Herta overtakes her father with Laguna Seca victory | Formula One
MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) – The new faces of IndyCar dominated at Laguna Seca, where Colton Herta won the race, Alex Palou walked away from the championship on an easy Sunday and Romain Grosjean was treated like a rock star.
Herta routed the ground – and run over ‘a squirrel or a rabbit’ while doing so – as he won pole on Sunday, as he did in 2019 in the last IndyCar race on the vast course permanent road. He went on to congratulate the dead animal embedded under his car on his first career IndyCar victory.
“He’s done a lot more than a lot of IndyCar drivers,” Herta joked.
But for the current rider, it was his second win of the season and Herta tied his father, Bryan, with a pair of wins at Laguna Seca.
“This place is so awesome, it’s my favorite track in North America,” said driver Andretti Autosport. “It’s an amazing trail for me and my family, it’s been so good for us.”
Laguna Seca was the site of Herta’s fifth career victory in three seasons, which saw him overtake his father’s tally. Bryan Herta has won four races over 13 seasons and was masterful at Laguna Seca, where he claimed back-to-back wins in 1998 and 1999 and was seventh in career average.
Now his son’s strategist, Bryan Herta beamed from the Andretti timing bench.
“He feels like a veteran when you work with him now,” said Bryan Herta. “You know, it’s like two different hats. I always have daddy’s hat when we get home, but when we’re on the track it’s all professional and it’s been a lot of fun being a part of that with him.
Palou, meanwhile, drove a smooth and steady race for second place to widen his lead in the IndyCar standings from 25 points to 35 points over Pato O’Ward ahead of next week’s final. The 24-year-old Spaniard needed to breathe as he had never seen the street course in Long Beach where the title will be decided.
Palou only needs to finish 11th next Sunday to claim the title in his second IndyCar season.
“I’m going to Long Beach, where I’ve never been. Everyone I fight has been there, ”Palou said. “It’s not going to be easy, even if I only have to finish 11th, I still have to finish 11th. I’m not going to think about the points until the last pit stop.
Grosjean put on a spectacular show at the end of the race as he made his way through traffic on the 11-turn, 2,258-mile course. The Frenchman made a race-record 27 passes and looked to have a chance to catch up with the leaders until he struggled to overtake Jimmie Johnson’s car.
Johnson was informed by radio to put Grosjean to work for the post in order to protect his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Palou. Grosjean, in his debut season in Formula 1, and Johnson, his first year after seven NASCAR championships, crashed into the cars on the turn as both drivers refused to give in.
Johnson briefly deviated from the course but recovered, while Grosjean cleared him and aimed to finish higher than third. He couldn’t regain more ground, however, but was delighted with his third podium of the season.
“Laguna Seca, I love you that’s all I can say,” said Grosjean, who apologized for diverting Johnson from the course and took responsibility for the incident.
“I’m sorry we made contact with Jimmie, he was pushing hard to protect Alex from me, which is the game. I was pushing hard to pass.” “
Grosjean took a long sip of champagne during the podium celebration and then joined Herta and Palou to sprinkle the rest of the bottle. At the end of the ceremony, the crowd started chanting “Grosjean! Grosjean! Grosjean! and he came back to the front of the stage to greet first, then cover his heart with appreciation.
“I almost cried and I don’t cry very often,” said Grosjean, who called fan acceptance this season “more than I could have imagined”.
Johnson, meanwhile, had his best IndyCar race of the season. He finished 17th – his previous best result was 19th – but made some quality passes with quadruple Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves among those he chased. Johnson also posted comparable lap times.
O’Ward did all he could and was third behind Palou for much of the race, but struggled with his black tires and settled for fifth.
“The whole weekend we haven’t had it and I really feel like we’ve absolutely used every ounce of rhythm,” O’Ward said. “At the end of the race, that was all I had. All we can do is win Long Beach and drop the chips. Let’s see what we can take away.
Herta’s victory gave Honda their 10th Constructors’ Championship, the fourth in a row, and came on the 25th anniversary of their first title, also won at Laguna Seca.
IndyCar will end its season next Sunday on the temporary street course through downtown Long Beach. The race was canceled last year at the start of the pandemic and moved from April to this year’s finals to ensure IndyCar can make the stop.
Kyle Kirkwood swept the Indy Lights doubles program at Laguna Seca to build a 15-point championship lead with two races remaining.
Those final two races will be held next month at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where Kirkwood has won twice this season already. He has been locked in an intense battle with David Malukas all season and rivals have come to Laguna Seca tied with seven wins apiece.
Now Kirkwood has nine wins and has moved closer to the Road to Indy ladder system. Driver Andretti Autosport won the USF2000 Championship in 2018 and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship in 2019. Kirkwood has 30 wins in 48 starts on Road to Indy and the Indy Lights title would earn him a purse of $ 1.3 million for at least three IndyCar races, including the Indianapolis 500.
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