Herta Wins at Long Beach as Palou Wins the Championship

Alex Palou became the first Spanish driver to win the NTT IndyCar Series championship, and Southern California native Colton Herta finished off the year’s campaign with a victory at the iconic Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The championship by Palou, 24, gives Chip Ganassi Racing its 14th title; more impressively, it was won by someone other than Scott Dixon, who has won six Astor Cups. He joints an impressive roster of drivers who won titles for Ganassi: Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alex Zanardi, and Jimmy Vasser.

Palou is the sixth-youngest champion ever, and the first under the age of 25 since Dixon won the title in 2003.

Dixon wasn’t a factor in this championship. He finished third in the race, just ahead of Palou, on the 11-turn, 1.968 layout.

Pole winner Josef Newgarden finished second in the race and second in the championship. He needed to win the race and lead the most laps – basically, he had to dominate the weekend and win every point available – and needed Palou to finish 24th or worse.

Palou tip-toed through a couple of racy moments and avoided catastrophe, unlike Mexican driver Pato O’Ward, who entered the day second in the championship needing to make up a 34-point deficit. At the Turn 11 hairpin on the first lap, the Arrow McLaren SP driver was hit from behind by Ed Jones. The orange and black Chevrolet spun as O’Ward watched every driver in the field pass him. A yellow brought on by Sebastien Bourdais’ spin allowed O’Ward to remain on the lead lap, but about 20 laps later the right rear half shaft gave way.

“It’s not the first time he’s done something stupid (this season),” O’Ward said.

When he finally reentered the race, O’Ward was 34 laps down. He finished 26th out of 28 drivers, and finished third in the championship, 62 points behind Palou.

Palou also had a breathtaking moment. He started on the outside of Row 5, directly behind O’Ward. As cars stacked up at the hairpin to avoid O’Ward, Palou had contact with another car but was unaffected.

Herta’s Gainbridge Honda passed Newgarden on Lap 33 and led a total of 43 laps. Newgarden led the first 18, and he made it a close finish. The Tennessee driver for Team Penske cut the deficit from 0.72 seconds from two laps to go to 0.59 at the white flag. Herta won by 0.5883 of a second after averaging 91.935 mph in a race that featured four caution flags totaling 13 laps.

Newgarden, 31, finished 38 points behind Palou in the championship. He was disappointed that things didn’t result in a third championship for him. “Couple things go different, it’s a different outcome for us,” Newgarden said of his season. “It’s incredibly disappointing. I think we have another run in us next year.” “

Simon Pagenaud, in his last race for Team Penske, finished fifth, and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi was sixth.

Jack Harvey, in his final race with Meyer Shank Racing, took seventh. Bourdais, whose status next season with A.J. Foyt Racing is tentative, rebounded from this spin and finished eighth. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato, in his last race with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, finished ninth. Penske’s Will Power finished 10th.

The victory was a popular won among the crowd. Herta, the son of former driver Bryan Herta, grew up in Valencia, and Southern Californians erupted when he passed Newgarden on Lap 33 to become the effective leader among those on the same pit strategy.

“It feels amazing,” Herta said. “Great car, great team. This has been on the bucket list for so long. So happy. What a way to cap off the year. I just can’t believe it. I’m at a loss for words.”

It’s the sixth career victory for Herta, 21. He also won at St. Petersburg and, last week, at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. He finished fifth in the championship, 94 points behind Palou and 26 points behind Dixon.

“This is the biggest race for me outside of Indy,” said Herta, who was two weeks old when he attended his first Long Beach Grand Prix. “I can’t believe I won it on my second try.”

The top 10 in the championship was rounded out by Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson in sixth, Graham Rahal in seventh, Pagenaud in eight, Power in ninth, and Rossi in 10th.

The series is clearly experiencing a youth movement. Among the top five drivers in the championship, Palou is 24, O’Ward is 23, Herta is 21. At 31, Newgarden is closer in age to Herta than he is to Dixon, who is 41.

Besides the championship, there interesting rookie of the year award was finally decided.

Three-time Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin’s 305 points bested former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean’s 272 for rookie honors. McLaughlin finished 11th at Long Beach and Grosjean finished 24th because of contact with the wall, but he had run as high as third place. Unlike McLaughlin, Grosjean didn’t race at Indianapolis (a double points race) or the two Texas races.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t compete in any of the four oval races and finished 26th in the championship; he was 17th at Long Beach, the race the San Diego County native grew up attending, after starting 27th.

The series will resume its April date in 2022. The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach reported that there were 180,000 in attendance over the three days, down 7,500 from the last race in 2019.


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