Saturday, April 1, 2023

BARNES: Five Takeaways from the Grand Prix of Portland

The start of the 2022 Grand Prix of Portland
It was an unusually clean start as everyone made it through the notorious Turn 1 without incident at Portland International Raceway. Image courtesy of James Black / Penske Entertainment

The Grand Prix of Portland is officially in the books and the penultimate round of the 2022 season for the NTT IndyCar Series reduced the championship contenders to five leaving Portland International Raceway.

Without further delay, let’s get into it.

1. McLaughlin Mastery

It was a weekend that saw Scott McLaughlin put his stamp of authority on the 1.964-mile, 12-turn road course. After starting on pole, he led 104 of 110 laps, managed a comfortable gap to the field and was undeterred on a restart with 22 to go en route to coasting to the win. The result was the most commanding of the New Zealander’s three victories this year, all of which have come from pole. Even more, it kept the second-year driver in the hunt for the title heading into the last round at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but also put him at the front of everyone’s mind when looking at a possible championship favorite for 2023.

2. The Iceman Cometh

On a day that was relatively straightforward, Scott Dixon made it eventful with a drive from 16th to the final step of the podium. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion took advantage of the aforementioned restart on Lap 88 to climb from sixth to third. It was another stirring performance for IndyCar’s coldest assassin, who sits third in the championship standings (tied for second with Josef Newgarden, who holds the tiebreaker with more wins), 20 points behind leader Will Power, heading into the 17th and last round of the 2022 season.

3. Power Play

Speaking of Will Power, it was another calm and smooth showing that delivered a runner-up result. The finish was the Aussie’s eighth podium of the season through 16 races, which helped extend the gap to 20 points over Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden.

With only one win on the year, the mark of consistency has Power in a prime spot to earn his second-ever Astor Cup and first since 2014.

4. Palou’s Perseverance Falls Short

An admirable battle by reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou, who saw his quest to repeat come to an end in Portland. The Spaniard showed incredible mental toughness to keep focus on the championship despite all of the off-track distractions, but a lowly 12th-place finish this past weekend officially eliminated him from contention. It was a demoralizing outcome for Palou, who was hovering around the top five through the opening portion of the race. However, after pitting on Lap 44, he lost valuable track position and was never able to recover. Palou will undoubtedly look to play spoiler next weekend and score his first win of the year in the season finale, which could also be his last race for Chip Ganassi Racing.

5. Port-Bland

It almost seemed like if there isn’t chaos in Turn 1 there really isn’t much to the on-track action in Portland. For the first time since North America’s premier open-wheel championship returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2018, the field managed to make it through the opening corner without incident. It was refreshing to see everyone make a clean start, but it became obvious that, in a series that is already incredibly tough to pass, the flat road course provided little in the form of passing.

The statistics back the thought as there were only 149 total passes, with 121 of those for position for the 25 entries. Until Rinus VeeKay put Jimmie Johnson in the wall on Lap 84, it was a strung out field and a runaway race for McLaughlin.

Turn 1 carnage shouldn’t be the claim to fame for a track, and it also shouldn’t be the only reason for a race to become compelling. Hopefully, there some changes for when IndyCar returns in 2023.

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