With getting home Monday afternoon and leaving at 5 a.m. on Thursday for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and the showdown for the NTT IndyCar Series crown, it’s a short week so let’s keep this one brief, starting with:
If you stayed awake for the first 83 laps of the Portland Grand Prix, what followed after the restart through the blast to the checkered flag on lap 110 brought some life to a race that was surprisingly well-behaved.
Full credit needs to be given to the IndyCar drivers during the winter meetings who proposed moving the start of the Portland Grand Prix to the start of the long straight.
Once in Portland, the concept had changed to having the start take place later — closer to Turn 1 — to have the herd arrive at a lower rate of speed, but that’s when a reminder of the original idea from last December was made. The series duly nixed the late start and locked in the early green flag, which worked to perfection.
Minus the kerblammos, the ensuing race wasn’t overly entertaining, with the exception of Scott Dixon saving his season with a drive from 16th to third, but that’s OK.
Like NASCAR, F1, IMSA, and most other racing series, IndyCar produces a few snoozers every season. And while the orderly race came as a surprise at Portland, I always try to remind myself that a straightforward race is our equivalent of a low-scoring basketball or football game, which doesn’t mean something or someone failed. It just wasn’t particularly memorable.
Friend of the paddock Brett ‘Crusher’ Murray was in attendance last weekend as the Australian racing executive and co-entrant of Matthew Brabham’s 2016 Indy 500 effort with KV Racing stopped on the way to celebrating his wife’s birthday with a trip to Iceland.
Crusher, in classic form, was fighting back tears after Sunday’s race was over. Directly responsible for promoting or growing the careers of Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Scott McLaughlin, the podium was a celebration and affirmation of his influence on the sport outside of his beloved Australian Supercars series.
“I’ve seen and done a lot of things in this sport, and this is one of the best days of my life,” he told me later in the afternoon.
Although IndyCar has had a podium in the past — Texas 2011 — with all Aussies and Kiwis, with two Aussies in Power and Ryan Briscoe, and Dixon representing New Zealand, it’s believed Portland produced the first IndyCar podium with two Kiwis in Dixon and McLaughlin and an Aussie. No wonder Crusher was a puddle of emotions…
LESSONS FROM PATO
A large group of diehard Pato O’Ward fans were camped in front of the Arrow McLaren SP transporters throughout the weekend and took every opportunity to chant their hero’s name whenever he appeared. Hell, they were even chanting when he wasn’t there, and as team president Taylor Kiel told me, Pato’s fans got to know some of the crew members and chanted for them when they appeared from under the tent.
I’ve heard the same chants for Pato at other races — from the Indy 500 to the Long Beach Grand Prix — and it makes be both happy and sad. It’s amazing to see how heavily O’Ward has connected with his fans, many of whom are from or have roots in his native Mexico.
But moreover, it makes me wonder why the rest of the field, especially our red-white-and-blue drivers like Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, and Alexander Rossi, never hear their names being chanted by flag-waving Americans. Are we too cool? Too disinterested? All three are more successful than O’Ward, so it has nothing to do with a lack of results.
Run down the list of IndyCar’s best, and beyond Pato, the adoring crowds are nowhere to be found. Granted, if there’s a transplanted or visiting Aussie or Kiwi, their drivers and the paddock will know it, but that’s a rare exception. Palou is invisible. VeeKay sees almost no orange in the grandstands. Maybe O’Ward can help them — and the series — to crack the code on how to stoke outward passion within a fanbase.
So cool to see this take off yesterday. Lessons to be learned. pic.twitter.com/b3TvpZQwcP
— Marshall Pruett (@marshallpruett) September 5, 2022
* I ran into former Road To Indy front-runner Scott Hargrove on Friday. He’s started a large karting team with a couple of fellow former RTI drivers from Canada and hopes to grow that program into something bigger while pursuing drives in IMSA. Had things worked out differently for Hargrove on the financial side, I have no doubt he’d have some IndyCar wins and serve as western Canada’s next open-wheel star.
* Sticking with Canadian talent, I spent some time getting to know young Mac Clark, winner of the second USF2000 race of the weekend, who made the jump from the new USF Juniors series with DEForce Racing. The 17-year-old has some powerful advisors behind him, with James Hinchcliffe, Toni Calderon, and David Martinez doing their best to move the 18-year-old from Toronto up to USF2000 full-time next season.
* Starting and finishing 13th was a welcome outcome for Kyle Kirkwood. It marked his best result since placing 10th at Round 3 in Long Beach.
* Similar nod for Callum Ilott, who also produced his second-best result of the year after starting 14th and coming home ninth.
* It was another nightmare race for Romain Grosjean, who started 15th, fell back on the opening lap when he tried an outside pass and was nerfed onto the grass, was penalized on lap 31 for shortcutting the Turn 1 chicane and ordered to surrender a position, was penalized on lap 97 for shortcutting the Turn 1 chicane and ordered to surrender a position, and finished a distant 19th.
* Related note, minus the penalties and off-track excursion, for Conor Daly, whose car caught on fire before frying through the hydraulic line actuating the clutch. With Ryan Hunter-Reay’s departure from the series at the end of 2021, I’m convinced the Cartoon Anvil has chosen Daly as its favorite new target.
* Bumped into Tim Neff, owner of the TJ Speed Road To Indy team who I worked with decades ago in IndyCar as his assistant engineer, who says he has some good prospects for the team to return next year. He ran Kyffin Simpson and James Roe in Indy Lights through July.
* Jimmie Johnson launched his new photo-centric book ‘One More Lap’ at Portland. It’s nothing short of stunning. My favorite part of his weekend came with the promotion of Athena Racing, “a STEM education program for young women who are exploring careers in automotive, motorsports and transportation industries,” which was featured on the back of his car.
* Finally, it was great to see Michael McKinney and his family at the Portland race. McKinney’s shop in eastern Oregon is home to a number of amazing vintage Indy cars, including a legendary Vollstedt, one of the bizarre Antares models (below), and an important Coyote chassis from A.J. Foyt’s stable that’s currently being restored.