BY JASON VONDERSMITH/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Open-wheel racing ready to return after 11 years

COURTESY: CHRIS OWENS - ROSSIIn less than two weeks, the IndyCar Series arrives, and the race cars will roar down the straightaway at Portland International Raceway.

It will mark the return of big-time open-wheel racing to the Rose City for the first time since 2007.

The Portland Grand Prix is on the same weekend as Labor Day, a long-running golf tournament (the LPGA Cambia Portland Classic) and an opening football game (Bowling Green at Oregon). Despite the competition, race promoters are hoping to reach fans from here to Vancouver, British Columbia to Boise, Idaho to Northern California — all those who have missed seeing the men and machines tackle PIR's 12-turn road course.

Racing action takes place Aug. 31-Sept. 2, and tickets remain at The starting green flag drops at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 2.

IndyCar placed the PIR event right in the thick of its season points race. It's the second-to-last race on the 17-race schedule, after this Sunday's event at Gateway Motorsports Park outside of St. Louis and before the Sept. 16 race at Sonoma, California.

The series has a tight race for the championship.

Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon leads with 530 points (three wins), followed by Andretti Autosport's Alexander Rossi with 501 (three wins), and defending champ and Team Penske's Josef Newgarden with 464 (three wins),

Team Penske's Will Power with 449 (two wins) and Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay with 411 (one win) are next.

(Yes, one look at the leaders tells you that the old guard still reigns in IndyCar. Ganassi, Michael Andretti and Roger Penske are doing their thing, showing up to tracks, financing fast cars and winning races).

The latest race at the large oval Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania was marred by an early multi-car wreck that sent Robert Wickens of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the top rookie (sixth in points), to the hospital. Wickens tried passing Hunter-Reay on an inside line, drifted up, and light contact ensued at 200-plus miles per hour. Wickens' car went sailing through the air, damaging some protective fencing and basically tearing apart. It forced a long delay.

Drivers, owners and everybody associated with IndyCar were relieved that Wickens was awake and alert as he went to the hospital, where he received treatment for injuries to his lower extremities, right arm and spine and a pulmonary contusion.

Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner and a participant on "The Amazing Race," dominated last weekend's race after the restart, leading 180 of 200 total laps. He had won the previous race, July 29 at Mid-Ohio. He pilots the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda.

"That we were able to (win) is just a testament to the car I had from Andretti Autosport, and really the work that my teammate Zach Veach put in at the test here," Rossi said. "We were able to roll off (the truck) instantly competitive and strong."

He only surrendered the lead during pit cycles.

"It means a lot to win any race for Andretti Autosport," said Rossi, 26 and from Nevada City, California. "They have such a legacy in the sport, to be able to add to that in a very small way is a huge honor of mine. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to do that a couple more times this year and we'll be able to close it out with a championship."

But Dixon, one of a handful of drivers who raced at PIR before open-wheel racing left, remained ahead of him in points after finishing third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda; another PIR veteran, Will Power, placed second.

"Nice to get some points out of it," said Dixon, a 38-year-old New Zealand native and 17-year Ganassi driver who has won four IndyCar titles and 44 races, most among active drivers. "Obviously, we took a bit of a hit there with Rossi (winning)."

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