It’s one thing to win multiple races at one track. It’s another thing altogether to win three in a row at one track.
As the NTT IndyCar Series prepares for the Grand Prix of Portland this weekend at Portland International Raceway, Michael Andretti remembers his three-race winning streak at the 12-turn, 1.967-mile road course. He won in 1990, '91 and '92.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Andretti said. “It was just the way it fell. I don’t think there was anything we were doing that was trick that allowed us to do it three years in a row. It just worked out that we had good weekends there three years in a row.”
It happened in the prime of Andretti’s 25-year driving career. In 1990, he beat his dad, Mario Andretti, to the finish line at Portland by 3.92 seconds. In 1991, after an aggressive move at the start, he led Emerson Fittipaldi and Bobby Rahal to the line. In 1992, he again beat Fittipaldi to the stripe, with Al Unser Jr. third.
The victory Andretti remembers most fondly is the one that happened during the best season of his career. In 1991, Andretti put his foot down at the start in his No. 2 Newman-Haas Racing Lola-Chevrolet, bumped wheels with Rick Mears, then dived past Fittipaldi for the lead in Turn 1. He never looked back in the race or the season, winning eight of 17 races and the CART PPG IndyCar World Series championship.
“I knew it was very important to get a good start, and I did,” Andretti said if the ‘91 start. “It’s such a difficult track to pass on. I was able to control the race from there. That was a pretty cool move, I thought, to pull off there.”
The circuit, with its wide, sweeping turns and long straightaways, still provides a setup and driving challenge nearly 30 years later.
“It’s a tricky track,” Andretti said. “It might seem pretty simple, but the layout is tricky with the long corner, and then the left-hander that seems like you always have understeer on. It’s always tricky. It was always a bit of a compromise on how you set the car up.”
Despite 18 races at PIR and the three consecutive victories, Andretti doesn’t think his experience transfers to the current era or to Andretti Autosport drivers Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach.
“I wish I could, but no,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do to influence them to go faster at one track or another. … But I don’t think my style gave me an advantage there. I always ran well there, but I don’t think it was about matching my driving style to the track.”
The three trophies are among his favorites of the 42 he won in the course of his career, but Andretti rarely searches for videos or clippings or other memorabilia from his racing days.
“When I see someone mention something from the past on Twitter, then I might go back and watch old videos, but I normally don’t go back and look for old races,” he said. “I don’t even remember what happened in Victory Lane at Portland, to be honest with you. It’s been so long ago.”
Editor's Note: Among tracks on the current NTT IndyCar Series schedule, three in a row has only been accomplished three other times. Bobby Rahal won four in a row at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (1984-87), Al Unser Jr. won four in a row at Long Beach (1988-91) and Sebastien Bourdais won three in a row at Long Beach (2005-07). Michael Andretti might have won five in a row at Toronto had he not spent the 1993 season in Formula One.
The NTT IndyCar Series heads to Portland, Ore., for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland. Live race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET (noon PT local) with the green flag at approximately 3:45 p.m. Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 209, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).