Colton Herta staged an impressive drive from 14th on the grid to win the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, and sweep the NTT IndyCar Series tour of Southern California following his win at Laguna Seca. Additionally, Alex Palou came home in fourth place to secure the 2021 IndyCar championship, beating out Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden in Sunday’s (Sept 26th) series finale.
Palou, at 24 years of age, is now the first Spaniard to stand atop the world of American open-wheel racing, in only his second year of IndyCar competition.
“What a year, what a season, this team is amazing. I don’t know what to say,” Palou said. “I’m super proud to be a champion!
”Dream completed, let’s get another one now!”
Palou drove a conservative race, narrowly avoiding trouble on the race’s opening lap. Palou spent the rest of the day driving a calm, risk averse strategy which saw him remain firmly planted in the top 10 until the race’s end.
Meanwhile, Herta spent the final five laps of the race defending Newgarden, who mounted an almost rabid charge for the race lead as the laps wound down. Newgarden’s red tires seemed clearly superior to Herta’s Firestone blacks. However, the tight nature of the Long Beach circuit meant space for Newgarden to overtake Herta was more than scarce.
Ultimately Herta managed the pressure from Newgarden perfectly and took the checkered flag to end 2021 on a high note.
In victory lane, Herta basked in the joy of winning his home race. “It feels amazing. Great car, great team,” Herta said. “This has been on the bucket list for so long!”
Herta used a cunning pit strategy to beat the yellow flag and assure himself a place at the head of the field after pit stops cycled through. From there, Herta was turned loose by Andretti Autosport and Newgarden’s best option quickly became defending from Scott Dixon.
Newgarden’s second place performance means the 30-year-old Penske driver finishes the 2021 season second in points.
Of course, for a two-time champion second place can’t be extremely fulfilling. Nevertheless Newgarden was in good spirits after the race.
“If there were no yellows I think we would’ve been okay,” Newgarden said. “But that’s how it rolls sometimes. We were in the fight — just came up short.”
O’Ward entered the race on the back foot following Saturdays’ controversial qualifying session and his fortunes didn’t improve after the green flag waved. O’Ward was spun by an over-ambitious Ed Jones as the field exited the final hairpin. Jones was given a drive through penalty for avoidable contact.
TROUBLE for championship contender Patricio O'Ward!
TV: NBCSN pic.twitter.com/EltjCiodhq
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 26, 2021
Fortunately, O’Ward made his way to the pits and rejoined the track on pace.
However, on lap 19, O’Ward ground to a stop on the frontstretch with a broken drive shaft. Conveniently enough, the break was located in the same spot that Jones’ front wing impacted O’Ward’s McLaren SP Chevrolet. With O’Ward out of the race, the championship battle was narrowed down to Palou and Newgarden.
“It’s not the first time he’s hit us,” an irate O’Ward explained. “Not the first time he’s done something stupid all season also. I just wish he could use his head a little bit more, at least respect the guys fighting for the championship.”
O’Ward returned to the track on lap 50 in an effort to salvage a third place points finish, rather than retire and concede third in the standings to Dixon. O’Ward’s effort, valiant as it was, came to an unfortunate end when the young Mexican finally retired on lap 77.
Scott McLaughlin walked away from Long Beach as the 2021 Rookie of the Year after Romain Grosjean broke a toe link and had to retire his no. 51 Honda. Following a strong rookie season, McLauglin looks intent on carrying this momentum into 2022, as he is still searching for his first win in IndyCar. McLauglin’s best career finish thus far is a second place run at Texas Motor Speedway.
The top 10 from Long Beach are:
1. Colton Herta
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Scott Dixon
4. Alex Palou
5. Simon Pagenaud
6. Alexander Rossi
7. Jack Harvey
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Takuma Sato
10. Will Power
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