The Portland start in 1996. Photo: Getty Images

Green Savoree Racing Promotions to lead Portland IndyCar return

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The announcement of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to Portland International Raceway next year comes in a partnership with Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which serves as promoter of three other events on the IndyCar calendar (the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the Honda Indy Toronto, and the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course).

The Portland event will be the fourth one that the Indianapolis-based GSRP operation will be in charge of, and one they are more than happy to take on. It is a three-year deal through 2020.

“Indy car fans in Portland and the Pacific Northwest have waited a long time for this day,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner, president and chief operating officer of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, of the series’ return to the 1.967-mile road course.

“Thank you to Mayor (Ted) Wheeler, (Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz) and their teams at the City of Portland and INDYCAR for joining together to help us make this happen. Our due diligence proved without any doubt that it was time to bring a race back to Portland International Raceway. With a population of well over two million, the Scarborough research showed the Portland market as the number one target for a Verizon IndyCar Series race. It has a high concentration of Indy car fans as well as being a popular choice for existing partners already involved with the sport.”

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles explained how Green Savoree was selected over a roughly two-year process.

“I think the process started from an IndyCar perspective at least two years ago. In some respects, back to when I first got involved as a board member. You know that we had some consultants help us think about how to grow the series. They helped us focus on what many of you take for granted, I think, the need for geographic balance around the country,” Miles said.

“So we’ve been thinking about the Pacific Northwest for a while, and in earnest Stephen (Starks, of INDYCAR) started a process to reach out and make opportunities for new events known, especially in this region. Between ourselves and other prospective promoters and Green Savoree, I know four or five major cities in this part of the country and Canada where discussions and diligence occurred. In the end, it’s just coming back to Portland.”

Mayor Wheeler detailed that his own memories as a racing fan date back to attending the Indianapolis 500 as a young boy, and that the city of Portland can expect a lot of benefits from fielding an IndyCar event.

“As a young man, I had the opportunity to attend the Indy 500,” Mayor Wheeler recalled. “I remember well the excitement and thrills that INDYCAR racing bring to a city and to race spectators. The return of INDYCAR racing to Portland will give us terrific international exposure, a great deal of revenue, new jobs, and an exciting experience for race fans.”

Portland Parks Commissioner Fritz echoed those sentiments, even getting into specific numbers regarding the potential impact of the race. “An event of this magnitude means $12-$15 million in revenue to the City, scores of jobs, and an exciting weekend of racing with new cars using clean-burning ethanol for fuel. Portland International Raceway continues to be an integral part of the City’s recreation portfolio,” she detailed.

The Verizon IndyCar Series’ Grand Prix of Portland is scheduled for September 2, 2018. The last open wheel event held at the venue was in 2007, with Sebastien Bourdais taking the victory.

Miles addressed potential track improvements and the push to find a title sponsor for this race.

“They’ve made some investments. I think Graham (Rahal) referred to some improvements in a group of turns. I’m going to see it for the first time this afternoon, but sounds like it’s five, six, seven. They’ll do some other things to improve fencing and tire walls and the like. None of that is major.

“Those will be the responsibilities of the promoter, which they came in here and ‘kicked the tires’ is a pun, but literally looked at everything and committed themselves to those more minor modifications that need to be made.

“As to a title sponsor, they’re already on that. A lot of great companies out here. I’m sure that’s a very high priority for them.”

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MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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