Opening-lap chaos is almost a certainty at the IndyCar Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday.
In 2018 — when IndyCar returned to Portland International Raceway after a decade-long absence — the opening chicane (also known as the Festival Chicane) — ended two racers’ days and nearly cost eventual champion Scott Dixon a shot at his fifth series title.
The race in 2019 had similar results as four drivers’ races ended prematurely after a first-lap melee into the first turn.
“Going into that corner, the first part of it is so wide,” said Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey, who was taken out by a car behind him going into Turn 1 on lap 14 of the 2019 race. “It’s so inviting for drivers to throw it up the inside because it’s so wide and you think you’ll all fit. You get to some point when four cars won’t get through the corner. It gets super narrow very quickly.”
For newcomers to Portland International Raceway, the Festival Chicane may be the hardest to navigate, particularly on a crowded opening lap. Avoiding the chaos on Sunday is of utmost priority to Alex Palou, who sits second in the IndyCar standings with just the three-race West Coast swing remaining.
Pato O’Ward leads Palou by 10 points as several drivers remain in contention for the championship as the NTT IndyCar Series makes its way to Portland for the third time in the past decade.
The race is slated to begin at 12:42 p.m. Sunday.
Practicing and qualifying including the Indy Lights and ARCA Menard Series West cars round out the three-day festival at PIR.
“Every track has some corners where you know there’s a lot of probability there’s going to be trouble,” Palou said. “We just have to prepare as much as possible. … The races are so long, you don’t have to risk everything on the first corner.”
Palou isn’t alone as a Portland newcomer this year. Three of the top five drivers in the standings have never raced at PIR.
The 12-turn, 1.9-mile road course is undoubtedly tricky in spots, and with only one practice before qualifying, the new drivers have to get acclimated in a hurry.
“I have a lot of data from last couple of years from the team; I have the onboards from previous races,” Palou said of how he prepares.
The Chip Ganassi team also had a testing day at Portland last month.
“I was preparing for where I need to brake and place the car correctly for every corner,” he said. “Now that I already know, we can work on where we need to improve the car or driving to be faster.”
Palou’s rookie teammate, Jimmie Johnson — yes, the seven-time NASCAR champion is an IndyCar rookie — was impressed with the circuit after testing.
“I’m surprised how short the lap seems in IndyCar,” Johnson said. “I’m always looking at the flow of the track and the rhythm here seems to be two long straights followed by some very technical corners.”
If drivers can avoid any Festival Chicane nightmares, the rest of the race flows rather seamlessly.
“On TV, it looks like a really short track, but it’s quite big and super fast and fun to drive,” Palou said. “I love the course and I think we can be really strong.”
Off the track, a passionate racing fan base is always a delight, Harvey said. The top levels of motorsport don’t often venture to the Pacific Northwest, and fans are expected to turn out en masse to see a sport reaching new heights. IndyCar as a series has set record viewership numbers this season as the combination of young drivers, a close championship race and competitive wheel-to-wheel racing captivates audiences.
“IndyCar is such a strong product right now,” Harvey said. “We are all very close and that promotes great racing. I’m pretty happy with how IndyCar is going and I’m grateful to be on the drivers.”
Watch on TV
Time: Noon, Sunday
If You Go
- Tickets are still available at portlandgp.com. Prices range from $20 for Friday general admission to $165 for a three-day grandstand pass.
- Parking is sold out, but event organizers encourage visitors to use TriMet’s MAX Light Rail system, which drops off next to Portland International Raceway.
- Per Oregon state mandates, masks are required.
- No vaccinations are required.
8 a.m. — USAC .25 Midgets
9 a.m. — Indy Lights Test Session 1
11 a.m. — Indy Lights Test Session 2
2 p.m. — ARCA Menards Series West Practice 1
3 p.m. — IndyLights Practice 1
3:50 p.m. — ARCA Menards Series West Practice 2
4:35 p.m. — Indy Lights Qualifying 1
6 p.m. — USAC .25 Midgets
8 a.m. — USAC .25 Midgets
9 a.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Practice
10:35 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West Qualifying
11:25 a.m. — Indy Lights Qualifying 2
12:15 p.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying
1:55 p.m. — Indy Lights Race 1
3:15 p.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Practice
4:30 p.m. — ARCA Menards Series West Race
6 p.m. — USAC .25 Midgets
10:30 a.m. — Indy Lights Race 2
Noon — IndyCar Series Driver Introductions
12:42 p.m. — NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix
2019 — Will Power
2018 — Takuma Sato
2007 — Sebastien Bourdais
2006 — AJ Allmendinger
2005 — Cristiano da Matta
(Three races remain)
1. Pato O’Ward 435 points
2. Alex Palou 425
3. Josef Newgarden 413
4. Scott Dixon 392
5. Marcus Ericsson 375