By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It all comes down to the final two weeks on the West Coast to determine who’ll be crowned as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.
Six drivers from two race teams are the few remaining that’ll be fighting for bragging rights with both teams taking different approach to their quest for the Astor Cup. The two teams are Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, who’ve been scratching and clawing for wins all season long.
Penske opted to use their final test session of the year at Portland while Ganassi headed to Laguna Seca. Hoping to get a competitive edge, but also learn what’ll work come race weekend. With testing out of the way and each showing promising speed, the focus shifts to Portland for the time being.
Out of the six competitors, four of them are separated by 17 points with Will Power leading his teammate Josef Newgarden by three points. Scott Dixon leads the Ganassi squad, sitting third in points with teammate Marcus Ericsson not far behind.
Needing a strong run to be in the hunt at Laguna Seca are Alex Palou and Scott McLaughlin, who are still in the hunt for another week. Palou is the defending race winner, but hasn’t won since taking the checkered flag at Portland. Whereas inconsistency have put McLaughlin 54 points in the hole.
Both teams are entering the Grand Prix of Portland with one mindset. That’s being the top team this weekend before putting everything on the line at Laguna Seca in two weeks.
Of course, the grand rumble in the paddock is how will the 110-lap contest begin.
Since the series returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2018 (excluding 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), there’s been a multi-car crash on the opening lap.
Time will tell if we’ll see another shakeup in the running order with several retirees, but the start of the race will factor on how the race strategy unfolds in Portland.
By the Numbers
What: Grand Prix of Portland, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 16 of 17
Where: Portland International Raceway – Portland, OR (Opened: 1960; First INDYCAR Race: 1984)
When: Sunday, September 4, 2022
TV/Radio: NBC / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211) 3 p.m. ET
Track Size: 1.964-mile road course
Race Length: 110 laps, 216.04 miles
2021 Race Winner: Alex Palou – No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started first, 29 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet (57.2143 seconds, 123.577 mph – September 1, 2018)
From the Driver’s Seat
Colton Herta – No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda
“It’s always tough to say exactly how the weekend is going to play out and how the conditions are going to be. We found some good stuff and hopefully we can keep on that trend. It’s not only about finding the good stuff, but trying to find out what doesn’t work that could ruin a session.
“You need a good change in direction with some of the stuff in (the chicane) is quite flowing. But you need a quick front end to get into the next corner. Same with the (final corners), it’s really fast and flowing, but need a quick change in direction and get a good rear to hold onto that.
“For how short of a lap it is, it does have a good mix of everything.”
Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet
“Really tough track to get right. It’s quite a short lap which stacks everyone really tight on tight. So, it’s really hard to differentiate yourself with speeds. That’s why we picked (Portland in testing) because we need the miles.
“Corner one is tough. We were talking to the series last year that we need to do something about it. Maybe start on the back straight, it’s the same thing every year. The best thing you can do is qualify up front. You got a less chance (of trouble).”
Last Time in Portland
As alluded in the preview, the opening lap is frantic in Portland. The 2021 edition was no different as a multi-car crash in the Festival Curve (aka Shelton Chicane) that only ended the afternoon of James Hinchcliffe.
However, the days of Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Oliver Askew and Romain Grosjean were affected. Neither whom recovered from the carnage as neither finished inside the top-10.
One person that did was Alex Palou, who tried avoiding the mayhem by cutting through the chicane. Consequently, he was relegated at the back of the field and his day turned into recovery mode.
Meanwhile, there were multiple front runners due to pit strategy spicing up the competition with Graham Rahal and Pato O’Ward having their moment in the sun. But in the end, neither were in the mix as guys like Palou and Alexander Rossi would end up being the top-two runners at day’s end.
The Spaniard’s quest for the title increased after scoring his final of his three wins last season. More so after overcoming such adversity on the opening lap.
“I think when they were taking a long time to penalize us. It was counting laps. I was like, ‘Okay, this is a good thing,'” Palou explained.
“I know we can make the fuel mileage to make it in two only stops. And at that moment, I said, ‘Even if we were P5, I knew they were going to penalize us.’ But we knew we had a really fast car.
“Even if we were on the same strategy as everybody, maybe we were not able to win. But I think we were able to be in the top five, top six without a different strategy,” Palou continued.
“You never know. Like at the end with that yellow, that put a lot of people on the same strategy as us. I said, ‘Oh man, maybe that’s not good for us.’ Then that last yellow, that made us restart on blacks while everybody was on reds didn’t really help us. But we made it.”
Palou would head on to win the Astor Cup two races later at Long Beach. But Palou’s Portland triumph remains his last INDYCAR win to date.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, September 2
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. – Peacock)
Saturday, September 3
- NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (3:05 p.m. to 4:20 p.m. – Peacock)
- NTT IndyCar Series Final Practice (7:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. – Peacock)
Sunday, September 4
- Indy Lights Race (1:05 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. – Peacock)
- Grand Prix of Portland (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – NBC)