Portland home to several iconic IndyCar moments

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Portland International Raceway hosted races for what is now called the Verizon IndyCar Series every June between 1984 and 2007. And in that span of 24 races, it was the scene of quite a few iconic moments for the sport.

A quick list of highlights is below:

  • 1986: On Father’s Day, Michael Andretti runs out of fuel exiting the final corner, and his father Mario nips him at the line for the victory. The margin between them was .07 seconds, the closest road course finish in the history of IndyCar racing. Video of the finish can viewed here.
  • 1995: Team Penske’s Al Unser Jr. scored a victory, but was later disqualified after the car was deemed too low post-race, resulting from erosion of the car’s skidplate. However, after the conclusion of the season, Unser’s win was eventually reinstated, and Jimmy Vasser’s first career win taken away.
  • 1996: Alex Zanardi won his first race in IndyCar, in the series then known as the PPG IndyCar World Series. Zanardi was teammates at Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Vasser, who went on to win that year’s championship.
  • 1997: A wet race saw a titanic duel between tire suppliers Firestone and Goodyear, with Firestone holding the advantage for much of the race. However, as the track surface dried, several Goodyear runners rose to the fore, chiefly Gil de Ferran, then a driver for Walker Racing. In the final laps, however, the track dried enough for several teams to switch to slick tires. One of those drivers was Mark Blundell. Exiting the final corner on the final lap, Blundell and Pat Patrick Racing driver Raul Boesel got alongside de Ferran, and Blundell was able to nose ahead of both drivers at the line to take his first career IndyCar victory. The margin between the three was a scant .055 seconds. Video of the wild finish can be seen here.
  • 2006: A.J. Allmendinger had joined Forsythe Championship Racing the week prior after his previous team, RuSPORT, fired him. In his first outing with his new team, Allmendinger took the first of three consecutive wins that year. He went on to score five in total before joining Team Red Bull’s newly formed NASCAR team at year’s end.
  • 2007: What proved to be the final event at Portland before the IndyCar/Champ Car merger also saw the first standing start in modern American racing history. Sebastien Bourdais scored the victory that day, his second win at the venue following a 2004 triumph.

In total, Newman/Haas Racing was the most victorious IndyCar team at the track, taking eight wins between Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, and Cristiano da Matta. Among active teams, Team Penske is the winningest, with five victories at the track. Chip Ganassi Racing (2) and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1) have also previously won at Portland.

Of drivers who raced at least once in the 2017 IndyCar field, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Sebastien Bourdais, Juan Pablo Montoya, Oriol Servia and Buddy Lazier all made at least one start at Portland, and others raced there in junior series (James Hinchcliffe in Atlantic for example). Bourdais, who won in 2004 and 2007, is the only active winner scheduled to compete next season.

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SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”