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IndyCar confirms tweaked 2018 slate with Portland added

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What appeared to be the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule ahead of a new season was meant to feature a large degree of normality and predictability, as most of its 2018 dates were already been released by the tracks themselves or by other series racing on those weekends.

And then the last few weeks since the 2017 season finale in Sonoma happened.

The penultimate round in 2017, Watkins Glen International and the much-discussed potential revived race in Mexico aren’t going to be part of the 2018 calendar and a race that, like Mexico, last appeared on an North American open-wheel calendar in 2007 – Portland – now is instead.

Watkins Glen’s Labor Day date didn’t prove a viable date for either the picturesque upstate New York road course or INDYCAR, and Portland’s addition has come on at the relatively last-minute. The track posted a statement about a half an hour before the official release.

With Portland added, Watkins Glen dropped and Mexico not revived, the schedule will remain at 17 races next year, as there will be 16 holdovers from this year’s calendar.

PORTLAND, OR – JUNE 09: Graham Rahal drives his #2 Medizone Newman Haas Lanigan Racing Cosworth Panoz during practice for the Champ Car World Series Mazda Grand Prix of Portland on June 9, 2007 at Portland International Raceway in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Portland joins the trio of Phoenix International Raceway (to be called ISM Raceway in 2018) Road America and Gateway Motorsports Park as revived venues IndyCar has added in recent years. Green Savoree Racing Promotions will promote the Portland race on the 1.967-mile road course, adding this event to its other three at St. Petersburg, Toronto and Mid-Ohio.

Of course now Watkins Glen, which was the 2016 schedule savior following Boston’s cancellation, is now the 2018 calendar casualty, and Portland slots in on the same weekend of Labor Day, Sept. 2.

“The strength and consistency of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ 2018 schedule is something all of us should be proud of,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and the Verizon IndyCar Series. “We’re also looking forward to continuing the upward trend of the series through the introduction of the universal aero kits, which testing has shown to be an exciting product.”

Beyond that, the rest of the schedule will be status quo from 2017 save for a couple expected different dates and starting times. The broadcast schedule on NBCSN, ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network will be released at a later date.

Official track activities for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season begin with two days of open testing at Phoenix Raceway on Feb. 9-10.

After the St. Petersburg season opener on March 11, April gets busy as Phoenix moves back ahead of Long Beach to create a two-week West Coast swing, and then a week after Long Beach the series goes to Barber Motorsports Park.

The month of May stays the same with the Indianapolis Grand Prix on Saturday, May 12, Indianapolis 500 qualifying the following week and the 102nd Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27.

The grueling doubleheader at Belle Isle Park in Detroit follows for the first week of June, with Texas Motor Speedway a week later before the series’ first off weekend since the IMS road course race.

The now-traditional trip to Road America comes a week after the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which again allows any drivers who’d be able to secure a ride for the endurance classic a chance to do so.

After another week off, the three race-in-four weeks stretch of Iowa, Toronto and Mid-Ohio will be a critical stretch in the championship chase, and will build up to the final portion of the season with Pocono, Gateway and now Portland all in a row.

Sonoma, on September 16, will close the season for the fourth straight year. Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and now Josef Newgarden have been the three drivers to hoist the Astor Cup there.

Miles and driver Graham Rahal (pictured top in his 2007 rookie year, in MediZone Champ Car) will be on to discuss the calendar in a conference call later today.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series race schedule, by venue, is as follows:

  • March 11 – Streets of St. Petersburg
  • April 7 – Phoenix Raceway
  • April 15 – Streets of Long Beach
  • April 22 – Barber Motorsports Park
  • May 12 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course
  • May 27 – Indianapolis 500
  • June 2-3 – Raceway at Belle Isle Park
  • June 9 – Texas Motor Speedway
  • June 24 – Road America
  • July 8 – Iowa Speedway
  • July 15 – Streets of Toronto
  • July 29 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Aug. 19 – Pocono Raceway
  • Aug. 25 – Gateway Motorsports Park
  • Sept. 2 – Portland International Raceway
  • Sept. 16 – Sonoma Raceway

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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