IndyCar: The championship fight before Portland

Team Penske driver Will power standing in pit lane in 2022
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The Grand Prix of Portland

A name symbolic with the tradition of American open wheel racing.

For twenty-four years, the event would traditionally coincide with the Portland Rose Festival and/or Father’s Day depending on schedule placement. It is a 1.967 Mile/3.166 Kilometer permanent road course that has produced incredible moments and memories that have stood out among automobile racing historians.

It was on Father’s Day in 1986 when Michael Andretti ran out of fuel heading toward the start-finish line when his father, Mario, would make the winning pass and capture victory by 0.07 seconds.

In 1997, Mark Blundell held off Gil de Ferran and Raul Boesel in a three-wide finish as at the checkered flag.

In 2007, American open wheel racing bore witness to its first standing start where Sébastien Bourdais gave owners Carl Haas and Paul Newman their 100th victory as team owners.

Upon the reunification of American open wheel racing in 2008, Portland International Raceway was not among the venues that came together under one unified banner. Upgrades were made to the facility, and while it played host to different automobile racing leagues, including the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), the tradition of American open wheel racing in the Pacific Northwest seemed all but a memory.

That was until Labor Day Weekend 2018 when the tradition began again. For 105 laps and 206.220 Miles, 25 of the best racers in the world returned to the Pacific Northwest to battle it out in the penultimate event of their campaign. It was Takuma Sato who held off Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sébastien Bourdais to capture victory in a car owned by Bobby Rahal, David Letterman, and Mike Lanigan.

IndyCar was back in the Pacific Northwest.

This weekend, the 36th of 2022, what is now known as the NTT IndyCar Series will return to the city of roses once more. 26 entrants will grace this FIA Grade 2 Facility in the penultimate round of the 2022 campaign. While this may be the 27th trip the league has made to the city of roses, the stakes are higher than ever before.

This is, arguably, the most competitive series championship battle the IndyCar Series has ever witnessed. There is no forced drama for the sake of entertainment value. No race directors attempting to manipulate an outcome, nor is there a playoff system forcing competitors to battle it out. Pure competition and a love of automobile racing.

58 Points separate these seven competitors in their quest to capture the most prestigious series championship trophy in American open wheel racing, the Astor Cup.

Seven athletes battling it out in the name of eternal glory.
These are their stories:

Will Power – The current points leader and 2014 series champion is the on-paper favorite to capture his second Astor Cup. While he has only captured victory in one event thus far in 2022 (Detroit) he has captured bonus points not only by capturing pole 26.6% of the time this season (tying Mario Andretti’s record in the process) but from leading in 60% of the 15 events, with 13.3% of those events resulted in the Australian leading the most laps.
His career at Portland is highlighted not only by his victory in the 2019 race, but by an average starting position of 5.2 and an average finishing position of 11.4.
The driver of the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet has been an IndyCar staple since his arrival in 2006. He currently possesses a 16-season streak with at least one race win, dating back to his first career victory in 2007. The Toowoomba, Queensland-born driver continues to showcase why he is among the greatest racers in the world today. A second Astor Cup would be the perfect icing on the cake.

Josef Newgarden – The first overall series champion who successfully climbed the Road to Indy developmental ladder. Upon capturing the Indy Lights championship in 2011, the two-time holder of the Astor Cup continues to showcase why he is, arguably, the best racer in the United States. A teammate of Will Power, the Hendersonville, Tennessee native has piloted his #2 Chevrolet to victory 33.3% of the 2022 campaign thus far. In his IndyCar Career, he has compiled a winning percentage of 13.7% and an average season placement of 7.2.
In his career at Portland International Raceway, he has an average starting position of 11th and has accumulated an average finishing position of 6.6.
The quest for his third Astor Cup is one of determination. Perfection will be what separates the good teams from the great, and the Tennessean knows that.

Scott Dixon – The Iceman Cometh. One could make a valid argument and say he is the best international open wheel driver who has never competed in Formula 1.
Over the course of his 28 year career, the Auckland, New Zealander has compiled a major league winning percentage of 14.1%, a podium percentage of 34.2%, and a pole-winning percentage of 8.6%. The Iceman has competed at Portland International Raceway six times over the course of his career. With two finishes of 11th in Indy Lights competition, his IndyCar career statistics at the facility have garnered an average starting position of 6.4 and an average finishing position of 7.6.
After capturing the Indy Lights Series Championship in 2000, the Iceman moved up to the IndyCar Series, where he has since garnered an average series championship placement of 4.1. He is second behind A.J. Foyt as the statistically best to ever compete in IndyCar. If the Iceman does indeed capture his 7th series championship when the checkered flag falls at Laguna Seca, the world of North American Open-Wheel Racing will bear witness to something historic that has not been seen since the 1979 USAC National Championship Trail, when A.J. Foyt captured his 7th Series Championship.

Marcus Ericsson – After ho-hum success garnering a mere eighteen points over a five-year stint in Formula One, Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson came to the United States to compete in IndyCar beginning with the 2019 campaign. Upon joining Chip Ganassi Racing the following season, his IndyCar career was kicked into high gear.
Over the course of 61 events in his IndyCar career thus far, he has captured seven podiums, with three seeing him atop. The most notable came this past Memorial Day weekend at the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The Swede has only graced Portland International Raceway once in his IndyCar career, last year in 2021. He rolled off the grid in 10th before finishing in seventh. Despite a podium at Road America this past June, Ericsson’s 2022 campaign has showcased more statistical strength on ovals as opposed than road courses. Can this Honda-powered team concoct a strategy to outsmart the rest of the field and give themselves an advantage as they head down the homestretch toward Laguna Seca?

Álex Palou – Over 45 races run in his IndyCar career thus far, the reigning and defending holder of the Astor Cup has compiled a podium percentage of 31.1%. He may not have captured overall victory in his 2022 campaign thus far, but 40% of accumulated points have come from laps led, with 33.3% of his finishes resulting in podiums.
In his lone trip to Portland International Raceway, the Spaniard captured victory from the pole, en route to his first Astor Cup two weeks later.
With all the current controversy surrounding the Spaniard’s future in the world of automobile racing, combined with competitive equipment, there is no question that he is a force to be reckoned with no matter what discipline he competes in. Whether he stays in America or returns to Europe to find newer pastures within the FIA,
Can the team and driver of the #10 Honda put their differences aside in a quest to capture back-to-back championships?
Yes, but will they?

Scott McLaughlin – The second of the ‘Bus Bros’ is in the midst of his sophomore stint in the IndyCar Series. The Hamilton, New Zealand native comes from a Supercar Championship background with an average championship placement of 3.8. Upon making the transition to open wheel racing this past year, a podium at the Texas and a 14th place points finish were strong enough to garner him the honor of Rookie of the Year. In 2022, he has captured victory twice at St. Petersburg and Mid-Ohio and a 40% podium percentage for the campaign thus far. In his lone trip to the Portland International Raceway, he rolled off the grid in fifteenth before placing a finish of ninth.
Ayrton Senna once said:
“If (a driver) is successful in (one racing discipline) then they can be successful (in another league) and vice versa. There is no secret and no miracle. If (the driver) knows how to drive a race car, they can change the characteristics of it, but if (they) know how to do it, then (they) will be doing it one way or the other well in any place in the world.”
It’s happened before with the likes of Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Jacques Villeneuve, and Tony Stewart just to name a few. For Scott McLaughlin to be the next to add his name to that special list would be a special achievement in which the world of sports bears witness to generational greatness.

Pato O’Ward – The 23 year old Mexican began his career in karting before making the transition to open-wheel racing. Having competed in North America, Europe, and Latin America, he made his mark in the Road to Indy developmental ladder by capturing the Indy Lights championship in 2018. En route, he made his debut at the Portland, capturing not only victory in both events, but additional bonus points for setting the fastest laps. He made his IndyCar debut at the facility in 2021, qualifying seventh before placing 14th in the race. Having captured four victories in his IndyCar career thus far, his 2022 victories at Barber and Iowa have showcased consistency. While Arrow McLaren SP is a powerhouse team, the one thing missing from their collection is an Astor Cup. Pato is merely 58 points behind Will Power. As this might be Arrow McLaren SP’s best chance to make their IndyCar Series championship dream a reality, with Pato being one of the rising young stars in the world of racing, capturing the Astor Cup in this magnitude would propel him to the status of an overnight sensation.

3 Team Penske Chevrolets.
3 Chip Ganassi Racing Hondas.
1 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet .

It’s not merely the seven competing for the Astor Cup.

It’s the masters of other disciplines who have competed all over the world. Names such as Jimmie Johnson, Romain Grosjean, Felix Rosenqvist, and Christian Lundgaard have come to IndyCar not merely to prove themselves once more, but in the vein of the aforementioned Ayrton Senna quote, to prove why they are legends of the craft.

It’s the next generation out to showcase their skills as the craft’s best.

In the case of Alexander Rossi, as he moves to Chevrolet power at Arrow McLaren SP in 2023, could this be seen as a stepping stone for the 31 year old from Nevada County, California to head back to Formula 1?

As Colton Herta looks to obtain the required number of points to obtain an FIA Super License, Red Bull has publicly showcased an interest in the Santa Clarita native. Should Pierre Gasly or Yuki Tsunoda not be retained by AlphaTauri for 2023, Colton Herta’s dream of competing in Formula One might be realized much faster than he realizes. Should the opportunity present itself and Colton jump at it, would Michael Andretti decide upon Matthew Brabham, Hunter McElrea or Sting Ray Robb to be promoted as Herta’s replacement in car #26?

Seven of the very best battling it out for eternal glory, $1,000,000.00 and the Astor Cup!

Will those seven remain in contention by the time the checkered flag falls after 216.04 Miles?

The Grand Prix of Portland will air live on Sunday, September 4th, 2022 at 03:00 PM EST/12:00 PM PST on NBC and Peacock.