Turn 1 of the Portland Grand Prix could decide the IndyCar championship

  • Arguably the layout at Portland International Raceway has the most treacherous and potentially championship-altering twist in IndyCar.
  • Someone not even in contention for the championship could suddenly eliminate one, two or even more of the title contenders on Sunday by making a wrong move heading into Turn 1.
  • Whoever successfully drives that first right-hander after the opening green flag could become this year’s IndyCar champion.

    Sure, there are still two full races to go, but don’t be surprised if the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship is possibly decided on the first lap of Sunday’s Portland Grand Prix.

    Heck, forget about the first turn, let’s just talk about the first turn! (Well, to be precise, Turns 1, 2 and through the chicane to Turn 3, all a brief exhaustion of each other). But for all intents and purposes, the three turns are essentially just one turn, Turn 1, transformed on steroids.

    Arguably the layout at Portland International Raceway has the most treacherous, potentially championship-altering twist, not just in IndyCar, but in virtually any form of motorsports. Sure, you can say what you want about crazy F1 corners or NASCAR corners at places like Sonoma or Watkins Glen.

    You do not believe me? I will give you an example.

    No wait, delete that, I’ll give you not one, not two, but THREE examples.

    Let’s first take a look at the 2018 race in Portland. Once again, it was the penultimate race of the season. Will Power was on pole and his Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden was right next to him.

    Sounds familiar? That’s where we are today, heading into this weekend, with Power sitting at the top of the points standings and Newgarden just three points behind.

    And then there’s Chip Ganassi Racing, who is locked into third, fourth and fifth heading into Sunday’s race, filled by Scott Dixon, who is seeking a seventh IndyCar championship this season (just 14 points behind Power), winner of the Indianapolis 500. Marcus Ericsson (17 points behind Power) and defending series champion Alex Palou (43 points behind Power).

    Example #1: Now, I want you to watch the following YouTube video from the 2018 race in Portland, and fast forward to 30:45. That’s all I have to say: let your eyes tell the rest of the story.

    This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may find more information on their website.

    That’s not the first time we’ve seen a calamity in a place known as Calamity Corner.

    Example #2: Let’s jump to a year later in 2019: same time and place of the bat, same channel of the bat (for those of you old enough to remember one of the main catchphrases of the old series of Batman television), heading for Turn 1 on the green flag lap. Once again, watch the YouTube video and fast forward to 33:50.

    This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may find more information on their website.

    There was no race in Portland in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but when the series returned to Rose City in 2021, do you want to guess what happened on the first lap of the first lap?

    Example #3: Click on another YouTube video and fast-forward to 26 seconds at:

    This content is imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may find more information on their website.

    Now, come on, are you going to try to tell me there’s not going to be chaos again this year, particularly with how tight the points are?

    At the same time, all five drivers (well, maybe not so much Palou, as he still has a lot of ground to make up to try to defend last year’s title) will have to protect not only their place on the track, but also their place in the classification.

    A serious mistake heading into Turn 1 and, what the heck, even the two guys still mathematically in the championship hunt: sixth-placed Scott McLaughlin (54 points behind teammate Power) and Pato O’Ward, seventh qualifier (58 points back)—could suddenly jump past the five guys in front of them and remain contenders heading into the season-ending, championship-deciding race next week at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

    First things first: Sunday’s race

    Regardless of how qualifying plays out on Saturday, Power, Newgarden, Dixon, Ericsson and Palou don’t have to worry so much about each other, well, yes, to a degree, but what will they have to worry about. even more about the other guys who aren’t chasing a championship, but who can qualify well and then get a little too eager heading into Turn 1 once the green flag drops.

    Just look back at the three video examples above, and you’ll see how many backmarkers or guys out of contention that were integral to some of those opening lap/first corner crashes.

    Someone not even in contention for the championship could suddenly eliminate one, two or even more of the title contenders on Sunday by making a wrong move heading into Turn 1.

    While Newgarden has never been afraid to speak his mind, he did say something after winning the last race two weeks ago at Gateway, beating teammate McLaughlin to capture the checkered flag, which probably all five (well, seven) remaining championship contenders could tell about their strategy heading into Sunday’s race.

    And more precisely, curve 1.

    When asked how he plans to compete in the future, particularly fighting not only the CGR guys (who could theoretically say the same thing about their own team against Team Penske as Newgarden claims), but also his own teammate, Newgarden was shy and strategic. at the same time with the answer from him:

    “Hard to say. I think we’re going to race like we always do. It’s as simple as that. We race all year, we race hard. It’s not going to be the first time Will and I have raced together. We’ve had many, many races that They’ve been in unison, 1-2, pit strategy, everything. We’ll just fight as usual.

    “Clearly we don’t want to do something that endangers the whole group because it’s bigger than us. At the end of the day we still have three cars in contention. There is nothing more important than putting a Team Penske car in victory lane.

    “As much as I want to be (me), believe me, I want to, I will work to be that person, we also have to make sure we remember that it is about all of us and all the effort we put in. We have to make sure that one car secures the championship.

    “It’s just a balance. We’re just going to run like we always do. Let’s hope it doesn’t get ugly at some point.”

    And “ugly” best describes curve 1 in PIR.

    Anyone who successfully navigates that first right-hander following the opening green flag, without getting caught up in someone’s exuberance for trying to get to the front too early, will potentially become this year’s IndyCar champion.

    To follow autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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