Herta remains undefeated at Laguna Seca; Palou moves closer to championship in second


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Picking up where he left off when the IndyCar Series last visited Laguna Seca Raceway in 2019, Colton Herta drove to a comprehensive, pole-to-win victory at the Grand Prix of Monterey. Behind him, Álex Palou finished in second place, and took a crucial step towards winning his first IndyCar Series championship in just his second season by building his lead to 35 points ahead of Patricio O’Ward.

Herta’s greatest threat for the win going into the day may have been his Andretti Autosport team mate Alexander Rossi, but on lap two, Rossi tried a desperate lunge up the inside of Herta for the lead at turn five – both cars made contact, sending Rossi spinning off and bringing out the only full-course caution of the race. After the restart, Herta began to build a massive lead before making his first stop at the end of lap 19. In a race that began to favour the harder primary compound tyres, Herta had a strong stint at the front of the field, then made his second stop on lap 43.

After the second round of pit stops, Herta found himself at the back of a train of backmarkers, which allowed Palou to close to within half a second during the third stint of the race. With a new set of primary tyres, Herta was able to pick his way through the lap down cars quicker than Palou, which allowed him to build a margin. Palou found so much difficulty in lapped traffic that his Ganassi crew pitted him on lap 66 to attempt an undercut. Herta made his final stop on lap 68, and emerged from the pits without conceding the net lead of the race.

Herta capped a dominant drive by leading 91 out of 95 laps, and taking the win by less than two seconds over Palou in second. It is Herta’s second win of the season, and the fifth of his career.

The big picture for Palou’s runner-up finish – his eighth podium of the season – is that he can clinch his first career IndyCar title at the Grand Prix of Long Beach next weekend, with a minimum finish of 11th or better, regardless of where O’Ward or Josef Newgarden place.

Romain Grosjean put on a dazzling final stint to drive from 13th on the grid to finish third. Running to the end on the alternate tyres, Grosjean was making aggressive moves through the field, and at one point was catching the tandem of Herta and Palou at a rate of 1-2 seconds per lap. His best chance at moving into the top two faded when he made contact with Jimmie Johnson at the Corkscrew. Both cars continued on with minimal damage, and Grosjean would continue his charge to his third career IndyCar podium.

Graham Rahal also ran the last stint on the alternate tyres, and moved his way from 14th on the grid to finish fourth, while O’Ward survived a few scrappy stints on primary tyres to finish fifth. Marcus Ericsson finished sixth, and Josef Newgarden climbed from 17th to finish seventh and hang on to his slim championship hopes. Newgarden is 48 points behind Palou, needing a win and Palou to finish at the very back to overturn the deficit.

Simon Pagenaud, Oliver Askew, and Ed Jones completed the top ten. Scott Dixon concedes his reign as IndyCar champion with a 13th place finish, falling out of championship contention.

Grosjean’s third place finish moves him to within 20 points of Scott McLaughlin, who finished 12th, for the Rookie of the Year award.

Jimmie Johnson drove to his best career finish in 17th, and Callum Ilott finished 22nd in his second career race with Juncos Hollinger Racing – just hours after a crash in the warm-up session earlier in the day.

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Race result

Position Car Driver Team Engine
1 26 Colton Herta Andretti Honda
2 10 Alex Palou Ganassi Honda
3 51 Romain Grosjean Coyne/RWR Honda
4 15 Graham Rahal RLL Honda
5 5 Patricio O’Ward McLaren SP Chevrolet
6 8 Marcus Ericsson Ganassi Honda
7 2 Josef Newgarden Penske Chevrolet
8 22 Simon Pagenaud Penske Chevrolet
9 45 Oliver Askew RLL Honda
10 18 Ed Jones Coyne/Vasser Honda
11 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Honda
12 3 Scott McLaughlin Penske Chevrolet
13 9 Scott Dixon Ganassi Honda
14 14 Sebastien Bourdais Foyt Chevrolet
15 60 Jack Harvey Meyer Shank Honda
16 20 Conor Daly Carpenter Chevrolet
17 48 Jimmie Johnson Ganassi Honda
18 21 Rinus VeeKay Carpenter Chevrolet
19 7 Felix Rosenqvist McLaren SP Chevrolet
20 29 James Hinchcliffe Andretti Steinbrenner Honda
21 59 Max Chilton Carlin Chevrolet
22 77 Callum Ilott Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet
23 4 Dalton Kellett Foyt Chevrolet
24 6 Helio Castroneves Meyer Shank Honda
25 27 Alexander Rossi Andretti Honda
26 12 Will Power Penske Chevrolet
27 30 Takuma Sato RLL Honda

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Author information

RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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15 comments on “Herta remains undefeated at Laguna Seca; Palou moves closer to championship in second”

  1. Part of the fun of today’s race was that Indycar does not use blue flags for backmarkers, forcing leaders to make actual passes on cars that might be a lap down. Isn’t it David Croft of Sky’s F1 announce team that advocates doing the same in F1, instead of just having the lap down cars roll over and play dead? That might liven up the racing in F1, rather than bizarre suggestions about sprint races or inverting the field.

    1. They already do, toro rossos trying to prove they should be on the main team by becoming a nuisance, merc drivers crashing into rb’s, alfas jumping out of the way of ferraris

    2. Nell (@imabouttogoham)
      20th September 2021, 5:53

      I’m not a fan of it. I know they used to do it in the 80s and 90s but if a car is clearly slow (and they would be, seeing as they’re about to be lapped) why should they hold up someone in front of them?

      If a car is clearly fast enough to unlap themselves, that’s a different story.

    3. Why would you allow driver X, who has completed only 265km, to impede driver A who has already completed 269 or 271km?

      If you raced from point R to point S, which is after all the origin of this whole sport, they wouldn’t ever meet each other until after the finish line, so the whole idea of a driver several kilometres off the leader being in a position to fend for anything is just an artefact of confining races to a track and should be removed as much as possible from the equation.

      1. Thats exactly right. It’s only because of the circuitual nature of the racing course that those two cars were in close proximity. From a scoring perspective, the overtaking, lapping car is 2 miles ahead. Why should he be impeded by a car thats effectively 2 miles behind him? Plus, not to mention that fans were robbed of a potential late race duel for second place, because one of the cars wasted time with a backmarker.

        1. @proesterchen @phr0sty That view makes sense if you view races as an attempt to emulate open road, point-to-point races. But IndyCar has, naturally, a bit of an oval track mentality, where working traffic and clearing backmarkers is part of the game (as is the possibility of gaining your lap back if cautions fall your way). Fans weren’t robbed of a battle because of this—the reason Grosjean was catching the leaders so quickly was because they were stuck behind traffic, too. In the long run, I think it evens out.

          1. I agree with everything you’ve said. My disagreement is with Indycar. I think it places an importance on something that’s artificial. Sort of like keeping a stat for foul ball homeruns. And it could lead to a situation where backmarkers could intentionally be placed in a track position where they could impeded a lead cars rival. Again, if that’s what Indycar wants, thats ok, I just wish they would clarify it.

    4. Picture the scenario of the B teams constantly pitting and driving slowly after being over taken eventually by a rival thus putting them in front of said car again.

    5. Blue flag should mean “do not defend your position my moving on the track” to the back marker and not “move aside NOW!!!!

      1. my = by

    6. yehbut, Indycar is basically a spec series. Those “manufacturers” in f1 wouldn’t have that! When team “F” invests heavily in the backmarkers like team H or AR they full expect those teams to roll over when the mighty red machine is in the the rear view!

  2. Nell (@imabouttogoham)
    20th September 2021, 5:54

    O’Ward has been doing so well, but who’s his teammate meant to be?

    That second Arrow Mclaren SP could probably go to a Mclaren development driver because Rosenqvist clearly isn’t cutting it.

  3. Roman added some spice to the end of the race, He was making his fresh tires talk until that pass on Johnson. While 2 cars sideways on the corkscrew was fun to watch, I was thinking if this was F1 both cars would likely be out of the race.

    The lack of blue flags showed how close the drivers are, I was surprised how much Herta was held up by back markers.

    Overall it was a good race

  4. Herta dominated, but tons of action behind him all day. Palou (who’s been brilliant) will wrap up the title next weekend. Star of the show was Grosjean who drove like a man possessed. Bummer there’s only one race left.

  5. some racing fan
    20th September 2021, 21:46

    I was at this race. It was my first time at Laguna Seca, and to actually be at that track and see how spectacular the scenery around it is something else to behold. I am willing to bet there is no track in the world other than perhaps the Nurburgring, Spa and Bathurst that has scenery that even gets close to the scenery around Laguna Seca. It’s like a real-life Gran Turismo track.

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