Five drives remain mathematically alive for 2019 IndyCar championship.
Drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series have two more opportunities to showcase their skills. Some are fighting for a championship; others are fighting for jobs.
As the series heads to Portland International Raceway for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland, five drivers remain mathematically alive for the championship. Four have a realistic shot. Josef Newgarden leads Simon Pagenaud (38 points), Alexander Rossi (46 points) and Scott Dixon (70 points) with Will Power being the outside shot at 147 points away.
Power would have to gain at least 42 points on Newgarden to remain in the hunt as the series heads to Laguna Seca in two weeks for the double-points season finale.
“Portland is a really fun track, but with the championship battle in place, it’s going to be a tough race,” said Power. “A lot of guys will be running harder than they have all year — some trying to get points and some just trying to get the win. We’re going to keep pushing through to the end of the season and will continue to work hard for another win.”
With Power finishing last at Gateway last Saturday, Dixon finishing two spots ahead of him in 20th and Rossi finishing 13th, Pagenaud moved to second in points behind his teammate. However, Newgarden managed to escape Gateway with a seventh-place finish following a last-corner spin.
“(Portland)’s a technical road course, so we’re really going to have to make sure we hit all of our marks to make sure we don’t lose any ground,” Newgarden said. “It’s going to be a tough race for the whole field, especially for the championship contenders.”
Moving further down the grid, many drivers are hoping Portland gives them an opportunity to show the rest of the IndyCar paddock their capabilities ahead of 2020’s uncertainty.
Colton Herta still has deals on the table waiting for him, having told IndyStar he’s seen many contracts come his way to race in North America.
Santino Ferrucci isn’t confirmed yet at Dale Coyne Racing, but the Connecticut-born rookie has had flashes of brilliance with engineer Michael Cannon helping set up the car and might stay for 2020.
And then there’s the case of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, soon to be known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP. With the team switching to Chevrolet for 2020 following McLaren’s announced involvement, James Hinchcliffe’s situation is up in the air. The Canadian is a Honda Canada spokesperson but indicated he would be happy to begin work again with General Motors in 2020 after working with Chevrolet engines in 2012 and 2013.
Hinchcliffe has been rumored to stay at AMRSP but there are other rumors linking him to remaining in the Honda camp. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is looking at expanding to a third car in 2020 so Hinchcliffe might stay with the brand that helped him win the 2016 Indianapolis 500 pole.
There are fewer and fewer opportunities to make a good impression for next year, and at a point of the year when contracts are finalized, a top-five or top-10 finish could be all a driver needs to help secure a seat for next year. Everyone will find out after 105 laps on Sunday.
Down the ladder
Moving down to the Road to Indy, there is a championship-clinching scenario that could happen in Portland. Oliver Askew could clinch the Indy Lights title this weekend with a win and one bonus point for either pole or leading the most laps, provided that the Florida native starts the other three races left in the 2019 season. With the championship, Askew secures a $1.1 million scholarship to be used in three races in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Rasmus Lindh leads Florida’s Kyle Kirkwood by six points in the Indy Pro 2000 championship as they fight for a scholarship of almost $600,000 to move to Indy Lights. Meanwhile in USF2000, nine points separate Ohio native Braden Eves from Hunter McElrea as they fight for just over $305,000 to help them move to Indy Pro 2000 next season.