Photo: Vic Wright/W Image

FARMER: Tracks We Want in IndyCar – Portland International Raceway

By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter

Author’s note: This is part of a 10-part series discussing tracks around the world that I feel would be a good fit for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The opinions here are expressed solely of the author and not necessarily of the Motorsports Tribune.

A market untouched by NASCAR but was once heavily used by IndyCar is the Pacific Northwest.

At one time, the area featured two races on the calendar. One at a street circuit in Vancouver, British Columbia and the other at the Portland International Raceway.

The 1.967-mile 12 turn road course was a series staple on the Champ Car World Series calendar from 1984-2007. It also was a major sportscar racing staple with the SCCA Trans-Am Series and the IMSA racing at Portland for many years.

It was also the site of two of the closest finishes in Indy car racing history as 1986 played host to a memorable last lap duel between Mario and Michael Andretti.

The younger Andretti dominated the race – leading 87 of 100 laps – but was in need of a potential splash of fuel to make it to the end. Leaning out his No 18. Kraco March/Cosworth, his father was catching him at a rate of two seconds a lap. It looked as if he had the win in the bag until the final corner.

He ran out of fuel just less than a few hundred yards shy of the start/finish line as Mario pulled aside. The pair crossed the line simultaneously with the elder Andretti inching out his son by .070 of a second.

Another close finish came in a race dictated by wet/dry conditions in 1997. Former Formula 1 competitor Mark Blundell elected to gamble four slick tires with just under a few laps to go. The Britton roared through the field and was within striking distance of race leader Gil de Ferran on the final lap.

Blundell made his move coming off the final corner and nipped the Brazilian at the line by a scant 0.027 of a second while Raul Boesel surged from third place to make it a three-wide finish.

The finish still stands as the closest finish on a road course in Indy car competition.

Portland remained a staple on the Champ Car calendar until the series dissolution after the 2007 season. Ultimately the track was left out in the cold when Champ Car merged with IndyCar when the promoters could not come up with sponsorship dollars to pay for the race.

Budweiser and the now defunct chain of G.I. Joe sporting good stores sponsored the race throughout its existence.

The track has since hosted the NASCAR K&N Pro West Series and largely just local racing club chapters.

Why Return?

While Portland does not have the reputation of a track like Road America, it could be a welcome return for IndyCar.

Returning to a classic venue like Portland would be good to rekindle the racing interest in the Pacific Northwest. NASCAR does not have a very significant presence in that market, other than the K&N West Series running in Spokane, Washington and Roseburg, Oregon.

Fan attendance was high during the CART and Champ Car eras, so it is clear that there are fans there. The track is also very convenient for those spectators being 10 minutes away from the city center.

Placement on the calendar was always in mid-June. With Portland having a favorable summer climate, scheduling it then would make perfect sense.

The venue was also generally liked by much of the paddock so that right there is a good enough reason to reconsider it.

Rumors point for an IndyCar return for the 2018 season, but nothing is set in stone yet.

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Josh Farmer joined the media center in 2012 after first discovering his love of IndyCar racing in 2004 at Auto Club Speedway. He has been an accredited member of the IndyCar media center since 2014 and also contributes to along with The Motorsports Tribune.

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