Alex Palou took the top spot in Saturday morning’s practice session from Portland International Raceway, lapping the short circuit in 58.7824 seconds.
The young Spanish driver is locked in a close battle for the IndyCar points lead with Pato O’Ward, and was happy to have a fast car right off the truck to help his title bid.
Helio Castroneves finished just behind in his Meyer Shank Racing Honda, with the veteran thoroughly enjoying his return to a track he hasn’t raced in nearly two decades.
Castroneves’ team-mate Jack Harvey ended the session in third, making for an impressive showing for the team that’s looking to work its way to the front of the results page more often.
Callum Ilott completed his debut session with no problems aside from a quick trip through the grass. His performance will surely have impressed his Juncos Hollinger Racing team owners, which are making their return to the series as well.
Takuma Sato was not able to get a fast lap in during the session, and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan crew confirmed that he will need an engine change ahead of qualifying, which is scheduled for two short hours after the end of practice.
Pushing the limits
Multiple drivers found trouble while pushing the limits around the 1.96-mile course, bringing out multiple stoppages.
In all there were three red flags during the session, with the first coming out for Max Chilton who spun in the tricky first chicane.
Shortly after the British driver was sent back on his way, Alex Palou took a trip through the grass in the final turn. He also was able to get back under way with a little assistance from the AMR safety crew, and went on to log the fastest time of the morning.
Scott McLaughlin was the third driver to find trouble, also pushing too hard in the final corner and pitting his Team Penske Chevy into the tire barrier.
The damage seems minimal however, and he should easily be able to take part in qualifying, which he has noted has been his Achilles heel this season.
Getting back in the West Coast swing
This weekend’s visit for Portland is the first time the series has raced here since 2019, with last year’s event being cancelled on account of the pandemic.
Multiple drivers have only had a test session on the track before, making for a large learning curve in the short, two-day schedule.
After the race in Portland is over, it’s a trip to Laguna Seca the following weekend, and then the season finale in Long Beach just one week after that.
Currently Pato O’Ward leads the points standings as the season winds down, but there is only 10 points between him and Alex Palou, meaning the fight is still firmly up in the air.
Less than two hours after the final laps were turned in practice, the 27-car field is set to hit the track again for a knockout qualifying session at 3:00 PM Eastern Time.