IndyCar made its return to the Pacific Northwest labour day long weekend with the Grand Prix of Portland. The last time a race of either IndyCar or CART or ChampCar was held in the Pacific Northwest (I don’t consider Edmonton as part of that) was way back in 2007.
This year was my second year making it to the race although this time around, I actually made it for both Saturday and Sunday while back in 2001, I had only done a “drive down, watch the race, drive back” type of ordeal. It was also pouring that day so I didn’t get to do too much compared to this time around.
The race in Portland is held at the Portland International Raceway which sits just north of downtown Portland. It is a permanent road course which offers amazing sight lines from pretty much anywhere. We had bought seats in the C3 stand ($95 USD for the weekend or $80 for Sunday only) which is just outside of Turn 1; however, there are so many good spots to watch from with a general admission ticket ($60 with kids under 12 free) that I might even consider that for future years. Also unlike the old Vancouver Molson Indy, there are a few general admission grand stands where you can actually sit. One at the entrance to the raceway allowing you to see Turns 9 through 12 as well as part of the back straightaway. There is also one just after turn 12 allowing you to see some of the pits. Also with a GA ticket, you can also get closer to the back straightaway and walk back all the way to turn 8 and see the cars take that corner at high speeds. I actually didn’t do that but saw others do it. Looking at Earth view on Google Maps, it looks like you can actually go all the way around the track as well. I saw some folks bring their bikes in so they could bike around and see different spots. Well there was even someone who pulled his pickup truck and had a tail gate party going. You wouldn’t see that in Vancouver. For the race itself, a lot of folks set up camp right outside turn 11/12 on a small hill with large tents / awnings. You can even stand just outside the pits and watch that and get access to a large video screen which normally you don’t get with a GA ticket. I was also lucky enough to get paddock tickets and tickets for Stand K on Saturday thanks to some friends (thanks Wally and Diana) and got to see the inside of Turn 9 and the view there was pretty great although you did have to peak above the fence. The cars were so close though you got a really good feel for the speed and you could see the cars slide sideways at turn 10 much to Bourdais’ chagrin who spun out during practice and wrecked his first car.
From Stand K, you got to see the end of the home straightaway, turns 1 through 3 and if you were at the top of the stands (stage right), you could actually see all the way to turn 7. You could also have access to the victory circle and the tickets include access to the paddock where you can see behind the scenes and gives you the chance to meet some drivers (when possible).
From Stand C3, you got the see the end of the home straightaway as well but a bit further down it and you can see the cars coming out of the pits. If you are at stage left, you can also get to see turn 4 and a little bit of turns 5 and 6. Some of the advantages of stands C1 through C3 is that you typically have the sun at your back during the race (12pm to 2pm) and some shade to hang out under in between races. There was also better choices for food. I also like the fact that it was an easy walk to get to the home straightaway during the race and being able to see them full speed.
I created a video so that you can get a good sense of the different spots.
Getting There – Parking
The track is on a peninsula although it more or less feels like an island as there is a large slough to the south side and the Columbia river on the north side. That location making a tad difficult to get to and also makes parking a bit of a mess. Be prepared for long lineups (maybe 30 to 60 minutes?) to get in if you have those parking passes. Organizers sold parking passes for $50 which got you “on the ground”; however, depending on exactly where, you might still need to walk quite a bit. Some folks did get to park right behind the home straightaway; however, I don’t know if those were special VIP passes or not. They would make it very convenient though as you could go and get stuff from your car as needed.
The passes were sold out so we ended up parking at the Portland Meadows track for $20 which included a shuttle to get to the entrance. That being said, walking to the shuttle at the end of the race was almost as far as walking back to the parking lot. There are some free parking spots on the side of the roads as well but for those, you probably had to get there around 8 or so.
The track is actually right next to a TRIMET MAX station so if you are staying downtown during the weekend, it is super easy to get to and you don’t have to worry about parking. We stayed at a hotel near the airport which was only a 10 minutes drive with no traffic to deal with. The I-5 was pretty packed both days.