Takuma Sato went to victory lane in Sunday's Grand Prix of Portland, but Scott Dixon felt like a winner, too. Alexander Rossi had mixed feelings.
Dixon salvaged what could have been a disastrous points day relative to the Verizon IndyCar Series championship by finishing fifth. Rossi had bad luck of a different kind but managed to scramble back to finish eighth, losing just three points to Dixon, the leader in the season standings.
One double-points race remains: the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16. Dixon and Rossi are the primary contenders for the championship, separated by 29 points. Team Penske's Will Power and Josef Newgarden lurk in mathematical contention, with each driver 87 points behind Dixon.
Dixon was among those collected in a first-lap crash in Turn 3, but somehow avoided serious damage to his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in the incident precipitated by the spin of James Hinchcliffe after contact with Zach Veach. That led to Marco Andretti's car flipping over the top of the cars of Hinchcliffe and Ed Jones. No one was injured and Dixon's car emerged relatively unscathed. Dusty, but unscathed.
After making a pit stop to check for car damage under the full-course caution from the incident, Dixon used a two-stop strategy and fortunate timing with mid-race cautions to get a little more points breathing room for Sonoma. The only thing that went wrong for him was a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 39, but he overcame the drive-through penalty for that as well.
"It was a huge day for the team, and (it) feels like a win for us," Dixon said. "The point (separation), whatever it is, is not a huge amount."
Dixon couldn't explain how his car wasn't damaged in the five-car pileup.
"I couldn't see anything once I got off in the dirt," he said. "There was just dust everywhere. Then I kept getting hit and hit (by flying debris) and I thought, 'Oh, this isn't going to be good.' Luckily, we were able to keep the PNC Bank car running, back up from the incident and continue.
"What a crazy day."
Dixon's clearest path to a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship is to finish first or second at Sonoma Raceway, where the winner earns 100 points and second place pays 80.
Rossi, who went with the expected three-stop fuel strategy Sunday, led a race-high 32 laps in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda but ended up on the wrong side of the caution flags.
"It's one of those days; we had a fast car," Rossi said. "Our tire strategy was going to plan and everything was good until the yellow came on Lap 56 (when Andretti Autosport teammate Veach spun off course). It hurts a lot and hopefully it's not something that costs us the championship.
"We just have to rebound and move on from it and know that it's something that's out of our control. Now it's time to refocus and be ready to attack (at) Sonoma."
The road for a Team Penske driver to win the series championship for a third straight year became more difficult. Power endured a host of trouble in the 105-lap race and finished 21st, while Newgarden settled for 10th place.
Power was the Verizon P1 Award pole winner on Saturday and led the first seven laps before suddenly losing pace due to a gearbox issue in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. His day also included sliding into the Turn 12 tire barrier and a pit-road speeding penalty. Eventually, the gearbox failed.
"Man, it's a tough sport," the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner said.
Sato, in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda, held off Ryan Hunter-Reay for his third career victory and first since the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Sato is the eighth different driver to win a Verizon IndyCar Series race this season.
The margin of victory for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver was 0.6084 of a second over Hunter-Reay, with Sebastien Bourdais third.
"Look at the fans here in Portland, so enthusiastic," said Sato, who started from the 20th position. "I think this is one of the most beautiful days in my life again."
Timing of the full-course cautions allowed Sato and others to benefit. With Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball placing sixth and seventh, respectively, three of the top seven finishers started 20th or lower in the 25-car field.
The race marked the return of Indy car racing to the Pacific Northwest for the first time since 2007. The community's welcome was impressive with a large crowd lining the 12-turn, 1.964-mile permanent road course.
The 2018 season finale, the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, airs live at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 16 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Mazda Road to Indy race recap
The Mazda Road to Indy development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR completed its 2018 in all three levels with doubleheader weekends at Portland. The second race in each series took place Sunday.
Patricio O'Ward (Andretti Autosport) capped a dominating Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season weekend the season by adding Sunday's race win to the one he secured Saturday. He finished with nine victories for the season and a 44-point margin over teammate Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) in the final standings. The start of this race saw a six-wide approach to Turn 1, with pole winner Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport) absorbing race-ending damage from contact with other cars. Aaron Telitz (Belardi Auto Racing) finished second.
David Malukas (BN Racing) won his third race of the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires season. He finished 3.5 seconds ahead of series champion Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing).
Kyle Kirkwood, who wrapped up the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship a month ago for Cape Motorsports, tied JR Hildebrand's 12-year-old record for series race wins in a season (12) by completing a Portland sweep. He held off Rasmus Lindh (Pabst Racing) by 1.98 seconds.
Grand Prix of Portland Driver Quotes:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was a tough day. I don't know what else to say. We led some laps and I think we had a Verizon Chevrolet that was good enough to win it. It just didn't fall our way. You can't predict these INDYCAR races. I wish we could get Lady Luck on our side one of these days. It just seems to walk away from us as of late. (Scott) Dixon - he was able to take advantage of it today. Those guys are having a great year and luck falls on their side. Now, we will just go and try and win the season finale and do what we can. I don't think we have much of a shot at the championship. We've given it a good effort here at Team Penske and you can't ask much more out of the team."
MATHEUS "MATT" LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "Another tough race for the ABC Supply car. Today, the first two stints were pretty good for us. I think we had the pace since the beginning and I think we could have finished in the top 10 for the first time this season, but the yellow came out at the wrong time for us, so we had to change strategy. It kind of screwed us a little bit. I think the most important thing is that we managed to develop and improve our road course car and I'm looking forward to Sonoma now. I think we did a great job here as a team. Each time we are on the track, we are just getting closer to the other teams, getting a little bit faster. We just have to keep working hard and I think our time is going to come sooner than we thought. Good job for Tony (Kanaan), too. I think we still need to find some pace, but we are going to get there eventually."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): "Obviously a pretty disappointing day after a promising start. It was a kind of classic first lap deal - Zach (Veach) didn't leave me enough room on the inside of Turn 3 there and we got forced on to a pretty big curb. It kicked the car sideways and I'm obviously sorry for the chain reaction it set off and ruined a lot of guys days. Ultimately that's racing. That's not what we want and I'm glad everyone's OK. Tough break for the crew, the Arrow Electronics car was really good on Saturday and I think we were going to have good pace in the race, but these things happen. We'll put our heads down, regroup and try to end the season strong in Sonoma."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): "Great to finish the weekend without any mistakes, bringing home the Lucas Oil car in one piece. I think we deserved to finish a little more in the front. The yellow in the middle of the race when we had blacks (Firestone primary tires) didn't help us a lot. The restart also didn't help us... I was on blacks, everyone else was on reds (Firestone alternate tires). During the race, our car was great - we had the fastest lap time of the race. I obviously wanted more, but we'll see how it goes in Sonoma. Hopefully, we'll be even better."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It was a huge day for the team today and feels like a win for us. The points, whatever it is, is not a huge amount. I couldn't see anything once I got off in the dirt at the start, it was just dust everywhere. Then I kept getting hit and hit and thought, 'Oh, this isn't going to be good.' Luckily, we were able to keep the PNC Bank car running, back up from the incident and continue. What a crazy day."
ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It looked like (Zach) Veach and (James) Hinchcliffe were side-by-side going into Turn 2 and Veach just turned right into him like he wasn't there. He didn't give any room and it caused a huge shunt. I'm OK, but really disappointed for the NTT DATA car. I had someone fly over my head and they maybe even nicked my helmet. I'm just glad Marco Andretti was OK and no one got hurt in all that. We had a strong car yesterday and hoped we could have been up there in the race today."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "I think on the warm-up lap before the green, something happened to the gearbox. It jumped to neutral, I went into emergency mode and made it go into gear and thought, 'OK, that's all right.' Then, coming out of the hairpin on the first restart, it popped into neutral again and everyone behind me went past. Then, I realized I couldn't use first gear. We were on a reasonable strategy and I made a mistake trying to keep (Matheus) Leist behind me. Then, the gearbox completely went. I'm not sure the gearbox would have made it the whole race, anyway. But man, it's a tough sport. It's too bad because it was actually going to be a reasonable day. We were on a path for two stops, but that's racing. Now, we just go to Sonoma, have fun and win. And hopefully, have a good day, have a good finish to the year."
TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "Some good points today in Portland. Apparently, we had (an air) gun issue during our pit stops that cost us time on the last two stops. I don't think we had the pace that guys in front of us had, but we managed to make some good passes, save fuel whenever we had to save fuel and almost got a top 10. After starting at the back of the pack, we'll take it."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): "I couldn't see anything in front of me. Obviously, I'm disappointed for One Cure. We were hoping for a strong day. I don't know what happened in front of us, but it was a cluster. I couldn't see anything and I had nowhere to go. We made it through Turn 1 and 2 and I thought 'Hey, clear sailing here' and then bam. From what I hear, it sounds like (Zach) Veach just put Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) up on the curb, which is pretty unfair. As you can see Dixie (Scott Dixon) doing behind us, you can run two-wide through there no problem. I'm disappointed. A lot of guys were driving aggressively, which is OK, but we've got to give each other room."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Gorilla Automotive Products Honda): "It's been a roller coaster ride all weekend for the No. 18 Gorilla Automotive Products - Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan team. We qualified really well after recovering from probably one of the biggest hits I have ever had on a road course. Three hours after the crash, the car is back together and I put it there near the top in qualifying. So, I start fourth, get swallowed up in the incident at the start, cycled to the back, then cycle to the front and finish third. These races are never over. I can't thank my crew enough for what they have done this weekend. Just an amazing effort from the whole team. I am super proud and thanks to Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) for putting all this together."
PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): "The race went really well. The car was very fast all throughout the weekend in practice and qualifying, so we knew we had the pace. It's a tough place to pass here, so coming into the race, we knew it was going to be about strategy and being consistent and trying to get clean air to get track position, and that's what we did. My whole No. 19 Paysafe Dale Coyne Racing crew did an amazing job on the pit stops and my engineer Mike Cannon did a great job calling the strategy. I'm really happy with the result. I had issues getting up to speed quickly on the restarts because I couldn't get the brakes hot enough, so unfortunately, I lost some positions there. I also had no more overtake at the end, so I really had to stand my ground and we did that. I'm really happy with today's result."
JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "The race got off to a really solid start. I was overtaking people, shifting shapes, really cracking on. I had made it all the way up to P3 behind Alexander Rossi and was having good fun racing with him. Then the yellow came out and turned everything around. It was really unlucky timing, as we were heading for a strong result. Fortunately, we've got Sonoma in two weeks' time, so I'm looking forward to getting back in the car."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "I'm really happy to end up fourth with the Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet team. The start was kind of crazy. From starting 17th, I found myself up to 8th after Turn 1. That was a welcome surprise. After that, we had a few good stints and were able to pick off a few guys here and there, then the yellows fell in our favor. Right from the get-go, even on blacks (Firestone primary tires), the car felt good. We had a lot of reds (Firestone alternate tires) saved up and were able to put them to good use."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): "I think it was a fantastic recovery from the whole No. 22 Menards Chevrolet team. It was phenomenal, the strategy that we adopted. We got a little bit lucky with some yellows (flags), too, but before the yellows we came to the eighth position from 22nd, so really good job by all my guys. We still have some progress to make on the car, but overall, from a tough qualifying day yesterday, we recovered really well and that's what racing is about."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): "This Carlin team just doesn't have any give up in them - they don't know the meaning of the words. I'm proud of these guys, they just stayed with it all day. They worked the fuel strategy, gave me the fuel numbers and lap times that I needed and we were able to get it with the car. We made a pretty significant change to the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet overnight and it really helped our pace throughout the race. I just can't stress how proud I am of these guys. Yesterday was pretty frustrating and disheartening, but they didn't let it slow them down today. We had great pit stops and a great strategy, so all I really had to do was drive it into the top 10."
ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda): "It was a really tough race. We made contact on the start as we made our way up to fourth and that damaged our undertray quite a bit. Because of that, we were running around with a few hundred pounds less downforce and that made the car very difficult to drive. We were trying to make up for that damage and just pushed a little too hard and made a mistake and that ended our race putting us a lap down. I'm frustrated in myself - I should've been a little more patient in what we had."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): "It's one of those days. We had a fast car. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda was really quick out front and we were able to build a seven-second gap. Our tire strategy was going to plan and everything was good until the yellow (flag) came on Lap 56. It hurts a lot, and hopefully, it's not something that costs us the championship. We just have to rebound and move on from it and know that it's something that's out of our control. Now, it's time to refocus and be ready to attack for Sonoma."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "We gave that one away. The DHL car was the car to beat today. We had the right fuel, but we had some miscommunication on pit lane. I was saving fuel as Takuma (Sato) came out of the pit lane and so I didn't attack. That miscommunication probably cost us the race. I'm pretty bummed right now. I know we had a car to win and all day long. I tried really hard to save that fuel and made the fuel mileage the stand was requesting, but couldn't pay off for it in the end."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): "This is big. Fantastic weekend. Obviously, with the couple of hard, physical weekends, especially at St. Louis (Gateway), we did save fuel and it didn't work, but you have to keep on going and this time I think the fuel strategy worked really well. Most importantly, the No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic car had pace so I could commit. Looking at the fans here in Portland, so enthusiastic, I think this is one of the most beautiful days in my life again."
ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): "The main goal was to finish and we completed that today. We had a good strategy going into the race. In the beginning, I battled some issues with my radio, but I was able to fix it. I think I was also pushed out wide a couple of times, so we lost some positions there. Overall, I am happy with finishing on the lead lap. I want to thank the Juncos Racing crew for all of their hard work and my family and friends for being here to support me."
SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 39 Cly-Del Honda): "The No. 39 Cly-Del Manufacturing car was on rails today. We lost a couple of positions at the start because I had to shortcut the chicane, but we made the positions back on the first stint of red (flag conditions). We had a long stint and had really good pace. On my third stint, we went back out on reds (Firestone alternate tires) and we moved up the field again and were fighting for a spot in the top five. However, that's when we had a fuel system issue that cost us a possible top-10 finish, if not better. I feel bad for the guys, but they did an amazing job throughout the whole weekend and I can't ask for more. We'll come back stronger in Sonoma."
MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): "All in all, it was a really enjoyable day. We were racing hard and we were racing good guys. We had a great start at the green flag, great restarts and we led that last restart well. We were able to keep Josef (Newgarden) and (Alexander) Rossi behind us when they didn't need to be fuel saving, so we had the pace. Strategy went our way at times, but when it really counted, it just went completely against us. We were on for a top-seven finish all day and we weren't up there just by luck. Unfortunately, with how the strategy worked out and how the yellows fell, it just wasn't in the cards for us, but that's racing."
JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM MSR with SPM Honda): "The beginning of the race went really well and we cycled out well after that first restart. Unfortunately, after that, we caught every yellow at the wrong moment. This weekend we made so much good progress, it's a bit disappointing how the race played out. During the first stage of the race, we were legitimately running top six and holding it, but then the end result ends up not showing it. Hopefully, we can take a few days to reset and take the positives from this weekend and bring them to Sonoma."
GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): "We had a clean race through the start and I managed to pick up a bunch of positions, running inside the top 10 for a good part of the day. We struggled a bit on the black (Firestone primary) tires, so we lost a few positions on track when we were running our stint. We still managed to be in a good contention for a top-10 finish. On the last restart, I had a good run on TK (Tony Kanaan), he just didn't give me any room and I ended up in the grass while trying to defend the next position. After that, I had to give up that position, as well. We have been improving the car all weekend and all year, so although 13th is not fantastic, it shows progression, which is good."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 MilitaryToMotosports.com / Curb Honda): "I'm really lucky that when (I was upside down), nobody else hit me. That would've been bad, but it looked like the seas were about to part for me. As soon as I backed off for Hinch's (James Hinchcliffe) spin, I think Graham (Rahal) got into the back of me - at least that's what he and I discussed. (Rahal) didn't see Hinch spin and I did, so when I backed off, he got into me. I almost thought we were going to make it through Portland Turn 1 - which we did. It was Turn 2 that got us, though."
Grand Prix of Portland race results
Results Sunday of the Grand Prix of Portland Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.964-mile Portland International Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (20) Takuma Sato, Honda, 105, Running
2. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 105, Running
3. (4) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 105, Running
4. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 105, Running
5. (11) Scott Dixon, Honda, 105, Running
6. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 105, Running
7. (25) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 105, Running
8. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 105, Running
9. (16) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 105, Running
10. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 105, Running
11. (24) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 105, Running
12. (14) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 105, Running
13. (21) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 105, Running
14. (19) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 105, Running
15. (12) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 105, Running
16. (13) Jack Harvey, Honda, 105, Running
17. (23) Alfonso Celis Jr, Chevrolet, 105, Running
18. (15) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 105, Running
19. (6) Zach Veach, Honda, 104, Running
20. (18) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 101, Running
21. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 98, Running
22. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 76, Running
23. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 4, Contact
24. (8) Ed Jones, Honda, 0, Contact
25. (9) Marco Andretti, Honda, 0, Contact
Winner's average speed: 102.971 mph
Time of Race: 2:00:09.7537
Margin of victory: 0.6084 of a second
Cautions: 4 for 18 laps
Lead changes: 9 among 6 drivers
Power, Will 1 - 7
Rossi, Alexander 8 - 27
Hunter-Reay, Ryan 28 - 32
Power, Will 33 - 36
Rossi, Alexander 37 - 48
Newgarden, Josef 49 - 56
Hunter-Reay, Ryan 57 - 70
Sato, Takuma 71 - 74
Chilton, Max 75 - 84
Sato, Takuma 85 - 105
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 598, Rossi 569, Newgarden 511, Power 511, Hunter-Reay 462, Pagenaud 428, Wickens 391, Rahal 378, Bourdais 369, Hinchcliffe 361.