IndyCar Grand Prix of Portland Preview: Title Fight Intensifies

IndyCar will take to the Portland International Raceway this weekend, as the fourteenth round of the 2021 championship gets underway.

The action will run from Saturday to Sunday with a maximum of 54 points on offer as we approach the business end of the season. The Oregon road course forms part of the first of a triple-header of races that will see out the championship including Laguna Seca, and Long Beach.

As an incredibly close-fought championship approaches its finale, there are a number of stories to discuss as well as plenty of title hopefuls who will be looking to make their mark.

Patricio O’Ward leads the driver championship with three races remaining ahead of Alex Palou. Image courtesy of James Black.

TITLE FIGHT TIGHTENS

It’s been an incredible turnaround for championship leader Patricio O’Ward who until Nashville was over 40 points behind Alex Palou in the standings but has since enjoyed a whopping 60-point swing in his favour. They now sit on 435 and  425 points respectively.

O’Ward has been in electric form after finishing in the Top Five at the Indianapolis road course before a magnificent second-place at Gateway. And there’s nothing to say this momentum will not continue going into the triple-header after showing seriously strong pace at the mid-season test at Portland topping a field of ten cars.

He has achieved five podiums this season, two of which are victories taken at Texas and  Detroit, only one podium behind Palou’s tally this year. The Spaniard has endured a horrendous run of bad luck including an engine failure and a collision that has seen the Chip Ganassi driver collect a measly ten points over the past two races.

However, they may have to look over their shoulder as another rival looks set to pounce if either one falters. Penske’s Josef Newgarden seems to have kicked off his second-half of the season charge, just as he did in 2020 where he took four podiums (two wins) in the final six races only to fall short of the title to Dixon.

The American has taken two wins since Road America and has lept up the standings sitting only 12 points behind Palou. His record at Portland leaves a lot to be desired – but Penske has shown themselves to be strong qualifiers on road courses this year so watch out for the Nashville-born racer this weekend.

Colton Herta led the race from Will Power at Gateway until a driveshaft issue forced him to retire. Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

WHO ELSE TO WATCH OUT FOR?

Our picks for this weekend go to Colton Herta and Will Power who have shown evidence of incredible pace around this track and alongside their current form, stand them in good stead this weekend.

Herta could well have won three races consecutively going into this weekend if not for an array of issues. He led most of the race at Nashville before crashing under pressure while trying to overtake Ericsson for the lead. He fell just short at the Indianapolis road course but would have a potential victory taken away at Gateway following a driveshaft issue. Meanwhile, Will Power comes off the back of two podiums, one of which is a win, and a pole position.

Importantly, this was the site of a fantastic race last year which saw Colton Herta take pole position but would end with Will Power taking the win. As both drivers head into this weekend in-form, we could be in store for an incredible rematch between the experienced champion and the rising star of the future.

Callum Ilott makes his IndyCar debut with Juncos. Having once been touted for an Alfa Romeo F1 drive he has rumoured between IndyCar and Ferrari’s WEC LMP-h program. Photo courtesy of James Black.

AN EXCITING DEBUT AMIDST A RANGE OF DRIVER CHANGES

Callum Ilott makes his IndyCar debut this weekend with the newly formed Juncos Holinger Racing team. The British Ferrari Academy prospect was runner-up in the 2020 F2 season. and has spent this season as test driver for the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team and the test and reserve driver for Alfa-Romeo F1.

The highly-rated youngster follows Christian Lundgaard as the second F2 academy driver to be given an opportunity in IndyCar as a potential option for a full-time seat in 2022.

He took part in a test with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course on Thursday 2nd September and will be looking to hit the ground running after Lundgaard’s impressive debut earlier this year.

Alongside him are a number of drivers changes including Oliver Askew who will feature for Rahal Letterman Lanigan for the remaining three races of the season.

Helio Castroneves returns to Meyer Shank Racing after missing Gateway while Ed Carpenter steps back to allow Conor Daly to pilot the no.20 Ed Carpenter Racing entry while Max Chilton takes his spot back at Carlin.

Also returning is Jimmie Johnson who replaces Tony Kanaan in the no.48 car and will remain there for the final three races.

 

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