IndyCar

PREVIEW: 2021 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Portland

4 Mins read
(Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar)

After another three week break, the NTT IndyCar Series returns for three consecutive weeks of racing on the scenic west coast of the United States that will culminate with the crowning of the series champion on the streets of Long Beach. The first stop on this road trip is the state of Oregon and the Portland International Raceway for the Grand Prix of Portland.

The championship battle was flipped upside down by the Bommarito Automotive Group 500, as Arrow McLaren SP‘s Patricio O’Ward took the championship lead from Alex Palou who was collected in a crash early in the race. The young Mexican now leads the series into the final stretch of the season with a slim ten-point gap to his rival. Scott Dixon, who was also collected in that wreck, slipped from third to fourth place in the standings behind Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden. Luckily for Chip Ganassi Racing, they still have three cars in the top five as Marcus Ericsson sits fifth.

This weekend, like many others this season, will see some driver changes, debuts and returns. Oliver Askew makes his return to the grid for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Helio Castroneves comes back to the grid with Meyer Shank Racing and Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN reserve driver Callum Illott makes his series debut with the new Juncos Hollinger Racing team.

Will we see a first time champion in O’Ward or Palou? Will the young guns slip up and let the title fall into the hands of the veteran Newgarden? Can Dixon make history and become a seven time series champion? All these questions will be answered by the end of September and it all kicks off this weekend. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the Grand Prix of Portland.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?

Portland was taken off the schedule in 2020 due to COVID-19, so the last race at the track was in 2019. Will Power took his thirty-seventh career win in the series that weekend, holding off a late charge by then-rookie Felix Rosenqvist after a late caution to take the victory.

Colton Herta started the race on the pole, and led for the first stint. Two early cautions collected multiple contending cars including the likes of Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jack Harvey and more. Once drivers settled into a rhythm, Herta spent his stint with Dixon on his gearbox, keeping the young American on his toes as they jockeyed for the lead.

On lap thirty-seven battling tyre wear, Herta finally conceded the lead to Dixon and continued to fall to the tail end of the top five as he tried to stay out for purposes of pit strategy. Dixon held about a three second gap to Power in second by around the halfway point of the race, before a sudden loss of power forced Dixon to roll down the pit lane for a battery replacement. By the time he returned to the race, Power inherited the lead and showed no signs of giving it up, while the “Iceman” found himself three laps down.

The only threat to Power’s victory was a caution caused by Dale Coyne Racing‘s Santino Ferrucci, who came to a halt halfway down the front straight. With eight laps to go, Power had a fantastic restart, quickly opening a one second gap to Rosenqvist that ended as a three second gap by the end of the race. Rosenqvist finished second, with Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi rounding out the podium.

Will Power celebrating victory at Portland in 2019. (Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar)

You can read the full race report here.

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?

Much like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, turn one at PIR is a ninety-degree right-hander after a long straightaway. This will be very frequent but very risky overtaking zone that we’ve seen can cause chaos like it did in 2019, so surviving that will be crucial at the start of the race and on every restart.

Speaking of “The Brickyard”, Power won IndyCar’s last road course race, which was the IMS road course, and of course won the last race at Portland. With momentum on his side, Power could be a contender for the win this weekend.

Of the championship contenders, Power’s teammate Newgarden and Dixon are the only ones with racing experience at Portland. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Palou and O’Ward did not get the chance to race at the track last season. Palou may have an upper hand on O’Ward having tested at the circuit earlier this year, but they will be two drivers turning a lot of laps in practice to keep up with the championship fight.

This weekend also sees the returns of Castroneves and Askew to the grid. Castroneves and the MSR team will be running the final three races of the season together as the team builds chemistry for a full-time entry next season, while Askew joins his third team of the season in RLLR after being a “super-sub” for AMSP and Ed Carpenter Racing. Like Castroneves, Askew will also be running the last three races of the season with the team.

Juncos Hollinger Racing will be making their debut in this race, after announcing in August that the team will run the last three races of the season in preparation for a full-season schedule in 2022. The first man to drive for the team will be the aforementioned Ilott, current Formula 1 reserve driver for Alfa Romeo and Scuderia Ferrari academy member.

Ilott got his first taste of IndyCar in a test at IMS on 2 September and stated that he enjoyed the test greatly, and joins a growing list of drivers from Europe to join IndyCar like Romain Grosjean and Christian Lundgaard this year. Ilott will be a name to keep an eye on, and he might even turn heads like his former Formula 2 rival Lundgaard did last month.

Callum Ilott testing at the IMS road course with Juncos Hollinger Racing. (Photo Credit: James Black / Courtesy of IndyCar)

WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THIS WEEKEND?

Saturday 11 September

1200 EST / 0900 PST / 1700 BST – Practice

1515 EST / 1215 PST / 2200 BST – Qualifying

1815 EST / 1515 PST / 2315 BST – Final Practice

Sunday 12 September

1500 EST / 1200 PST / 2200 BST – Race

WHERE CAN I WATCH?

Coverage in the UK for the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, coverage for practice and qualifying will be broadcast on the Peacock streaming service, with the race being broadcast on NBC.

HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?

You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions. You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.

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Lifelong sports junkie, currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Hofstra University. Lead writer for Indycar at The Checkered Flag.
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