Driving a defensive race to preserve his point lead, Alex Palou became the first- ever IndyCar champion by finishing 4th in the Acura GP of Long Beach on Sunday. Meanwhile, Colton Herta led the most laps (43 of 85) won the race in the #26 Gainbridge Honda by holding off polesitter Josef Newgarden.
Palou’s Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon brought the PNC Honda home third just ahead of Palou while Simon Pagenaud, driving his final IndyCar race for Team Penske, rounded out the top-5.
Palou became the 10th Honda-powered driver to win an Indy car title, and the championship was the 18th for Honda since it entered North American open-wheel racing in 1994.
Honda also powered today’s race winner, as Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta led 43 of the 85-laps to notch his third victory of 2021, and the first at his ‘home’ Long Beach circuit.
“What a race, what a year, what a season,” Palou said. “This team is amazing. I’m super proud to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing, all our partners. I’m super proud to be a champion and for the opportunity these guys gave me.
“Dream completed. Let’s get another one now.”
Said team owner Chip Ganassi: “Ladies and gentlemen, you’re seeing a young man that’s going to set a lot of records in this business, and he’s already starting. What a great year we’ve had. I’ve got to be honest with you: It has surprised us when he came in the door and the job he’s done. My hat’s off. Congratulations.”
Herta, who led all three practice sessions this weekend, beat Josef Newgarden to the checkered flag by 0.5883 of a second in his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda to finish the season with two consecutive victories and three overall in 2021. Herta rebounded from starting 14th after hitting the wall in NTT P1 Award qualifying. He swept both races in his native California this season and won for the first time at his home race in Long Beach, which he attended since childhood to watch his father and current strategist, Bryan Herta, race in the INDYCAR SERIES.
“It feels amazing,” Herta said. “This has been on the bucket list for so long. Super happy.”
Newgarden, by finishing 2nd moved up to 2nd in the championship after Pato O’Ward, who was 2nd in points going into the race, was drilled by Ed Jones and finished way down in 27th.
Herta had built an 8.8-second lead on his final stint on the alternate tires before pitting on Lap 55 for primary tires. Newgarden jumped into the pits on the same lap for alternate tires and began cutting into Herta’s lead almost immediately.
Newgarden also caught a break on Lap 62 when Oliver Askew’s No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda nosed into the tire barrier in Turn 9 after contact with Conor Daly’s No. 20 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet while dueling for position. That triggered the fourth and final caution period of the race, bunching field for a vital restart on Lap 65 with Herta in the lead and Newgarden second.
Herta, on primary tires, appeared vulnerable to losing the lead on the restart to Newgarden, on grippier alternate tires. But Herta rocketed away at the start of the restart zone and got superb traction exiting the famous hairpin corner leading to the front straight and green flag, while Newgarden’s car lost grip exiting the hairpin.
“We had a great car,” Herta said. “Reds or blacks, we seemed to have the pace. I just can’t believe it.”
But Newgarden refused to give up, showing the resiliency of a two-time series champion. He continued to shave the gap every lap, pulling to within .680 of a second with eight laps to go.
Herta and Newgarden raced in accordion fashion around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile circuit, with Herta – who was running less downforce on his rear wing than Newgarden – building his lead on straightaways and Newgarden taking advantage of more grip to cut that deficit in tight turns.
Newgarden pulled to within a car-length or two of Herta late in the tight, treacherous fountain turn complex. But the gap grew on the straights due to less drag on Herta’s rear wing, and he was able to hold on for victory.
The runner-up finish helped Newgarden jump to second in the final championship standings, 38 points behind Palou.
“Colton did a great job, so congrats to him and his entire crew,” Newgarden said. “He was on the right tire on the right point of the race. If there were no yellows, I think we would have been OK today, to cruise out front. But that’s the way it rolls sometimes.
“Strong effort by our team. I think my crew was the fastest in pit lane all year, so there’s a lot to be prideful for. We fought hard. We came up a little bit short this year, which is unfortunate, but we fought all year long.”
Scott McLaughlin wrapped up the Rookie of Year title by finishing 11th.
“I’m really proud of everyone with the PPG Chevy,” McLaughlin said. “The car’s been awesome, and I finally got it to my liking the last six or seven races. I’m really excited for next year. This year was a foundation year, all about building, and I feel like I’ve done that.”
This is Chip Ganassi Racing’s 14th NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship. Palou joins big CGR names as champion – Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, and Dario Franchitti.
Pato O’Ward, who entered the race 35 points behind Palou in second, ended up 62 points back in third after a disappointing day. O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevy was hit from behind by the No. 18 SealMaster Honda of Ed Jones and spun in the hairpin turn at the end of Lap 1, dropping him to the rear of the field. That contact led to a loss of drive on Lap 19 after the half-shaft in his right rear wheel snapped.
O’Ward returned to the track on Lap 53 after extensive repair time but dropped out when it became apparent second place in the championship was out of reach. He ended up in 27th place.
“It’s not the first time he has hit us and not the first time he has done something stupid all season,” O’Ward said of the early contact from Jones. “I just wish he could use his head a bit more, at least respect the guys who are fighting for the championship.
“I think we’ve had a great season. I’m proud of the team; I’m proud of myself.”
|1||26||Colton Herta||85||0.000s||0.000s||43||14||101.813||Honda||455||Andretti Autosport|
|2||2||Josef Newgarden||85||0.5883||0.5883||18||1||101.673||Chevy||511||Team Penske|
|3||9||Scott Dixon||85||1.0752||0.4869||1||2||101.580||Honda||481||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|4||10||Alex Palou||85||2.4120||1.3368||0||10||101.618||Honda||549||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|5||22||Simon Pagenaud||85||3.1237||0.7117||0||4||101.804||Chevy||383||Team Penske|
|6||27||Alexander Rossi||85||4.6739||1.5502||0||15||101.358||Honda||332||Andretti Autosport|
|7||60||Jack Harvey||85||6.3467||1.6728||1||25||101.449||Honda||308||Meyer Shank Racing|
|8||14||Sebastien Bourdais||85||8.0275||1.6808||0||22||101.288||Chevy||258||AJ Foyt Enterprises|
|9||30||Takuma Sato||85||10.5939||2.5664||0||16||101.297||Honda||324||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|10||12||Will Power||85||11.4297||0.8358||0||12||101.529||Chevy||357||Team Penske|
|11||3||Scott McLaughlin||85||12.3327||0.9030||0||13||102.018||Chevy||305||Team Penske|
|12||18||Ed Jones||84||25.7224||13.8851||0||9||100.972||Honda||233||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan|
|13||7||Felix Rosenqvist||84||26.1442||0.4218||0||5||101.535||Chevy||205||Arrow McLaren SP|
|14||11||Charlie Kimball||84||26.9430||0.7988||0||20||100.809||Chevy||24||AJ Foyt Enterprises|
|15||29||James Hinchcliffe||84||27.1232||0.1802||0||7||100.902||Honda||219||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport|
|16||15||Graham Rahal||84||27.7226||0.5994||4||19||102.090||Honda||389||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|18||48||Jimmie Johnson||84||29.0664||0.6357||0||27||100.551||Honda||107||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|19||4||Dalton Kellett||84||30.2478||1.1814||0||26||100.815||Chevy||148||AJ Foyt Enterprises|
|20||06||Helio Castroneves||84||31.5884||1.3406||15||3||101.832||Honda||158||Meyer Shank Racing|
|21||20||Conor Daly||83||1 LAPS||1 LAPS||0||21||101.145||Chevy||235||Ed Carpenter Racing|
|22||45||Oliver Askew||82||2 LAPS||55.0456||3||28||100.896||Honda||61||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing|
|23||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||82||2 LAPS||4.6915||0||11||101.658||Honda||256||Andretti Autosport|
|24||51||Romain Grosjean||75||Contact||1 LAPS||0||6||101.622||Honda||272||Dale Coyne Racing w/RWR|
|25||21||Rinus VeeKay||48||Mechanical||23 LAPS||0||24||100.155||Chevy||308||Ed Carpenter Racing|
|26||77||Callum Ilott||47||Mechanical||398.2900||0||18||100.488||Chevy||18||Juncos Hollinger Racing|
|27||5||Pato O’Ward||43||Contact||4 LAPS||0||8||102.469||Chevy||487||Arrow McLaren SP|
|28||8||Marcus Ericsson||25||Contact||1.2042||0||17||100.609||Honda||435||Chip Ganassi Racing|
Winner’s average speed: 91.935 mph
Time of Race: 1:49:10.3764
Margin of victory: 0.5883 of a second
Cautions: 4 for 13 laps
Lead changes: 7 among 7 drivers
Newgarden, Josef 1 – 18
Castroneves, Helio 19 – 33
Herta, Colton 34 – 54
Dixon, Scott 55
Harvey, Jack 56
Askew, Oliver 57 – 59
Rahal, Graham 60 – 63
Herta, Colton 64 – 85
NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings: Palou 549, Newgarden 511, O’Ward 487, Dixon 481, Herta 455, Ericsson 435, Rahal 389, Pagenaud 383, Power 357, Rossi 332