Steady progress is being made to prepare and upgrade Portland International Raceway for IndyCar’s return to the Northwest road course on Labor Day weekend.
Promoted by the same Green Savoree outfit behind multiple IndyCar events each season, efforts to revive open-wheel racing interest in Oregon and its surrounding states will follow a similar blueprint employed at other Green Savoree venues.
“Overall the work with them is going great,” PIR track manager EC Mueller told RACER. “It’s good to work with an organization that is currently already doing the temporary circuits at St. Pete and Toronto, and then they have their permanent circuit in Mid-Ohio. They know how to put on a great show and bring the awareness to the cities they’re in, and that’s picking up momentum.”
With a visit by the former American Le Mans Series late in the 2000s serving as PIR’s last major professional event, Mueller says Green Savoree will draw from its street circuit knowledge to build out the track’s needs for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“I think we would be considered somewhat of a hybrid facility,” he added. “We’re a permanent race circuit, but we certainly don’t have the buildings and infrastructure of a Mid-Ohio, so we’re partially going to need to be built like a temporary circuit. Much like the temporary buildings for media centers and things like that.
“That’s all stuff that still in the planning phases, but as far as the track itself goes, it’s a great collaboration with [circuit specialist] Tony Cotman and his group, the guys from all three tracks that Green Savoree works with, to help us get some of the layout stuff done.”
Through Cotman’s involvement, PIR is undergoing the necessary safety upgrades needed to host an IndyCar event.
“We’ll be raising some fencing on the straightaway and doing some work around the racetrack,” Mueller said. “Since the track last ran a race like this, the FIA has raised the fences about 2 feet, so there’s new standards for that. Down the left-front side of the straightaway, we’ll need to raise that fence a bit for spectator safety.”
PIR is also taking a page from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s use of infield spectator mounds to offer viewing and seating options as fans tour the city-owned venue.
“The seating part’s changed a lot because there’s not the same amount of grandstands there were all those years ago,” Mueller continued. “All those grandstands were taken out a very long time ago, so Green Savoree’s working on a plan that will incorporate the existing seating, but also add some new opportunities as well.
“You go to any of the tracks now, a lot of the tracks all around the country, road racing included, are taking out stands because people aren’t interested in having their butt in a seat for a full day anymore. They want to get out and about, so there’s going to be more platforms, more suite-type things where you can walk around and watch the race and then go sit.
“We’ll take advantage of the fact that that’s what road racing is all about is being able to see the cars in different corners as well as the fact we are in a city park. The track is owned by the City of Portland. We do not receive any tax monies. We’re 100 percent self-sustaining, but it is owned by the City of Portland as part of the Parks and Recreations Department.”
As PIR prepares to go live with ticket sales for the IndyCar event in the coming weeks, Mueller is confident the race will have a solid turnout after open-wheel’s long absence from the region.
“Well, we see a tremendous amount of indications of the buzz, had literally dozens and dozens of calls right after the press conference in October, and again in November, and now they’re coming back with the season underway,” he said. “And tickets are not on sale yet, but we already have an indication of great interest.
“Through Green Savoree’s Portland-based group, we’ve got a couple fielding a tremendous amount of inquiries, everything from motorhomes to vendors to every kind of hospitality you can think of to go with the fans who want to come out and see IndyCar back at a track where it honestly belongs.”