It was a beautiful sunny day in the city of roses!
With only a few white clouds in an otherwise bright blue sky, a high temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit that oversaw a packed house on Labor Day Sunday provided a picturesque setting for the penultimate round for the 2022 IndyCar Series season.
25 competitors representing 10 different teams made their way to the Pacific Northwest and a historic venue synonymous with American open-wheel racing.
Portland International Raceway
Seven of those competitors headed into the Grand Prix of Portland within 58 points of the points leader, Australia’s Will Power and the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. All these competitors had to do was stay within a magic number and they would be able to continue with their respective quests to capture the most prestigious series championship in all of North American open-wheel racing:
The Astor Cup!
Seven drivers came into the weekend in contention for the title.
Here were their weekend statistics:
- Will Power: Placements of 10th and first in each of the three practice sessions gave the 2014 Series Champion the fourth fastest car overall as he rolled off the grid on the inside of the second row in third before a penalty bumped his starting spot up to the outside of the front row.
- Josef Newgarden: The two-time series champion started off his quest for perfection strong with practice placements of overall fastest, second fastest by a difference of 0.01 seconds, and fourth fastest with a starting placement outside the front row in 2nd before his 6 position placement penalty for an engine violation.
- Scott Dixon: The Iceman’s quest to tie A.J. Foyt’s championship record began with a practice average of 7.6. He did not advance to the fast six in qualifying on Friday, leaving him to begin today’s race on the outside of the eighth row in 16th.
- Marcus Ericsson: The Iceman’s teammate and winner of this year’s Indianapolis 500 piloted his Honda to a weekend practice average of 16.6, the lowest average of the seven championship contenders. He did not advance to the fast six on Saturday and began today’s event on the inside of the fifth row in ninth.
- Álex Palou: It was once again time to put employee and employer differences aside for Chip Ganassi Racing in their quest to repeat as overall series champions and capture their second consecutive Astor Cup. With a weekend practice time average placing his Honda 8.3rd fastest overall, the Spaniard rolled off Sunday’s grid on the outside of the second row in fourth after Josef Newgarden’s engine violation.
- Scott McLaughlin: The 29-year-old’s quest to become a generational motorsports legend continued spectacularly as he posted an overall practice average of sixth overall fastest. This helped elevate his Chevrolet to pole position, rolling off the grid on the inside of the front row!
- Pato O’Ward: The Arrow McLaren SP driver posted weekend practice times that placed the Chevrolet 13th fastest overall. As the 23-year-old rolled off the grid alongside Alex Palou in sixth, he knew he had work to do to guarantee his continuing placement in the fight for the Astor Cup by the time the checkered flag flew this afternoon.
Either you’re in, or you’re out if you’re more than 54 points behind the leader when the checkered flag falls.
The Race Recap:
The green flag flew and 25 of the best racers in North America went down the front stretch and entered the first two turns with a clean start. This is the type of start we hope to see amongst competitors heading into notorious turns such as Portland’s first. Fans enjoyed clean and respectful competition as everyone minded their p’s and q’s very nicely.
Lap 31: Leigh Diffey in the NBC Sports television booth described the strategy for Scott McLaughlin as:
“Fast, smooth, and is all going to plan.”
With the exception of one instance involving Josef Newgarden later in the race, the quote would be a recurring theme for all of Team Penske throughout the remainder of the race.
Lap 33: Romain Grosjean received a five second time penalty for cutting the chicane off Turn 1.
Lap 44: Alex Palou and the #10 team switched to primary black tires in an effort to try something different in making their way to the front. As a result, they gave up sixth place and the move would result in a mediocre drive throughout the remainder of the race. This pit stop would cause the evaporation of his quest to overcome controversy and capture the Astor Cup for the second consecutive season.
Lap 57: Jimmie Johnson spun in a 360-degree manner but continued on. Shades of Danny Sullivan in the 1985 Indianapolis 500.
Lap 70: Will Power and Pato O’Ward were held up by Jimmie Johnson who was playing defense for his CGR teammates.
Lap 72: A small fire post-pit stop burned the clutch in car #20 driven by Conor Daly for Ed Carpenter Racing. There were initial concerns that Daly was burned as a result of the internal fire but he came out unharmed. This resulted in Daly posting the first DNF of the event.
Lap 79: Christian Lundgaard stalled on pit road, seeing a potential Top 5 finish go awry.
Lap 86: The only caution of the day transpired when Rinus Veekay decked Jimmie Johnson on the front-stretch heading into Turn #1.
Johnson’s car was unable to continue due to excessive damage, posting the second and only other DNF of the afternoon.
Lap 88: The Green Flag came back out and contact between the Will Power and the Pato O’Ward transpired as the result of a racing incident between the two heading into one. Questionable blocking by O’Ward to Scott Dixon transpired as both cars exited Turn 3. IndyCar race control would penalize O’Ward for blocking and ordered him to give up the 3rd position to Dixon, to which the young Mexican driver obliged. This was the incident that officially ended O’Ward’s and Arrow McLaren SP’s quest for the Astor Cup in 2022.
Lap 94: Christian Lundgaard drove his #30 Honda into the paper barrier coming off of Turn 1. He made it around the full circuit with the barrier stuck to his front wing without leaving behind any debris before coming down pit road to remove it. The event would stay green and Lundgaard would ultimately place 21st.
Official Grand Prix of Portland Results:
1st: #3 – Scott McLaughlin (104 Laps Led)
2nd: #12 – Will Power (2 Laps Led)
3rd: #9 – Scott Dixon
4th: #5 – Pato O’Ward
5th: #15 – Graham Rahal (2 Laps Led)
6th: #26 – Colton Herta
7th: #27 – Alexander Rossi
8th: #2 – Josef Newgarden
9th: #77 – Callum Ilott (1 Lap Led)
10: #7 – Felix Rosenqvist
11th: #8 – Marcus Ericsson
12th: #10 – Alex Palou
13th: #14 – Kyle Kirkwood
14th: #18 – David Malukas
15th: #45 – Jack Harvey
16th: #29 – Devlin DeFrancesco
17th: #06 – Helio Castroneves
18th: #51 – Takuma Sato
19th: #28 – Romain Grosjean
20th: #21 – Rinus VeeKay
21st: #30 – Christian Lundgaard
22nd: #4 – Dalton Kellett (-1)
23rd: #60 – Simon Pagenaud (-10)
24th: #48 – Jimmie Johnson (DNF)
25th: #20 – Conor Daly (DNF)
In the equivalence of announcing a podium following the conclusion of an open-wheel event, what will be remembered as the key takeaways from the twenty-eighth edition of the Grand Prix of Portland:
1: Tire Strategy
When teams began to utilize different tire strategies from the 14th lap onwards, it became apparent that the team with the best strategy would capture the checkered flag first.
Built by Firestone, the two types of Firehawk race tires utilized today were specifically designed for permanent road course competition.
Primary Tires – Marked by a black sidewall, these tires provide a competitive balance between speed, cornering, and durability.
Alternative Tires – Marked by a red sidewall, these tires provide a softer compound. While these tires allow for faster speeds and better cornering within the turns, they tend to wear out at a quicker pace.
By the time the race made it to lap 44, only three drivers were seen on primary tires (Callum Ilott, David Malukas, and Felix Rosenqvist). When it became apparent that the race had the potential to go caution-free, it became a question of whether or not teams would wait for a caution to pit or not.
It was a move that proved critical to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske. Had they known in advance that the race would not go caution-free, they would not run what would be their final stint on the primary tires. Though still in contention for his third Astor Cup, Newgarden admitted in his post-race interview with NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch:
“…it is what it is.”
2: Real Racing
Throughout 2022, both in person and at home, the IndyCar Series has showcased what automobile racing is all about. The respectable spirit of competition and letting it play out on its own.
The 28th edition of the Grand Prix of Portland was no exception.
If one were to take out Rinus VeeKay’s debacle with Jimmie Johnson on Lap 86, this was an example of a purely competitive event that was not entirely centered around who built the fastest car, but tire strategy and who was willing to adapt.
This was highlighted in a competitive yet cordial battle for position between Pato O’Ward and Graham Rahal at the conclusion of the race.
Music composer Hans Zimmer once wrote a piece of music titled: “Lost, but won.” The feeling could be described Pato O’Ward following the conclusion of today’s event. He may no longer be in contention for the Astor Cup in 2022, yet his post-race reception during his interview with NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee symbolized why he is among the most well-liked drivers in the world.
This had shades of a post-race crowd reception from a Formula 1 event.
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 4, 2022
One of the best showcases of support an individual will ever see.
This is what racing fans live for, and it ultimately leads to the biggest takeaway from Sunday’s race.
3: The Continuing Battle for the Astor Cup
We began the day with seven competitors still in contention. After the checkered flag fell upon completion of 216.37 miles, we are now down to five!
Will Power (Team Penske)
Josef Newgarden (Team Penske)
Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing)
Marcus Ericsson (Chip Ganassi Racing)
Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske)
Three Chevrolets owned by Roger Penske, and two Hondas owned by Chip Ganassi.
As we head into the season finale, Next Sunday at Laguna Seca, 41 points separate these five competitors. Each have their respective reasonings why they want to be atop the championship stage following the conclusion of 212.6 miles.
Yet there is no success without their team behind them.
Whichever of the five builds the best Dallara, and utilizes the best strategy for 95 laps over the 2.2 mile road course will ultimately be the ones who play their cards right and be recognized as being among racing’s best.
If trends continue, the one atop that stage will be the driver of a Penske Chevrolet. Though anything is possible when championship battles of this magnitude transpire.
The pure spirit of competition.
It’s not just racing, this is the spirit of what professional sports is all about.
The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterrey will air LIVE Next Sunday with coverage beginning at 03:00 PM EST/12:00 PM PST on NBC.