Photo: Luis Torres/Motorsports Tribune

Up to Speed: 2023 Grand Prix of Portland Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. – Over the next two weekends, two Chip Ganassi Racing drivers will duking it out for the Astor Cup. But only one will hoist the trophy as Alex Palou and Scott Dixon are separated by 74 points heading into Portland International Raceway.

Both men are poised in bringing CGR its 15th American Open Wheel Racing championship. However, should Palou exit Portland with a 55-point lead, he’ll win his second INDYCAR title in three years.

To put it into perspective, no driver has locked up the title before the finale in the Post-Split Era. Therefore, Dixon must have another master performance like he did last weekend at Gateway where he lapped all but the podium en route to his second win of 2023.

Portland is one of a few venues the six-time INDYCAR champion has never won whereas Palou is a previous winner back in 2021.

More than any other competitor, Dixon knows what it’s like rallying back into a title fight. Look no further than in 2015 when he won the title at Sonoma over Juan Pablo Montoya, who had led the championship trail all season up to that point.

Following his win at Gateway, Dixon explained that it’s easy to look back on what could’ve been if certain things went different.

“Had we got past Josef (Newgarden in Nashville), it would have been a different race for us,” said Dixon. “Had we got past (Colton) Herta at Mid-Ohio, it would have been a different race for us. My mistake at Elkhart Lake, we came from the back, got to a fourth finish. With the performance of the car, should have been a quite easy podium.

“It’s easy to look back throughout the season and see maybe errors or just races that maybe didn’t roll our way. That’s how championships go. It’s what keeps you hungry and wanting for more.”

As for the race itself, it’s the fifth time INDYCAR are visiting Portland since coming back to the calendar in 2018. Only this time, the race finally has a title sponsor in, the primary sponsor of Ed Carpenter Racing. Something the venue have been long seeking for as Portland is known for its unpredictable nature. Most notably, opening lap chaos.

Could history repeat itself where four races have been marred with opening lap crashes in the first couple of turns?

As usual, time will tell how the 27-car field will thunder around the flat and blistering 1.964-mile road course.

Outside of those major headlines, two drivers will finish out the season in anticipation of preparing themselves for the future. Simon Pagenaud will be out for the rest of the season as his future at Meyer Shank Racing or just his racing career in general remains unknown.

In his place will be Tom Blomqvist as he’ll be a full-time INDYCAR driver next season.

Another driver will also finish out the championship trial with plans of trying to break through in INDYCAR.

On Monday, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced that former Red Bull Junior Team driver Juri Vips will take over the No. 30 Honda, previously driven by Jack Harvey.

This announcement came with some controversy as people haven’t forgotten about Vips’ past.

Last June, Vips was in the center of controversy after using a racial slur on a gaming stream which cost him his contract with Red Bull.

After going through two sensitivity courses in the U.K. and U.S., Vips is ready to put his hallow past behind and get back to racing for the first time in over a year.

“I had a lot of time to reflect on who I disappointed. I had so many fans, so many people cheering for me, so many people that helped me through my career, and I just threw it all away because I wasn’t — before this I wasn’t interested in learning about anything. All I cared about was racing,” said Vips.”

“That’s I guess why I thought the word that I said was a swear word and not way worse than it actually is. Since that I’ve learned a lot.

“I feel like I have grown as a person, but yeah, I am really grateful for the second chance, and I completely understand all the outrage. Now that I understand what the word means, it’s completely justifiable, and I am very sorry for everybody that I’ve hurt.”

This weekend will also be a homecoming weekend for both rookies Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb.

Despite being born in Denmark, Pedersen resided in Seattle most of his life and it was Portland where he captured his first career Indy NXT win a year ago. He’ll be carrying a special helmet to commemorate his hometown roots this weekend.

As for Robb, he grew up in the state of Idaho and thus, Portland is considered his home track as well.

When it comes down to it, both men are seeking solid results in what’s been a rookie campaign filled with growing pains.

Meanwhile, the Rookie of the Year battle will come down to Marcus Armstrong and Augustin Canapino, who are 20 points apart. Barring any issues with Armstrong, it’s his title to lose at this point as he has scored four top-10s in 10 races thus far.

All of these angles are worth keeping an eye on this weekend at Portland as it could be Championship Sunday for Palou. Again, there’s no telling how the race will unfold, especially in the closing rounds of the trail.

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 3

TV/Radio: NBC & Peacock 3:00 p.m. ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)

Track Size: 1.964-mile road course

Race Length: 110 laps, 216.04 miles

2022 Race Winner: Scott McLaughlin – No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet (Started first, 104 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

Rinus VeeKay – No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

“(Qualifying) is important. It’s always good to be ahead of the drama, especially (in the first couple of corners). It’s always quite of a strategy race, so being in front helps you have a bit more clean track.”

Christian Lundgaard – No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

“I’m looking forward to returning to Portland. We were strong there last year; it was the three Penske’s and the 30 car there last year so I’m pretty sure we can be fast there again. We’ve proven our road course package is good and it’s obviously nice to have two of them left in the season with Laguna Seca, which has been repaved.

“I do believe our road course car is one of the best on the grid so we’ve got to make up for the mistakes that were made there last year. We didn’t get the result that, in my opinion, we deserved so that is the plan. Let’s get the Hy-Vee car on the top step of the podium.”

Benjamin Pedersen – No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet

“It’s a relatively short track. It’s extremely technical. So the lap times are very close to each other, but I think the drivers can make a big difference with how to get lap time out of the car. I think everyone that drives there really enjoys the flow of the track and usually the weather this time of year is beautiful there. I think everyone’s very excited. I’m definitely very excited and I can’t wait to come back home.”

Last Time in Portland

A year ago, Portland was Scott McLaughlin’s world and we were just living in it.

McLaughlin led all but six laps en route to his third win of the year on a day where the chaos simmered down.

After years of not making it to the opening lap without a crash, the race was slowed down only once for four laps. Such occurrence wouldn’t take place until Lap 84 when Rinus VeeKay and Jimmie Johnson made contact before reaching the Shelton Chicane.

It resulted in Johnson smacking the wall and ended his afternoon, waving to the crowd as it would mark his penultimate race in INDYCAR.

Despite bunching up the field for one final restart, McLaughlin wasn’t fazed of his opponents and led an all “Down Under” podium. A feat that haven’t been done before in INDYCAR as Will Power and Scott Dixon rounded out the podium that September afternoon.

“The car was phenomenal. Got a good start. Just for us the whole day, weekend went to plan,” said McLaughlin. “We racked up with a car that just needed a massage on Friday. I was able to work on myself and then qualifying came around, and we put on pole. We saved a set of tires, reasonably good set of tires, for the Fast Six. We used that and got the pole.

“Then I knew today that my first stint was going to set everything up. That’s exactly what happened.

“I’m not sure what happened behind me. I knew that I couldn’t control what was behind me. All I could do is control what I did. It went to exactly to plan.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, September 1

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (6:00 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. – Peacock)

Saturday, September 2

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Final Practice (8:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. – Peacock)

Sunday, September 3

  • Indy NXT Race (1:10 p.m. to 2:20 p.m. – Peacock)
  • Grand Prix of Portland (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. – NBC & Peacock)

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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 three-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.