IndyCar: Herta wins at Long Beach, Palou wins championship

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.

Race winner Colton Herta

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.

Champion Alex Palou with the Astor Cup. He is the first driver from Spain to win the title and comes in just his 2nd year in the series

“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.

Colton Herta

“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.

Josef Newgarden

“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.”

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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.”

Race Results

Pos No Name Laps Diff Gap Led ST FSpeed Engine Points Team
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
17 59 Max Chilton 84 28.4307 0.7081 0 23 100.758 Chevy 132 Carlin
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

Race Statistics
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

Lap Leaders:
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


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