Palou crowned IndyCar champion as Herta wins Long Beach finale

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24-year-old Álex Palou from Barcelona, Spain, has won his first IndyCar Series championship in just his second season with a fourth place finish in Sunday’s season finale on the streets of Long Beach. Meanwhile, Colton Herta capped off his 2021 season by charging from fourteenth on the grid to take the win in his home race, narrowly holding off Josef Newgarden over the final laps.

The battle for the Astor Challenge Cup saw an immediate flashpoint on the opening lap, when Ed Jones made contact with Patricio O’Ward at the hairpin turn 11. The contact sent O’Ward spinning to the back of the field. A separate incident for Sébastien Bourdais brought out the first caution.

O’Ward was understandably frustrated with Jones after the incident. While there was no body or suspension damage to his car, the contact that he sustained had long-term effects. On lap 20, O’Ward’s black and orange Dallara/Chevrolet ground to a halt, coasting down East Shoreline Drive with a broken half shaft. With his championship chances over, and now relinquishing second in the standings – O’Ward stopped at the exit of pit lane, which brought out the second caution. O’Ward was able to return to the track to attempt to finish the race, but he was only able to complete 43 laps and finished 27th.

Newgarden led from pole for the first 19 laps of the race, and came into the pits just before the second caution period. But it was Herta – who absorbed some light contact in the O’Ward and Jones incident at the start – that was on the move. After the third caution period, caused by Marcus Ericsson’s race-ending accident at turn one, Herta was running in net third position after his first stop.

When the race restarted again on lap 31, Herta cut and thrust his way past Scott Dixon for net second place at turn seven. On the next lap, he overtook Newgarden at turn nine to take the race lead. Herta put his second set of fresh alternate compound ‘red tyres’ to the pavement and began opening up a margin with searing pace. By the time Herta made his second stop on lap 54, he had an 8.8 second margin to Newgarden.

For the final stint, it was Herta on a fresh set of the harder primary ‘black tyres’, with Newgarden on a scrub set of alternate tyres. After the fourth caution of the race, caused by a turn nine collision between Oliver Askew and Conor Daly, Herta was able to get a great initial restart. Lap after lap, Newgarden was able to catch up, until he was within half a second of Herta with five laps remaining.

But in the same rare form which propelled him to victory a week ago at Laguna Seca, Herta had more than enough pace in hand to keep Newgarden at bay, securing his third win of the season – back-to-back wins to close out the year, and Herta’s first win on the streets of Long Beach.

Newgarden finished 0.588 seconds behind Herta in second, to clinch second in the IndyCar Series championship, ahead of Dixon in third – and Palou, in fourth, achieved what he needed to become the first Spanish driver to win a major American open wheel racing championship in just his second season, and his first as a driver at Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou’s championship title is the fourteenth for the Ganassi team, placing the young Spaniard in the company of past champions Dixon, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Dario Franchitti.

“I don’t know what to say, I’m super proud to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing,”

Simon Pagenaud, in what is expected to be his final race at Team Penske, finished fifth. Alexander Rossi went from 15th on the grid to finish sixth – and Jack Harvey pulled off a fantastic comeback from 25th on the grid, to finish seventh in his last race with Meyer Shank Racing.

Four-time series champion Sébastien Bourdais, on the record earlier today saying that this will be his last race as a full-time IndyCar driver, recovered from his opening lap woes to finish eighth. Takuma Sato and Will Power completed the top ten.

Scott McLaughlin finished 11th, and clinched IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honours. Romain Grosjean’s chances of overtaking McLaughlin in the standings vanished after he made contact with the wall at turn eight on lap 58 – just enough to break the left rear suspension. Grosjean completed 75 laps before retiring later in the race.

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Race result

PositionCarDriverTeamEngine
126Colton HertaAndrettiHonda
22Josef NewgardenPenskeChevrolet
39Scott DixonGanassiHonda
410Alex PalouGanassiHonda
522Simon PagenaudPenskeChevrolet
627Alexander RossiAndrettiHonda
760Jack HarveyMeyer ShankHonda
814Sebastien BourdaisFoytChevrolet
930Takuma SatoRLLHonda
1012Will PowerPenskeChevrolet
113Scott McLaughlinPenskeChevrolet
1218Ed JonesCoyne/VasserHonda
137Felix RosenqvistMcLaren SPChevrolet
1429James HinchcliffeAndretti SteinbrennerHonda
1559Max ChiltonCarlinChevrolet
1615Graham RahalRLLHonda
1748Jimmie JohnsonGanassiHonda
1811Charlie KimballFoytChevrolet
194Dalton KellettFoytChevrolet
206Helio CastronevesMeyer ShankHonda
2120Conor DalyCarpenterChevrolet
2245Oliver AskewRLLHonda
2328Ryan Hunter-ReayAndrettiHonda
2451Romain GrosjeanCoyne/RWRHonda
2521Rinus VeeKayCarpenterChevrolet
2677Callum IlottJuncos HollingerChevrolet
275Patricio O’WardMcLaren SPChevrolet
288Marcus EricssonGanassiHonda

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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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  • 9 comments on “Palou crowned IndyCar champion as Herta wins Long Beach finale”

    1. Well done to Palou, definitely the most complete driver over the course of the season. It is a shame the title race was basically over on the first lap thanks to O’Ward taking contact, but he and the team can be proud of running the Ganassi juggernaut so close this year.

      It’s been a great, entertaining season from IndyCar this year. Lots of promise for next year too – looking forward to it already.

    2. The wall :
      ” i think Erickson hit us ! “

    3. What a great Indy season! Shame for O’Ward, he could have been champion if not for other drivers incompetence.

    4. The fact that Grosjean didn’t run a full season and was still in with a shout to win Rookie of the Year, against someone in a far better team, shows that he was the true Rookie of the Year.

    5. Took the season opener and strong showings since, definitely a deserved title. Almost won the Indy 500 too to top it off.
      By the way, I wonder if the surgery impacted VeeKey after Road America? He had solid top 10’s in the first half of the season but it kind of fell apart in the second.

    6. And so the momentum they’ve achieved over the past six months disappears…

      Tasman series, I’m telling ya

      Surfers, Sepang, Hampton Downs and finally a finale at Mount Panorama

      1. says someone who doesn’t watch Indycar

    7. This has been a great year of racing in Indy Car. It was by turns frustrating and exciting, sometimes never knowing how it would end up. Sochi was almost like an Indy race with people charging from the back and other’s at the front trying to hang on and not making it. So I look forward to next year with expectation. There’s a shift going on in Indy Car right now. The older generation of drivers are fading out while a new and exciting group of young guns are coming on strong.

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