Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.
Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

Opening Lap Carnage Hits INDYCAR’s Return at Portland

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

PORTLAND, Oregon — The biggest concern happened at Portland International Raceway Sunday, first lap chaos. Not at the grueling chicane known as the Festival Curve, but at the entry of Turn 3.

INDYCAR’s return to Portland saw a dramatic six-car crash right out of the gate, and it began when Zach Veach pinched James Hinchcliffe, resulting into contact and caused a huge ripple effect on several competitors, and potential championship implications.

Once Hinchcliffe spun around, Sebastien Bourdais ran into the front of Hinchcliffe, and collected Jones, Graham Rahal, championship points leader Scott Dixon, and Marco Andretti, who was hit by Rahal, sending his No. 98 Military Motorsports Honda to lift onto Jones’ No. 10 NTT Data Honda, and tumbled upside down before landing on his lid.

A huge cloud of dust ensued, and several drivers were frustrated, including Rahal, who was able to resume on the 71st lap, and ran four laps to gain two spots before calling it a day for good.

“From what I’m told and heard, it sounds like Veach just put Hinch up on the curb, which is really unfair,” Rahal on his view of the wreck.

“As you can see Dixie (Dixon) doing behind us, you can run two wide through there no problem, so I’m disappointed. A lot of guys are driving very aggressively which is okay, but you got to give each other a little bit of room. It’s just wrong, and then the officials take no action which is very typical for our officiating crew, but it’s very disappointing.”

For Andretti, it’s his first retirement since Phoenix in 2017 and ended up 25th for his first last-place finish since Barber Motorsports Park that same year.

“I’m really lucky that when (I was upside down), nobody else hit me. That would’ve been bad, but it looked like the seas were about to part for me,” Andretti said, reflecting on the accident.

“As soon as I backed off for Hinch’s (Hinchcliffe) spin, I think Graham got into the back of me – at least that’s what he and I discussed. (Rahal) didn’t see Hinch spin and I did, so when I backed off, he got into me. I almost thought we were going to make it through Portland Turn 1 – which we did. It was Turn 2 that got us, though.”

Dixon soldiered on without serious damage to finish fifth and extend his points lead over Alexander Rossi.

After the race, Dixon sarcastically felt like crying a little bit by going thorough the huge cloud of dust, but actually felt his day could’ve joined Andretti, Jones, and Rahal on the retirement list after dealing with a bent left front suspension.

“When the dirt cleared, I had awful wheel stow and the engine was running. I’m like, ‘Oh, I guess it’s not so bad,’ said Dixon.

“I basically thought the day was over. I knew starting where we were starting (in 11th) was going to be tough. We had a pretty clean start to get through (Turns) 1 and 2, and obviously 3. It looked pretty tight through there. I was racing pretty hard with the car beside me too. I think the No. 5 (Hinchcliffe) and Veach kind of got into each other there.”

On the other side of the Chip Ganassi Racing camp, Jones wasn’t as fortunate, retiring for the fourth time this season, the most among INDYCAR drivers.

Not only that, due to Andretti getting airborne, it scraped Jones’ helmet. Fortunately, neither Jones or the rest of the competitors were seriously hurt.

Jones said it was Veach who turned into Hinchcliffe, noting that the rookie didn’t gave him any room.

“It looked like Veach and Hinch were side-by-side in Turn 2, and Veach turned into Hinch like no one was there. He gave him no room and caused a huge shunt,” said Jones.

“I had nowhere to go. I hit Hinch and then a car flew over me, and I think it clipped my head. Lucky no one was injured seriously. Obviously Marco was upside down.”

His early exit ended an otherwise motivating weekend after qualifying eighth Saturday, and felt his car had potential of competing with the leaders.

“It’s super frustrating because we had a strong car. I thought we could’ve be up there in the race today. That’s just the way it is,” said Jones.

Bourdais was the highest finishing competitor who was involved in the carnage, finishing third for his fifth podium at Portland in six starts. When collected, he broke his front wing after the contact with Hinchcliffe, resulting to yet another rally towards the front.

“Nothing we did, we just got caught up in the mess in Turn 3. I was pretty surprised that we actually were able to continue,” Bourdais on the wreck.

“It was a fairly sizeable hit with James that was sideways in front of me. It was the front wing, so we dodged a bullet there.”

The finale at Sonoma Raceway in California will take place Sept. 16, where the championship will be decided, one last opportunity of retaining a top-10 spot in the standings, or ending a frustrating season on a positive note that could carry momentum into 2019.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a two-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.