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Five things to watch for during Grand Prix of Portland

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Long one of its staples when the CART series sanctioned races, Portland International Raceway did not host a NTT IndyCar race until last year. That makes this race a bit of an unknown entity and adds some drama to the points battle between Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud (38 points behind) and Alexander Rossi (-46).

With the ovals in the rearview mirror, IndyCar heads to consecutive road courses to end the season the way it began: with twists and turns.

Here are some of the storylines to watch this Sunday:

  1. Last week’s victory for Takuma Sato on the oval must have felt like vindication after his involvement in the Lap 1 crash at Pocono. Coupled with his win at Barber Motorsports Park, it marks the first time in his IndyCar career that Sato has won two races in a season. It might not end there. Sato is also the defending winner of last year’s race at Portland.
  2. Scott Dixon’s retirement on Lap 136 cost him 18 points to the leader in a race that should have allowed him to make up ground if Newgarden stumbled ever so slightly. Dixon entered Gateway with top-fives in his last two starts there. Newgarden did his part with a modest seventh-place showing, but Dixon finished 20th in the 22-car field. With eight top-fives in 10 races on road and street courses, Dixon should rebound this week, but it may be too late now that he is 70 points behind.
  3. Still looking for his first win of the season, Sebastien Bourdais may have an advantage this week. Bourdais won twice on this track in 2004 and 2007 when it was sanctioned by CART.
  4. Graham Rahal’s mechanical issues at Gateway snapped an eight-race streak of top-10 finishes while Pagenaud’s fifth gives him the longest current active streak of seven. That fifth-place finish in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 also kept Pagenaud’s perfect record of top-10s on ovals for the past two years intact.
  5. The short track of Gateway provided a shot of confidence for several drivers. In addition to Sato, who ended a seven-race skid of results outside the top five, Ed Carpenter’s second-place finish was his first top-five of the year. Tony Kanaan also earned his first top-five also with a third-place finish.

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New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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