Random Thoughts On Portland

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What a wild race the Grand Prix of Portland turned out to be! From the drop of the green flag until the checkered flag flew, there was action, suspense and drama all over the 1.967 permanent road circuit. There was a surprise winner in Takuma Sato, a senseless pile-up on the opening lap that seemed to spell doom for Scott Dixon’s championship hopes and a timely (or ill-timed) caution that reshuffled the order.

Everyone suspected that Turn One would be the biggest challenge at the start of the race. Everyone made it through Turn One just fine. It was exiting Turn Two where the problem was. Zach Veach appeared to squeeze James Hinchcliffe exiting the Festival Chicane. Veach escaped relatively unharmed, but he turned Hinchcliffe sideways band that’s where everything went terribly wrong.

Sébastien Bourdais was involved, but was able to escape like Veach. Marco Andretti was launched backwards over Hinchcliffe’s car and tumbled before landing upside-down. The melee also caught championship leader Scott Dixon, Ed Jones and Graham Rahal. There was as much dust as you would see at Sonoma and the entire accident scene was encased in a brown cloud for what seemed like an eternity.

When the clouds subsided, Scott Dixon was found right in the middle of it. Most assumed his day was done, including me. But miraculously, he kept his car running, found reverse and was the only one involved that could drive out of the mess under his own power. The nose of Dixon’s car had a giant tire smear on it and the entire car badly needed to be run through a car wash, but Dixon was able to drive it around and catch the rear of the field without losing a lap.

Meanwhile, pole-sitter and last week’s winner Will Power was having his own issues. His gearbox was having problems and he quickly fell out of the lead, turning the lead over to Alexander Rossi, who proceeded to check out from the rest of the field. At this point, Rossi was leading and Scott Dixon was the last car running.

It appeared that the stars had aligned for Rossi to have an easy path to his first championship. As they ran at that time, Rossi would have assumed a significant lead in the points from Dixon. Suddenly it looked like the championship at Sonoma was going to be Rossi’s to lose. With apologies to ESPN College Football analyst Lee Corso – not so fast, my friend.

Before you could blink, Dixon was already up to thirteenth. Then there was the first series of pit stops with Rossi still leading after everyone cycled through. All the ground that Dixon made up was wiped away when he was issued a drive-through penalty for a pit speed violation. It looked as though it was just not Dixon’s day and his luck had finally worn out.

But the racing gods would continue to smile on Scott Dixon. Soon after Josef Newgarden passed Rossi for the lead, Zach Veach went off course and brought out the day’s third full-course caution just past the halfway point of the race. Newgarden and Rossi both pitted from the lead and their respective races were essentially over at that point. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato and Dixon stayed out. It would prove pivotal for the race and for the championship.

With the race winding down with only a handful of laps to go, Sato and Hunter-Reay battled for the win. Hunter-Reay could chase Sato down on the long straightaway, but along the winding backstretch portion of the course – Sato was able to pull away ever so slightly. Sato won for only the third time in his IndyCar career, Hunter-Reay was second and Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the podium. After being found in the middle of the opening lap accident, where did Scott Dixon finish? Fifth. Alexander Rossi finished eighth. On a day when it looked like everything had aligned perfectly for Alexander Rossi to take over the points lead, he actually lost ground to Scott Dixon.

Dixon leads Rossi by twenty-nine points, heading into the double-points season-finale at Sonoma in two weeks. With double-points up for grabs, anything can happen, but it sure looks like Scott Dixon is bullet proof. Rossi did nothing wrong except listen to his crew and follow their strategy – and still lost three points to an ailing Dixon.

It was a fascinating race to watch, and it looked like a good show for those in attendance. We now wait two weeks to crown the 2018 IndyCar Champion. We still don’t know who it will be, but Scott Dixon is obviously living right. After what we watched yesterday, it’s hard to bet against Dixon. Alexander Rossi can certainly still win it, but he had to leave Portland yesterday wondering what might have been.

TV Coverage: I thought it was another good day for the NBCSN crew. Leigh Diffey did a good job, while Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy focused on the racing instead of trying to be clever with each other. I liked having Jon Beekhuis being stationed in the Festival Chicane at the start of the race, although all the dust that ensued clouded most of his view. Still it was a good idea.

My only complaint is that the post-race coverage was cut off so that NBCSN could show what seemed to be a long pre-race for the Southern 500 at Darlington. We heard from race-winner Takuma Sato briefly and from Scott Dixon, but they cut away to NASCAR coverage before we could hear from Alexander Rossi. I would have liked to have heard his take.

But overall, it was another solid effort from the group that will carry every IndyCar race next season.

Whatcha’ Cookin’?: The little segment from Butterball that grew on me had their finals yesterday before the green flag. It was a showdown between Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden. The judges were the three guys in the booth instead of the pit reporters who judged the “regular season”. Leigh Diffey voted for Newgarden’s entry of a Turkey Burger with southern barbeque sauce. Paul Tracy went with Marco’s version of a European Turkey Burger with Gruyère cheese and truffle oil. Townsend Bell cast the deciding vote and went with Marco.

I’m sure the fact that he drives for the team that is sponsored by Butterball was completely coincidental.

But it was a good segment, partly because it was so bad. It was straightforward without getting gimmicky. It also allowed us to see a little bit in the driver’s personal lives and who they are away from the track. Best of all – it was a way to get a sponsor involved in other ways than writing a check for space on a car.

For winning, Butterball gave $25,000 to the charity of the winner’s choice. Marco directed his winnings to the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation – hopefully to benefit Robert Wickens, who was transferred to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis this past week.

Firestone Commercial: It’s been airing for almost two seasons now, and I’ve yet to comment on it – although every time it runs, it makes me cringe a little bit.

Does it bother anyone else when Firestone runs the ad when the voiceover names some of the iconic drivers that have won the Indianapolis 500 on Firestone tires? The dramatic narrator says “…names like Harroun, Shaw, Foyt, Andretti and Rossi have all won on Firestone tires”. Rossi?

I have grown to be an Alexander Rossi fan and think he is quickly becoming a great driver. But he has not even completed his third year of competition in this series, and when the commercial came out – he had just completed his rookie season.

As much as I admire what he has done since he first showed up on the scene as a reluctant IndyCar driver, I think Alexander Rossi needs to prove himself over time before he is mentioned in the same breath with those other names. But that’s just me…

Dust to Dust: I guess I’m guilty of buying into stereotypes. I recall watching races from Portland in June, which Townsend Bell yesterday described as the rainy season. Being as close as Portland is to Seattle, I assumed that the rainy season ran twelve months a year in Portland.

Come to find out, there is a dry season around Labor Day. Who knew? The dust that flew up during the first lap accident and that we saw every time a wheel dropped off, was reminiscent of the dust bowl conditions we are used to seeing at Sonoma every year.

It will be two races in a row that we will be watching races with brown dust being an issue. From what I recall, Laguna Seca has the same issue as Sonoma – so it will be an end-of-season issue for years to come. I’m not sure if it affects anything, but I sure was thirsty watching yesterday’s race.

Rocky Dixon: Recently, I’ve seen Scott Dixon continue to keep fighting when most would give up. I have more than once thought back to the original Rocky movie. I thought about it again yesterday.

Do you remember the scene in championship fight when Apollo Creed had just administered a beating to Rocky, who was lying on the canvas. Rocky had barely beaten the referee’s count, when he stood there with a bloodied face and almost falling over – motioning for Creed to come on so they could continue their battle. Creed just looked at him in disbelief, wondering what it was going to take to keep this guy down.

Yesterday, I am sure that Alexander Rossi had to think the same thing to himself about Scott Dixon.

Pointed Comments: Graham Rahal did not hold back in his criticism of Race Control yesterday, after watching the replay of Zach Veach and the opening lap accident that put Rahal out of the race. He complained that the officials did nothing to Veach and that was typical of Race Control not penalizing anyone this year.

In other pro sports, coaches and athletes are fined for criticizing the officials to the media. I have an idea that Rahal may at least get a good talking to after calling them out on national television.

Drive of the Day: Unlike some races, there were many good drives to choose from in yesterday’s race. Tony Kanaan finished eleventh after starting twenty-fourth. He didn’t get much air time, but every time I saw him on track, he was the aggressor passing someone. Spencer Pigot continued his resurgence with a fourth place finish, after starting seventeenth. He was one of the few people to pass Scott Dixon all day. Charlie Kimball had another impressive run, after starting twenty-fifth and finishing seventh.

But after overcoming the opening lap melee and a drive-through penalty, Scott Dixon finishing fifth is nothing short of miraculous and worth of the Drive of the Day.

All in All: The Verizon IndyCar Series seemed to be a rousing success, both on the track and at the turnstile. After an eleven year absence, IndyCar fans in the Pacific Northwest were finally able to see a race in person without traveling a great distance. The fans did their part by showing up, and the series and drivers did their part by putting on a good show.

I’ll admit, it was tempting to be outdoors and enjoy the waning days of summer and relying on the DVR to show us the race in the late afternoon. But we came inside just in time to watch the pre-race show and the race live. I’m glad we did.

This was the last IndyCar race that we will watch live on television this season. Susan and I are flying to Sonoma and will be at the track on Friday – maybe not in time for the first practice, but definitely for Practice Two on Friday afternoon. For once, I’m looking forward to watching the race at Sonoma. When we booked the trip, we had no idea this would be IndyCar’s swan song at the track. But the championship battle has shaped up nicely for us to witness in person. We can’t wait.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Portland”

  1. Dixon had the best drive yesterday but Bourdais’ team was the team of the weekend. Getting to qualifying was a miracle then a podium yesterday after the first lap issue was cool to watch.

  2. Don’t look for any relief from dust at Laguna Seca. Laguna Seca translates to “dry lake bed”.

    Graham Rahal’s criticism of Race Control was spot on.

    If IndyCar drivers are supposedly some of the best in the world, why is it that they can’t seem to get through the opening lap of a race without crashing or causing a crash?

    I can’t think of a IndyCar fan, blogger, writer such as Robin Miller, team owner, or driver who does not think double points, particularly for the series finale is stupid. I think that is accurate, so why then does IndyCar management-especially Jay Frye- keep double points?

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    RACER.com article – From Alexander Rossi.

    “While disappointed with how his afternoon played out, Rossi said that he accepts the potential for a caution to turn a race upside down as part of IndyCar racing.

    ‘There’s been a debate that goes back and forth seemingly a couple times a year,’ he said.

    ‘It’s just the way it is. It’s part of the rules. We all understand the rules. You understand the risks of going long, the potential benefits coming in early. That’s just part of what it is.’

    Rossi lost three points to championship leader Dixon in Portland, and goes into Sonoma 29 points in arrears.”

  4. Gurney Eagle Says:

    “Points As They Run” is a blot on an otherwise stellar production. We don’t need to see it every single time someone gets passed, especially when double points makes it meaningless until Sonoma.

  5. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    It is Mark Miles that unfortunately insists on having double points for Indy and the last race of the year. On another front…I have no problem with having Rossi’s name listed with Indy 500 greats, he did win the iconic 100th running similar to Ray Harrou winning the first.

  6. Dixon is not human, that is all there is to it! Andretti must be tired of flipping over, I think that was his 4th time on his lid. A great race and I loved the scenery there.

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