hoping that history repeats itself so that he can have a shot at his third victory of 2019.

Last weekend’s race at Gateway also saw the fight for the rookie of the year honours close right up. After leading most of the race and eventually coming home in fourth place, Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci has now taken the lead in the rookie standings. Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Felix Rosenqvist trails Ferrucci by just two points.

However, with the series racing on road courses for the final two races of the season, the advantage could now swing right back to Rosenqvist, who has clearly outperformed Ferrucci on the road courses so far this season. Look for Rosenqvist to potentially be in contention for the victory this weekend, as had been the case at the last road course race at Mid-Ohio. Meanwhile, watch to see if Ferrucci can find some speed on the road courses to try and hold onto the top spot.

The remaining two contenders for the rookie of the year title, Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson, are currently forty-four and seventy-four points off of Ferrucci respectively. Both will be hoping for a strong showing this weekend to try and get closer to their fellow rookies.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 30 August

13:50 ET / 18:50 GMT – Practice one
17:50 ET / 22:50 GMT – Practice two

Saturday 31 August

14:00 ET / 19:00 GMT – Practice three
15:00 ET / 20:00 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 01 September

15:00 ET / 20:00 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2019 Grand Prix of Portland?

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to the Portland Grand Prix website for more information.

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for qualifying will be provided by NBCSN. The Grand Prix of Portland itself will be shown on NBC.

Further coverage of practice will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to Portland for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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