Track Guide: Portland International Raceway
Learn how to get up to speed at Portland International Raceway
Welcome to our first edition of Track Guide. The notebook on how to be fast at tracks around the U.S. In each edition we will cover a different circuit giving drivers the best approach to tackle a track and bring down those lap times.
We’re going to start with a track that LapMeta is close to home to; Portland International Raceway. Nestled outside of downtown Portland, Oregon. The 1.9 mile road course carves through what used to be the streets and city of Vanport. A small suburban WWII resident town in Northwest Portland that flooded in 1948. 12 turns goes by pretty quickly at Portland as lap times for a fast car fall in the 1:20’s typically.
You start down the front straight and head towards the heaviest brake zone on the circuit which is the “Shelton Chicane” in turn 1. Marker signs align the wall and typically a driver up to speed will find their brake point to be somewhere between the 500 and 300 foot sign depending on how well your car slows down. The sequence of the Chicane is a quick right and then immediately back to the left.
The key to being fast here is finding the balance of rolling in as much speed into 1 without compromising your exit out of 2. You want to brake late enough that you’re not coasting before turning in. It’s important to not brake too late though as you want to get the car all the way to the apex curbing or inside of it into 1. There’s a drop off there and we refer to it as the “dip” or the “hole” between the armco barrier and the curbing. Some cars that have higher ground clearance can and should utilize going into that area to straighten out turn 1 as much as possible and help you be better set up to exit 2 and get on throttle sooner. At minimum you should aim to get your right side tires as far over as your car will allow without bottoming out. If you watch a fast HPDE driver or a Spec Miata driver go through the Chicane they are driving beyond the curb every lap and into the dip.
Ideally, you want to be back to at least a maintenance throttle while you're between 1 and 2 and then a slight tap of the brakes to settle the car and transfer weight forward to aid in grip on turn in. Job one is getting the car to rotate so you can go back to throttle as soon as possible. In momentum cars typically the front end will want to push at the exit so you may want to get a bit of the high apex curbing to help the rear rotate. In a high horsepower car, oversteer can be an issue so focus on opening the wheel up to not pinch the car. Your priority though is to use 1 to set up 2 so you can get back to throttle as quickly as possible driving the car all the way out to the FIA curbing on drivers right as there is a bit of a straight stretch leading into turn 4. This is a section where time can be made with a good exit from the Chicane.
This is typically a full throttle corner for 85% of cars. If you have a high hp machine you may want to swing to the middle of the track to straighten out the bend and aid in rear traction.
A tricky one that people tend to overdrive on entry. It’s a bit of a double apex with two real arches in the corner. The focus should be rolling as much speed as you can through here as this corner just leads to another corner. But keeping your minimum speed up is important.
There’s two approaches here depending on the car you drive. If you drive a car that doesn’t handle well you’ll want to brake late but firm. Get the nose of the car to completely settle when applying the brakes so when you turn in the front and rear are more confident and planted and you can go back to throttle sooner. Don’t aim for the first curbs. Skip the first set and drive more in the middle of the track on entry which will straighten out the corner a bit so you can roll more throttle at the real apex and hit the second set of curbs with your right side tires.
If you drive a momentum car then this is a momentum corner. Use your car’s superior handling and hustle the car into 4 taking the shortest distance. Roll speed in and get back to a maintenance throttle as quickly as you can. Hit the first curbing with your right side tires and the second set of curbing also. In a Spec Miata you can be 75% throttle from turn in of 4 all the way to 5 while modulating throttle through the second apex.
Set up by 5 by letting your car drive all the way out to the FIA curbs on drivers left. You don’t need to be on them just up to them. Oftentimes some cars will need a little tap of the brakes to transfer weight to the nose and aid with turn in. Other times you can get away with just a lift of the throttle if your car handles really well. The apex curbing in 5 is really long. But the actual apex of the corner is really late. Don’t turn in too early or your car will push on exit. In order to get through 6 correctly you want to exit 5 in the right place. So resist the urge of turning in too early and apex late. Try and get a little bit of the curb with your right front tire and track out to the middle of the track to set up 6. You want to be on throttle as much as your car can handle from 5 to 6.
The left hand corner every car and driver hates in Portland. It’s a decreasing radius with a bit of a gradient as the track falls away from you which reduces grip. There’s a few approaches here. Once again if you’re in a momentum car you can aim for the shortest distance. You can roll more throttle out of 5 and let the car drive itself to the inside of 6. Turn in hard and get the car to ride the curbing and then unwind the wheel and track out. This is a delicate balance of throttle modulation. Keep giving it throttle until the rear starts just barely starts to get light then just lightly pull your foot back.
If you’re in a high horsepower car, set up 6 by driving out of 5 and keeping the car more in the middle of the track. By doing so this will straighten out the corner a bit and aid in front traction on entry and reduce oversteer on exit because you will be able to straighten the wheel a bit sooner.
Regardless, be sure to drive the car all the way to the white line on drivers right. In order to make lap time you want to use all the available track surface so drive it out right to the edge of the grass and keep your foot down. ‘
As you track out of 6 you can just hold the wheel at the same position and it should just take the car right back across the track to drivers left and put it in the perfect spot for 7. Go all the way out to the white line again to widen the entry of 7 as much as possible. Get the car slowed down in a straight line and then turn in late. Get the car's right side tires all the way down and on to the apex curbing and commit to full throttle as soon as the rear will take it. Open up that wheel as soon as you can, allowing the car to track all the way out to the FIA curbing on drivers left. Don’t be afraid to drive over those curbs every lap. A good run out of 7 is essential for a fast lap as it leads all the way down the back straight.
Full throttle down the back straight. A good opportunity to check your mirrors, gauges, and relax your hands a bit.
As the back bend straightens out you’ll want to get your car right along the wall entering the brake zone. Leave about half a car length for safety. You’ll want to brake late and quickly somewhere between 300-100 boards generally. It’s a very short brake zone to settle the nose of the car enough to turn in and commit back to throttle as soon and as much as you can while putting your left side tires on the FIA curbing. You want to straddle this curb as much as you can to straighten out this section which will allow you to keep your minimum speed up.
It takes a bit of bravery and trust to go through this part of the track fast but it will certainly aid in reducing lap time. Find a safe limit to push the car through here. It’s a bit uncomfortable but is certainly a part of the track where time can be made or lost.
Not much to it. 10 sweeps to the left. 11 sweeps to the right. You’ll want to get a smidge of the FIA curbing on drivers right of 11. Keep your attention forward though and aim to drive right out towards the South Paddock pit entry. Put your car right on the dotted line for the pit entry zone to set up turn 12.
The track falls down a little bit coming into 12. Be sure to brake early. You don’t want to miss the apex and chase the car out to the wall. Try and get your braking done early and turn in right as the FIA curbing on the left starts at the end of the pit entry. Try and get the right side tires all the way down and on to the FIA curbing and hit them in the middle of 12. Once again you want to focus on committing to throttle as quickly as possible as this corner leads onto the front straight. Let the car track all the way out to the front straight wall. Some drivers tend to keep their car in the middle of the track exiting the corner which will hurt exit speed dramatically. By enabling a faster run out of 12 it will provide a higher top speed at the end of the straight away. And that’s easy lap time savings. So take advantage and really focus on exiting cleanly with one smooth throttle application. If you over drive the entry and middle you’ll find yourself having to take your foot out of the gas to help the car turn and that will instantly cost you time.
That’s a wrap on our first Track Guide. We hope those of you who lap and race at Portland now have some new notes to take with you to your next track event! For those that are just getting started with driving at Portland we hope this gives you a baseline to prepare with.
If you have any questions or tips of your own feel free to write them below in the comments and discuss.