The 1.964-mile road course just outside Portland, OR., has a beautiful flow to its corners and two long straights, but the Turn 1 right-left-right chicane at the end of the pit straight has become a hotspot for clashes over the years. Only twice since 1998 has Lap 1 been caution-free, notwithstanding that Indy cars didn’t race there from 2008-’17.
Cars are forced to brake from approximately 175mph down to 75 for the right-hand part, and continue braking for the left-hand apex, taken at 55mph before accelerating. The width of the track into Turn 1 is immensely inviting to make a pass down the inside, but of course it leaves the attacker on the outside of Turn 2 if the defending has been able to stay abreast as a result of taking the less compromised line through T1.
The problem is multiplied at the start of the race, when the field (this year, 27 cars) https://www.motorsport.com/indycar/news/what-channel-is-indycar-on-portland-start-time-tv-channel-more/6662937/ enter the T1/T2 funnel, and may be further exaggerated on this occasion by the startline moving nearer the final corner. Although this theoretically means the drivers have time to sort themselves out before the heavy braking area and not arrive three- or four-cars wide, it also means they’re coming down from a higher speed on tires not yet up to temperature.
Asked if there’s a secret to getting through Turns 1 and 2 without harm, AJ Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais said, “Yeah. Be on pole, brake as late as you can and get away! That’s the easiest way to go about it.
“As soon as you start second, third row and back, anything can happen. It’s obviously not as bad as Cleveland used to be, but it’s still awfully inviting to go up on the inside, and then next thing you know you’re five or six wide going into Turn 1 with an impossible corner to make.
“Hopefully everybody keeps his head, but yeah, we’ve seen time and time again how inviting that corner is and the kind of chaos that can be led from those kind of aggression levels, which we’ve definitely not been shy of this year.
“It is very easy to just get sucked into the moment. It’s one of those where if you get a run, you kind of forget that there’s already another three guys that are side by side going for it as well, and unfortunately at Portland going in that chicane, you’re all going to meet at the exact same inch point between 1 and 2 if not at the apex of 1. That definitely puts on a scenario that ends up in tears with cars torn up more often than not.”
Bourdais, who has been taken out of contention by other drivers’ errors on a couple of occasions this year – most notably, Texas Motor Speedway – didn’t condone the aggression, but does regard it as inevitable.
“When you have a mono-type series for the most part with two engines that are very closely matched and [the pack is] very high density, you’re going to see very, very high aggression on starts and restarts because unfortunately everybody knows that this is when things are happening, and if you are looking for positions, well, you’re not going to have that many chances. That drives the aggression level up.
“When the gaps are as tight as they are, you have to use pretty much every opening that you see, even if it’s kind of a long shot and a risky move. There’s definitely a lot of guys that feel a huge urgency to make things happen right away, because we all know how hard it is to make it happen later on.”
On the subject of starts and restarts, with the speed dictated by the polesitter and race leader respectively, Bourdais said his recent method of heading the field to the green flag at Gateway’s World Wide Technology Raceway was something he hoped Race Control would adopt as a template for how it should be done.
“I don’t know if anybody noticed what I tried to show at Gateway when I did lead the restart,” said the two-time Portland GP winner, “but I pretty much did what I would very much like Race Control to kind of get on board with. But we seem to have a bit of a varying perspective on the whole thing.
“They tend to put a lot of responsibility on the leader to try and lead the field with the safety car just getting away before we even get [the field] packed up, and therefore we barely ever get it backed up before starts or restarts, which to me is a very risky move. You end up starting races with a field that has very, very large amounts of speed differential, and we’ve seen cars on top of each other many times.
“I very vehemently disagree with that approach, but I’m not the only one – and I’m not Race Control… At Gateway when I did that restart, I kind of pretty much went to safety car speed right away at the line and for the entire lap until the restart, and that seems to have just kind of settled down [the pack] a little bit and not trickled as much accordion effect as we’ve seen in a lot of the starts and restarts.
“I wish we were kind of getting more involved with that, but for sure everybody needs to be on board, as well, and respect the gapping and how much throttle and brake is applied and stuff like that. Yeah, it takes a bit of everybody to fix the problem that we’ve had lately for sure.”