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Herta Rules Laguna Seca Once Again

Colton Herta didn't do the Carlton, but it wasn't unusual to see him win. (Photo: Joe Skibinski | INDYCAR)

Colton Herta didn’t do the Carlton, but it wasn’t unusual to see him win. (Photo: Joe Skibinski | INDYCAR)

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca might as well be renamed Colton Herta Raceway. That’s because Colton Herta won from the pole after dominating the race to and scored his fifth career NTT IndyCar Series win.

The 21-year-old is now 2-for-2 in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and surpassed his father Bryan (1998-99 winner) in all-time victories. Citing it as his favorite track in North America, Colton was happy going fast all weekend.

“To go 2-for-2 so far is good. We were fast and happy to pull it off during the race,” said Herta. “Felt pressure from Alex (Palou) behind me. Even in the beginning of the stints, he was there. I was happy to have (won). This place is so awesome and winning here means so much.”

Championship leader Alex Palou is now a step closer of locking up the Astor Cup after finishing second. He entered Laguna Seca 25 points above Pato O’Ward. The Spaniard gained 10 points on the Mexican going into next Sunday’s finale at Long Beach.

“I was surprised we were competitive with Herta. We didn’t have it for the win but did the most we could,” said Palou. “It was an awesome race. The guys did amazing pit stops and the strategy was great. We go to Long Beach now.”

Romain Grosjean, who now trails Scott McLaughlin by 20 points for Rookie of the Year honors, rounded out the podium. The ROTY battle was far from the main focal point. It was his road to scoring a podium that wowed everyone once again.

“The last stint was very fun because we were on new tires and fresher than everyone else,” said Grosjean. “The middle part when we went long on blacks to make the strategy work was less fun and a bit arrogant. It’s a great day. Laguna Seca, I love you. That’s all I got to say.”

Graham Rahal and O’Ward rounded out the top-five. The latter “fought like hell” to be remotely close on Palou’s level, but now has his work cut out for at Long Beach.

“All weekend we didn’t have it. I truly feel like we absolutely juiced every single ounce of energy and pace. We pulled off a near miracle in qualifying to start in the first three rows,” said O’Ward.

“At the end of the race, that was as much as I had. I fought for life for those last few positions. The reds were the desired tire. We only had one new set of reds, so we had to do a black race. I’m disappointed but I’m happy that we maximized what we had. Disappointed that the guy we’re trying to catch outscored us again. All we can do in Long Beach is win and let everything else fall.”

Race Summary

All the world is a playground for Colton Herta at Laguna Seca. (Photo: Chris Jones | INDYCAR)

All the world is a playground for Colton Herta at Laguna Seca. (Photo: Chris Jones | INDYCAR)

Herta led the 27-car field to green and as usual with IndyCar racing – drama ensued. Felix Rosenqvist spun in Turn 3 on the opening lap but kept it going. The same can’t be said about Alexander Rossi a lap later.

Herta went wide and kicked some dirt in Turn 4, allowing Rossi to catch him. Both fought for the same real estate in Turn 5, but Rossi got sideways and collided into Herta. It resulted Rossi spinning into the gravel, bringing out the first full course caution.

Last week’s runner-up finisher at Portland fell out of contention as his No. 27 NAPA Honda stalled. The AMR Safety Crew were able to pull Rossi out of the litter and the race resumed three laps later. Rossi finished two laps down in 25th.

O’Ward struggled with his black Firestone compounds on restarts, losing valuable track position. Thus, hurting his odds of keeping the championship trail close at that point. Meanwhile, Palou was on the red compounds which gave him the biggest advantage. O’Ward switched compounds on Lap 13 with Palou staying on reds six laps later.

At the end of Lap 10, Will Power have pitted from second. Rather than a regular stop, Power reported of having engine issues. It required the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet having extended service and eliminated him from the fight, finishing 26th.

Herta made his first stop on Lap 19, and it was a no contest. He was ahead of Palou with ease, but the out laps painted the story. Palou was down two seconds, but the same story continued for Herta.

Another title contender had issues on Lap 24 as Josef Newgarden had waned down to 10th. His No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet couldn’t go further without pitting a lap later. Such issues hurt his chances of winning a third Astor Cup in five years. While still mathematically in the title hunt, Newgarden is 48 points behind Palou.

The same can be said about Scott Dixon, who struggled staying in the top-10. To make matters worse, Dixon got wiped out by Takuma Sato in the Corkscrew who had spun seconds earlier. The collision damaged the right side of Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda while Sato retired from the race.

When the dust settled, Dixon left Laguna Seca trailing teammate Palou by 72 points. Therefore, a shot at a seventh championship for the 13th place finisher was over.

Monterey Madness

Time may be running out for Pato O'Ward with this year's championship. (Photo: Joe Skibinski | INDYCAR)

Time may be running out for Pato O’Ward with this year’s championship. (Photo: Joe Skibinski | INDYCAR)

During the second half of the race, Palou wasn’t far behind Herta for the race lead. By Lap 52, Palou has cut the gap on Herta by under a second with O’Ward, further behind but with clean air, running in third.

O’Ward was trailing Herta by 23 seconds, but by the 60th lap, the gap was down to 17 seconds. As the drivers were reaching their final pit window, Herta began pulling away from Palou once again. Before Palou made his final stop on Lap 67, he was down five seconds.

Once Herta made his last stop two laps later, victory was signed, sealed, and delivered. No contest between the Californian and Spaniard. Herta even regained the lead on Lap 72 after passing Grosjean, who had yet to pit. Laguna Seca is Herta’s playground.

Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson made a daring pass on James Hinchcliffe at the Corkscrew with 19 to go. That maneuver improved the seven-time NASCAR champion to 17th and was matching Palou and Graham Rahal’s lap times. The result marked Johnson’s best-ever finish of his IndyCar career.

One man who couldn’t rival Palou’s lap times was O’Ward, whose speed wasn’t on par. With just 15 laps remaining, Grosjean took fourth away from him on the outside line of Turn 3.

Three laps later, Grosjean made a similar move on Rahal for third. Only this time, it was in Turn 1 as “The Phoenix” was on the move. Even going over second faster than Herta, who had run over a rabbit on the Rahal Straight. Concerns rose on Herta’s front wing but soldiered on.

In the closing laps, Grosjean was on a flyer as the gap kept decreasing until dealing with Johnson, Palou’s teammate. The Corkscrew nearly was end of days for both after Grosjean locked it up and collided, lifting Grosjean’s Honda. And yet, Grosjean got by the lapped car without any ramifications.

Again, “The Phoenix” was on the move who had “take no prisoners” energy.

“I’m sorry to Jimmie for the contact out there,” said Grosjean. “He was trying to protect Alex and I wanted to chase him.”

Despite the beast performance, it wasn’t enough to catch Palou nor Herta. The latter went on to score his first win since St. Petersburg earlier this year. Another race that Herta owned the competition.

One Last Dance

Colton Herta will continually California Dream. (Photo: James Black | INDYCAR)

Colton Herta will continually California Dream. (Photo: James Black | INDYCAR)

The championship trail comes down to one race. A new IndyCar champion will celebrate following the 46th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Palou hopes he’ll be the one hoisting the Astor Cup next Sunday. A finish of 11th or better, even if O’Ward wins and scores max points, will lock up the championship.

Live coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC. Alexander Rossi has won the last two races in the series’ most prestigious street course.

Top 10 Results: Herta, Palou, Grosjean, Rahal, O’Ward, Ericsson, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Askew and Jones

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. On the side, I also do sports production ranging from Seattle Kraken hockey to the 2023 NCAA Women's March Madness. All for the love of the game. With four National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. At times, there might be some Paul Thomas Anderson and Southern California references in my social media.

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