Matheus Leist captured an eighth place finish in his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet after starting deep in pack in the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway Sunday afternoon.
A strategy twist to capitalize on a late race caution saw Leist pit with five laps to go for a fresh set of Firestone alternate (red) tires. Armed with fresh rubber, the young Brazilian passed both Charlie Kimball and Sebastien Bourdais in one lap to move into eighth. He put heavy pressure on seventh-running Simon Pagenaud, weathered a few blocks by the wily veteran before settling in for his second top-10 of the season.
Leist started the race in 21st, just behind teammate Tony Kanaan who qualified 19th in his No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet. In a repeat of last year’s race, there was a multi-car crash in Turn 1 on the start– this time triggered by contact between Graham Rahal and Zach Veach.
Both Kanaan and Leist managed to snake their way through for the second straight year. Veach and Rahal were out and so were the Arrow team cars with James Hinchcliffe and Conor Daly. Takuma Sato lost laps in the pits with his repairs.
Leist ducked into the pits on lap 11 to top off his fuel as his team re-thought the two-stop strategy in favor of more flexibility. The race restarted on lap 12 but contact between Jack Harvey and Ryan Hunter-Reay on lap 14 brought out the second caution. By the time they restarted on lap 17, Kanaan was sixth and Leist was 11th.
Kanaan, on a three stop strategy, pitted on lap 30 with the team thinking he could gain track position (if not spots) by running in clean air. Unfortunately the car didn’t have the pace he needed to take advantage of it. By lap 62, he lost a lap to the leaders. He regained it when they pitted on lap 73 but lost it again when he pitted on lap 82.
After Leist’s initial stop under caution, he was essentially on the cycle of pitting with the leaders, who were doing a two-stop strategy.
A bit of good fortune played into his hands with the final caution on lap 98 as he was the last car on the lead lap. Race strategist George Klotz made the call to pit for fresh tires and the team performed it quickly to get him in and out. Kanaan also made a final stop on the same lap 99 but the cars around him (also a lap down) pitted too so he didn’t gain the advantage Leist did. However, Kanaan’s stopping likely helped him to maintain his 12th position in the final five laps of green.
“Tough but pretty good race for us here at Portland,” said Leist. “Since the beginning we decided to do a different strategy and we went for a two stop strategy and I think it worked pretty well for us. We had to save fuel for most of the race and we were consistently running in the top 10 or 11. On the last yellow, as we were the last car on the lead lap, we decided to come in and put new alternate tires on. We went out tenth and finished eighth so I think decent job, another top-10 for me and a good job for the team too. The guys did a pretty good strategy, and a pretty good job in the pits so I’m proud of everybody. Let’s go for the last one.”
Kanaan soldiered through in his record 316th consecutive IndyCar start—a streak which began here in Portland in 2001—to finish 12th.
“Good start, awesome start actually,” said Kanaan whose career tallies 376 IndyCar total starts. “It’s a shame on the strategy, we missed the boat on that and I have no control over that, so after that I just hung in there. Good job for the team though, two cars in the top-12, that was always the goal so it looks like we’re getting stronger towards the end of the season which is good. I’m happy for Matt, he drove a great race. They got the strategy right and got him in the top eight. Let’s move on to Laguna and see what we can do.”
Will Power won his second race of the year, assuming the lead when Scott Dixon stopped unexpectedly due to electrical issues. Power then had to fend off Dixon’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist in the closing laps after the field packed up following the final caution on lap 98 of the 105-lap race.
Trailing Power and Rosenqvist across the line were Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden. Just 42 points separate the top three NTT IndyCar Series championship contenders Newgarden, Rossi and Pagenaud.
With double points up for grabs in the season finale at Laguna Seca’s WeatherTech Raceway, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will decide the champion. The race will be broadcast live on NBC on Sunday, Sept. 22nd starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!