Takuma Sato scored a popular win at Portland as Scott Dixon miraculously extended his championship lead in an astonishing race.
Portland has been off the schedule for 11 years and after this race I’m struggling to see why. The track is a natural road course that’s fast with a few great passing places. Most importantly, the whole weekend had a massive turnout, which showed that you can have people show up on Labor Day weekend by having a huge party at the racetrack! Why not?
Earlier in the week it was announced that Carlos Munoz would replace Rob Wickens for the final two races, as Wicky Bobby continues to recover from his horrendous accident at Pocono a fortnight ago. Also, F2 naughty schoolboy would show up in a third car for Dale Coyne.
In final practice, Sebastien Bourdais crashed and destroyed the rear of the car. Amazingly the Dale Coyne crew fixed it up in time for qualifying and Seabass qualified the hastily repaired machine fourth! But Penske’s Will Power smoked everybody by three-tenths (which is years on a 1.9 mile track) to head a packed grid of 25 cars. Defending champ Josef Newgarden was alongside ahead of championship hound Alex Rossi. His teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was 5th ahead of another Andretti car, Zach Veach.
Having two teammates right behind him was important for Rossi, because his main championship rival, Scott Dixon, was only 11th. It could have been worse for the Kiwi though; 2016 champ Simon Pagenaud was down in 22nd, way off the pace of his front-row starting teammates.
It was a scorching day as the cars took the green flag. Immediately, Rossi and RHR swamped JoNew before turn 1. Then all hell broke loose.
Coming out of the Festival Chicane, James Hinchcliffe got alongside Zach Veach. The American decided to do his best Max Verstappen impression and squeeze Hinch so that he no longer had room between his car and the edge of the track. As a result, The Mayor hit the kerb on the inside and spun, collecting Seabass and Ed Jones. Marco Andretti slowed to avoid it but was hit from behind by Graham Rahal and punted into a spin of his own. Marco reversed over the top of Hinch and Jones before rolling over and landing upside down in the dirt. Trying to avoid it all was Dixon, but he got caught up the incident too and it seemed like the championship leader was out.
But he wasn’t! He kept his engine going, reversed and drove out of the mess. Not only that, but he escaped with absolutely no damage on his car! He was able to pit to check the car over and didn’t lose a lap. Seabass had front wing damage and was able to stop for repairs, but the rest involved weren’t so lucky and were out.
On the restart the order was unchanged and went Power, Rossi, RHR, JoNew and Veach. Amazingly though Power only got seven corners before first gear changed it’s mind about working and he dropped back out the top ten, leaving Rossi in the lead ahead of RHR. The first stint was undramatic and Rossi pitted on lap 28 after some blitzing laps and when RHR and JoNew stopped a few laps later, Rossi had stayed ahead.
Meanwhile there was an amazing duel for 4th between Harvey, Veach and Jordan King. When the latter two came out the pits, Harvey pulled an amazing pass on them both and the next lap King followed his compatriot passed Veach. The American was paying the price for driving like a numpty at the first corner; he was nursing a damaged floor. Both of these passes happened at the redesigned turn 7, which was made twice as wide and when Champ Car raced here and therefore made for greater passing.
Dixie had moved up to 5th by lap 39 when he pitted, rejoining back in 20th. Just to add insult to injury, he was then given a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pits! At this point it looked like Rossi would regain the points lead with his main rival at the back and him with a lead over RHR, JoNew, King, Harvey and Veach.
JoNew decided to get in on the passing action and ran down the inside of RHR into turn 1 on lap 43, just before Power decided to end his day of suffering by crashing at the last corner. Another caution.
On the restart four laps later, the order was maintained. Some cars had pitted meaning Dixie was back up 11th, but Rossi was still in the lead.
Not for long though! JoNew on the faster red tyres blitzed passed Rossi, who was on blacks, into turn 1 and pulled away. It was time to turn away from the screen for team owner Michael Andretti as his other star, RHR, was passed for second by King in the same manner.
Everything changed on lap 56, as Veach spun off causing the third yellow. JoNew, Rossi and King decided to pit and they were the only ones. This meant on the restart the order was RHR, Sato, Seabass, Dixie, Spencer Pigot with Pagenaud up to 6th. The three who’d pitted were back in 16th, 17th and 18th, having been completely screwed over by the yellow, which was ironically caused by Rossi’s teammate. With everyone now on the same strategy, they’d have to pass cars the old-fashioned way, or the best way depending on your opinion.
They started by passing Jack Harvey on the back straight with Rossi in particular taking a massive risk by placing his car next to the wall to pass the Brit. They made it through though.
On lap 72, RHR pitted and rejoined 17th. Dixie pitted 2 laps later and rejoined just behind. Then, Ferucci had a mechanical failure. The officials delayed the yellow though which meant that entire field apart from Max Chilton, Taku, RHR, Seabass and Dixie pitted. At this stage the Ganassi man was 5th and Rossi was down in 11th.
After a waved off restart they successfully tried again on lap 81 and Pigot pulled a sensational move on Dixie down the back straight. Possibly thinking of the points, the Kiwi backed off saving a potential crash. Further back Rossi took revenge on JoNew (who for some weird reason was on blacks) by passing him into turn 1. On the next lap he passed Pietro Fittipaldi in the same place, this time round the outside.
With 20 to Chilton finally pitted, giving Taku the lead. RHR tried his hardest and turned his engine up to full-chat at the end, but to no avail. Taku won for the first time on a road course ahead of RHR, with Seabass taking an amazing podium after all his problems. Pigot scored a great result in 4th after an aggressive, overtaking race. Dixie was 5th ahead of Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball for Carlin in 7th, Rossi, Fittipaldi and JoNew.
After all that carnage and mayhem Dixie incredibly extends his lead over Rossi to 29 points heading into the double-points (ugh) finale at Sonoma. Power and JoNew are equal but are over 80 points back, so are outsiders really. RHR is out of contention but all but secure in 5th. Pagenaud is 6th, Wicky Bobby is still 7th despite his absence and he also deservedly takes home Rookie of the Year. Graham, Seabass and Hinch round out the ten.
So, it comes down to the wire for the umpteenth year in a row. In two weeks the IndyCars pay their last visit to Sonoma (yes!) to decide the 2018 title. Get ready for the cliches. Will the Iceman hold his cool or will the charging Rossi overcome him in the heat of California? Or will JoNew and Willy P make all animals appear out of a hat and steal it? See you in two weeks to find out!