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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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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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