It was deja vu for Colton Herta at Laguna Seca on Sunday. The last time the NTT IndyCar Series visited Monterey, California Herta started on pole and led 83 of the 90 laps on his way to victory lane. Today he had an even more dominant drive, leading 91 of the 95 laps en route to his second win of the season and his fifth career victory. Colton now has more wins than his father Bryan, who also won multiple times at this track.
“I enjoy racing here so much,” Herta said. “It’s an amazing track for me and my family. It’s been so good to us. To go two-for-two so far at Laguna Seca is great. We were fast all weekend, and I’m glad we could pull it off in the race. I’m just happy to have done it. This place is so awesome – it’s my favorite track in North America by far. To win here means so much.”
Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Box Score
Alex Palou did exactly what he needed to do this weekend, and scored a solid runner-up finish in his No. 10 Honda. The Ganassi driver earned his series-leading eighth podium of the season and added to his championship lead. Palou heads into the final race of the season with a 35-point lead in the standings.
Despite Herta’s dominance and Palou extending his championship lead, the driver of the day was Romain Grosjean. The IndyCar rookie earned his third podium result of the season with a phenomenal drive. After starting the race in the 13th position, Grosjean began tearing through the field on his way towards the front. He had a couple of close calls late in the race but proved once again that he is already one of the most talented drivers in the series.
Graham Rahal had a very good race himself, improving eight spots on the afternoon on his way to a 4th place finish. The top four finishers were all powered by Honda, who clinched the manufacturer’s championship for the fourth straight season. The highest finishing Chevrolet on Sunday was that of Pato O’Ward, who kept his title hopes alive with a top-five finish.
O’Ward and the Arrow McLaren SP team have a tall task ahead of them next weekend, but 35 points is not insurmountable. Josef Newgarden is the only other driver that can mathematically win the title in Long Beach, but it would take something close to a miracle for the Team Penske driver to overcome the 48 point hole that he is facing. Both Scott Dixon (13th) and Marcus Ericsson (6th) have been eliminated from championship contention but will focus on helping their Ganassi teammate next weekend.
While Ericsson earned his ninth consecutive top-ten finish on Sunday, Simon Pagenaud recorded just his 2nd top-ten since the Indianapolis 500 in May. Oliver Askew had an outstanding weekend in the No. 45 car for RLL Racing, as he works towards finding a seat for next season. He was fast in practice, qualified 5th, and finished 9th. Ed Jones also had a solid weekend, rounding out the list of top ten finishers on Sunday.
What started out as a promising weekend for Alexander Rossi quickly turned in the wrong direction. Starting on the front row, he saw an opportunity on the second lap of the race when Herta got loose and went off the track. Rossi had the inside line to make the pass for the lead but the front end of his car stepped out at the worst possible moment and his right-front tire made contact with Herta’s left-rear, and he was sent towards the tire barriers. Fortunately, he was able to continue but his hopes of ending his winless drought went out the window very early.
The only two drivers that Rossi finished ahead of were Will Power and Takuma Sato, who both had mechanical issues that ruined their days. Helio Castroneves did not have a pleasant return to Laguna Seca and finished just ahead of Rossi in 24th position. Rinus VeeKay, unfortunately, continued his streak of bad finishes. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver has now finished 16th or worse in seven straight races.
Only one race remains on the 2021 schedule. The series heads back to the famed circuit at Long Beach, where a champion will be crowned. The final race of the season is the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach next weekend. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 3 PM ET on Sunday.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar