Joe Skibinski / IndyCar

Bourdais recalls wild 2018 race at Portland

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Portland International Raceway is a track that favors champions.

With 25 previous NTT IndyCar Series events at the facility, the list of winners at P.I.R. is a “who’s who” of American open-wheel racing.

Al Unser Jr, won the first race at Portland in 1984, and would win again in ‘94 and ‘95. Michael Andretti won three straight from 1990-93, and his father Mario won twice in 1985 and 1986. 

All-in-all, 20 of the previous 25 races at Portland were won by drivers who had previously won, or would go on to win an IndyCar championship in their career.

Over the years, Pacific Northwest race fans have been blessed with the opportunity to witness some incredibly talented drivers win at their home track, and Sebastien Bourdais is no exception.

When he first competed at P.I.R. in Champ Car from 2003 through 2007, Bourdais was a serious threat to win every year. In fact, Bourdais finished on the podium in all but one of his first five starts at Portland, with victories in 2004 and 2007.

Obviously, open-wheel racing has changed quite a lot since 2007. Drivers, teams and tracks have all come and gone. But Bourdais still remains a serious contender to chase victories whenever the series visits a natural-terrain road course, and if last year’s return to Portland after an 11-year hiatus is any indication, Bourdais might be in for another great race this weekend. Naturally, he enters the penultimate round of the 2019 season with a lot of enthusiasm.

“The big surprise last year was that we qualified very well,” Bourdais told NBC Sports. “It had been kind of a trend in ‘18 for us that we were very comfortable and competitive with our road course package, and we did it again at Portland, and that was not the most straight forward or easy qualifying session either.”

Indeed, Bourdais’ Saturday in Portland last year was anything but easy. After leading practice 1 on Friday morning, Bourdais took the top spot on the scoring pylon from Graham Rahal with minutes remaining in P3. But he then lost control of his car entering Turn 10 and spun before backing into the tire barrier, causing significant damage to his No. 18 Honda. 

Bourdais pilots “Frankenstein” during qualifying for last year’s Grand Prix of Portland. (Photo: Steve King/IndyCar)

With qualifying just over three hours away, Bourdais’ crew had to quickly scramble to put his car back together. Though Bourdais was intentionally scheduled to run a special purple and white livery that weekend, all of the replacement parts still sported the traditional black and yellow SealMaster colors.

The result was a multi-colored machine which fans referred to as “Frankenstein”, and though not the most visually pleasing machine, Bourdais brought Frankenstein to life in qualifying by making the Firestone Fast Six en route to a fifth place qualifying run. Not too shabby for a car and driver who made contact with a tire barrier a few hours earlier.

“Obviously qualifying fifth after rebuilding the car and still displaying some good speed was very encouraging,” Bourdais said. “I didn’t go into the race with any bad feelings at all. I was actually quite excited.”

But if Bourdais thought his wild weekend was over following qualifying, he would be quickly proven wrong. His No. 18 machine was caught up in the infamous first lap incident in Turn 3 of last year’s race, and suffered front wing damage which resulted in a necessary pit stop.

“I thought we had a legit shot of finishing on the podium,” Bourdais said. “Then the start didn’t go really well and it seemed like all was lost.”

But it wouldn’t be. After exiting the pits, Bourdais returned to the track in the 21st position. However, the team changed their pit strategy and with the help of a few timely cautions, Bourdais slowly made his way back to the front. When the checkered flag flew, Bourdais finished third and found himself in a familiar position: back on the podium at P.I.R.

Bourdais celebrates after finishing third in last year’s Grand Prix of Portland. (Photo: Joe Sibinski/IndyCar)

“It kind of came back to us at the end,” Bourdais said. “It’s just the typical IndyCar attitude you have to have, which is to never give up, because you never know what waits for you around the corner.”

But if the wild weekend on-track was not enough to leave an impression on Bourdais, Portland’s loyal fan base that returned to the track years later certainly did. Bourdais stated that Portland has always been a race he’s looked forward to because of the passion displayed by local fans.

“You’d be surprised by the number of people who would see me at other events and ask ‘when are you guys coming back to Portland?’,” Bourdais said. “When it finally happened, they all showed up, and they showed up in big numbers. It was great. It was like we were never gone.

“It’s just a great area and if it was not that far from Europe I would definitely have no problem with living there.”

Live coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland begins Sunday, September 1 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

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Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

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The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images