Only in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ crazy sprint to the season finale could Alexander Rossi fall to eighth after dominating early, championship leader Scott Dixon start 11th, survive a wild first-lap pileup, drop to last, receive a drive-through speeding penalty only to recover and finish fifth, and have Takuma Sato end up in Victory Lane after starting 20th.
Under beautiful blue skies, a big crowd watched 105 laps of hard racing where strategy gambles, gaffes, and ill-timed cautions shuffled the finishing order as Sato earned his first win since the 2017 Indy 500. And behind the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (+.6084s) and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais — another remarkable story — claimed third (+1.8266s) to give Honda a 1-2-3.
“We had a couple of hard difficult weekends,” Sato said. “The yellow obviously helped, but the car had pace. Since we failed to have a good qualifying, I had two new sets [of tires] and it worked beautifully Look at all these fans. I think this is one of the most beautiful days of my life.”
Hunter-Reay was annoyed after he switched his engine into an extreme fuel conservation map for a yellow flag — which turned out to be for a local issue, not a full-course caution — and in that map, he did not have full power to chase Sato until the mistake was caught.
“We gave that one away,” he said. “Miscommunication on pit lane. I was in Wheel [position] 8 coming out of pit lane and didn’t attack. I’m pretty bummed now. All day long I really tried to save fuel, but it didn’t pay off. Really frustrated.”
Bourdais was amazed to find himself on the podium after a decent finish appeared to be lost moments after the start. The fight for the IndyCar championship went sideways when a clash between Zach Veach and James Hinchcliffe sent the Canadian spinning across the exit of the first chicane. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver then watched as Bourdais and Ed Jones and Graham Rahal joined him in the dirt on driver’s left.
Marco Andretti flew over the back of Jones’ car and flipped as he hurdled Hinchcliffe’s car. And at the back of the giant dust cloud, championship leader Scott Dixon got lost in the melee, but was able to stop before significant damage was incurred. Andretti’s car was turned over and he, along the rest of the drivers, emerged unhurt. Dixon and Bourdais were the only fortunate drivers in the clash, and motored away to take the restart from the back of the field.
“A roller coaster ride,” Bourdais said. “Put it up top in qualifying, get swallowed up in an incident, went to the back, and then finished P3. I have to thank my crew for what they’ve done this weekend. I’m super proud of them. Never give up. You never know what will happen.”
Behind Bourdais, Spencer Pigot put in another stirring performance for Ed Carpenter Racing as he took fourth from Dixon and held on as the top Chevy driver while Dixon crossed the line in fifth. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud motored from 22nd to complete the top six.
“Really happy to end up fourth,” Pigot said. “The start was kind of crazy, and after that, we had a few good stints and was able to pick off a few guys here and there. Sixth last week, fourth this weekend. It‘s been a good couple of weeks.”
If Sato was surprised to go from 17th to first and Bourdais had a hard time believing he went from fourth to the back and then to third, Dixon was wide-eyed while processing the good fortune that fell his way.
“It was nuts, man,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said. “To have that scenario play out like it did in the fence and covered in dirt, to finish fifth was crazy. It’s a crazy race. I’ve been on either side of that one. We’ve got to stay head down and make the most of the next two weeks.”
Rossi’s race strategist Rob Edwards lamented the yellows that took his driver from leading with ease early in the race to settling for an unrepresentative eighth.
“Unfortunately for us, a couple of yellows have fallen at the wrong time,” he said. “It’s not just about being the fastest. There’s an element of luck, right? You look at Scott’s first lap, and true pro, he bounces back.”
With polesitter Will Power taking control out front when the race went back to green after the Lap 1 crashes, another championship blow followed as the Penske driver lost forward momentum coming out of Turn 7. Additional gearbox issues would force Power to stop for lengthy repairs, and with the misfortune, the Australian’s title chances decreased significantly heading into Sonoma as he was credited with 21st.
Dixon entered the Portland Grand Prix with a 26-point lead over Rossi and managed to stretch it to 29 ahead of the double-points Sonoma Raceway finale. Power and Penske teammate are tied for a distant third, 87 points behind Dixon.
There were plenty of drivers who featured at various stages of the race and went home dissatisfied.
ECR’s Jordan King ran up front but yellows and strategy relegated the rookie to 15th. Zach Veach also ran with strength — despite damage to his floor from the Hinchcliffe collision — and sank to 19th after a solo spin. DCR’s Santino Ferrucci was impressive throughout the race, but fell from fifth when his car stalled on course.
Big fan turnout on the series return to Portland, big drama throughout the race, and two weeks to go in this insane IndyCar season. If there’s one complaint to offer, it’s how the 2018 championship is ending far too soon.