The penultimate round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season sees the sport return to the Pacific Northwest for the first time since the days of the Indy Racing League-Champ Car World Series split. Portland International Raceway, one of the shortest and quickest road courses you’ll ever see on the IndyCar calendar, will host its first race since 2007 with today’s Grand Prix of Portland. Drivers can traverse the entire 1.964-mile course in under a minute—even today’s slowest qualifier, Charlie Kimball, conquered the course in only 58.3219 seconds.
Today’s results will set up a wild season finale in two weeks’ time at Sonoma Raceway, as that track bids farewell to the series in favor of a return to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for 2019. With that in mind, keep an eye on these three storylines while you’re watching today’s action:
Will Scott Dixon’s mid-pack qualifying run come to haunt him?
Much has been made of Dixon’s 11th place qualifying run for today’s event. He hasn’t started better than sixth on a permanent road course this season, but each time he’s qualified outside of the top 10, he’s finished in the top five. Primary championship rival Alexander Rossi, currently 26 points back of Dixon, will roll off the line third today; the difference between third and 11th is 16 points, so were the ratio to hold going into Sonoma’s double-points finale, the margin would be down to a near-meaningless 10.
Can polesitter Will Power break a tie atop the win column?
Each of the top four drivers in IndyCar points coming into Portland have three victories—Dixon, Rossi, defending series champion Josef Newgarden, and Power. But this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner will start from the pole today after setting a track record of 57.2143 seconds in qualifying, good for his fourth pole of the season. Newgarden and Rossi will both start directly behind him, but Power has one advantage over that duo: he actually raced here in the Champ Car World Series in 2006 and 2007.
What does the future look like for Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward?
In the Mazda Road to Indy season finale, and Mazda’s swan song as the sponsor of IndyCar’s development ladder, O’Ward clinched the championship and $1,000,000 scholarship to move up to the sport’s highest level for three races in 2019. Knowing Andretti Autosport’s willingness to field extra cars in the Indianapolis 500, sticking with his Indy Lights team seems like a natural fit, but it’ll be interesting to see if O’Ward receives other offers given that he held off the highly rated Colton Herta for the title.