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Race Report: Grand Prix of Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Grand Prix of Portland returned IndyCar racing to the Northwest and, by all accounts, it was a huge success as the fans turned out in droves the entire race weekend.

Matheus Leist, who started 19th, and Tony Kanaan, who started 24th, did a great job in their ABC Supply Chevrolets to avoid the first lap multi-car crash. Triggered by Zach Veach and James Hinchcliffe tangling as they went through Turn 3, the contact sent ‘Hinch’ spinning in front of the pack. Marco Andretti backed off only to get drilled by Graham Rahal who couldn’t see anything with the dust flying. Andretti flipped upside down but didn’t get hit again luckily. Scott Dixon and Ed Jones were also involved but only Dixon, the Verizon IndyCar championship leader, was able to restart without a problem. Hinchcliffe continued but was several laps down, and the other three cars left on the hook but fortunately no drivers were injured.

Leist picked his way through the carnage. Kanaan, who took a shortcut through the chicane, came out ahead of Leist and avoided the penalty because of the mess on the track. They restarted 13th and 14th respectively on lap seven, and by lap 10 Leist, who was on the red alternate Firestones, passed his teammate who was on the black primary tires.

By the time the first round of pit stops had concluded, Leist was in 10th and Kanaan was 14th after a subpar pit stop.

The second full course yellow came on lap 43 when pole sitter Will Power, who was running in ninth without first gear, plowed into the tire barrier. Power admitted afterwards, “I made a mistake trying to keep (Matheus) Leist behind me.”

It’s not often that a rookie pressures a veteran into a mistake.

The race strategists kept both ABC Supply Chevrolets out for that caution and gained some track position—Leist moved into sixth and Kanaan into eighth. Leist began racing hard with Veach until Veach blocked him and pushed Leist to the wall forcing him to lift. Leist complained over the radio and INDYCAR officials reviewed the incident on tape and ordered Veach to relinquish the position to Leist, moving him into fifth. The next lap Veach spun out, bringing out the third full course yellow which ruined Leist’s race strategy (along with a few others). Leist had to pit and went behind all the cars that had pitted earlier dropping him to 19th.

Kanaan, who had just pitted the lap before, gained a few spots from the yellow after dropping to 17th from his green flag pit stop (7.3 seconds). He restarted in 13th and charged up to ninth before his final stop on lap 75 which did not go as well as it should have. He lost two spots to Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi. He finished 11th.

“Some good points today in Portland,” Kanaan said afterwards. “Apparently we had a gun issue during our pit stops that cost us time on two of our three pit stops. I don’t think we had the pace that guys in front of us had but we managed to make some good passes, save fuel whenever we had to save fuel and almost got a top-10. After starting at the back of the pack, we’ll take it.”

Meanwhile, Leist moved to 18th when the caution came out on lap 76 for a slowed car on track. Like Kanaan, he slipped into the pits just before they closed for the caution. When the race restarted, he gained four positions in the final 25 laps, two of which came in the final four laps. He finished 14th.

"Another tough race for the ABC Supply car,” Leist said while receiving congratulations from his crew due to his performance throughout the race. “Today the first two stints were pretty good for us. I think we had the pace since the beginning and I think we could have finished in the top-10 for the first time this season but the yellow came out at the wrong time for us so we had to change strategy. It kind of screwed us a little bit. I think the most important thing is that we managed to develop and improve our road course car and I’m looking forward to Sonoma now. I think we did a great job here as a team. Each time we are on the track we are just getting closer to the other teams, getting a little bit faster. We just have to keep working hard and I think our time is going to come sooner than we thought. Good job for Tony too, I think we still need to find some pace but we are going to get there eventually.”

Team President Larry Foyt summed up by saying, “Considering where we started, it wasn’t all bad. Tony and Matheus both drove great races and the cars were more competitive than they had been all weekend. The yellows didn’t fall our way but that happens some days. We are certainly not happy with the weekend and will still be exploring our road course setups at Sonoma.”

The race provided drama throughout the day, and when the dust settled Takuma Sato held off a charging Ryan Hunter-Reay to win the third race of his career. Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot and Dixon rounded out the top-five.

The final race of the season takes place in two weeks at Sonoma Raceway and will award double points which leaves the title in question between two contenders: Dixon who holds a 29-point lead over Rossi. Newgarden and Power retain a mathematical if not realistic shot at the title. The INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) at 6:30 p.m. ET.

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