Herta Wins Race, Palou Wins Championship at Long Beach

The 2021 NTT IndyCar season has concluded and a new champion has been crowned. Alex Palou did exactly what he had to do this weekend and earned his first series championship in only his second season. It was his first year with Chip Ganassi Racing, who have gone back-to-back en route to their 14th IndyCar title. Palou is the fifth driver to win a championship with Ganassi, and the first driver in series history from Spain to win the title.

“What a race, what a year, what a season,” Palou said. “This team is amazing. I’m super proud to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing, all our partners. I’m super proud to be a champion and for the opportunity these guys gave me. Dream completed. Let’s get another one now.” Palou continued. “Chip told me when I joined that I had to win a championship, so that’s not too much pressure. He likes winners. If you are not one, you are in trouble!”

Colton Herta went back-to-back in terms of race victories, after his dominant performance last weekend at Laguna Seca. The Andretti Autosport driver led 43 of the 85 laps on his way to his third win of the season. After slicing through the field from the 14th starting position, Herta held on through numerous restarts with championship contender Josef Newgarden breathing down his neck.

Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Box Score

Newgarden started from pole position but came up short in pursuit of his third series title. The Team Penske driver needed to win the race and see Palou have some bad luck, but it never materialized. He still finished 2nd in the standings, 38 points behind Palou. Scott Dixon earned his ninth top-five finish of the season, and his fifth podium finish. Though it wasn’t his typical impressive season, he managed to finish inside the top four of the championship for the 16th time in his career.

Palou finished 4th on Sunday, with Simon Pagenaud rounding out the top five in what was likely his last race with Team Penske. With the championship battle realistically between Palou and Pato O’Ward, a wet blanket was thrown on that just two laps into the race.

As the field made its way through the hairpin, Ed Jones got into the back of O’Ward’s car, spinning the Arrow McLaren SP driver around. After riding around in the back of the field for the next 15 laps, it appeared as though his day was done when a mechanical issue on the back of his car caused him to roll to a stop. The damage caused by the contact with Jones ended his slim hopes of fighting for the Astor Cup.

The team was able to repair the No. 5 Chevrolet towards the end of the race, but he was relegated to a 27th place finish. He did manage to hold onto 3rd in the final standings, improving one spot from his 4th place finish last season. “It’s not the first time he has hit us and not the first time he has done something stupid all season,” O’Ward said of the early contact from Jones. “I just wish he could use his head a bit more, at least respect the guys who are fighting for the championship. I think we’ve had a great season. I’m proud of the team; I’m proud of myself.”

Alexander Rossi’s miserable 2021 season ended with a solid 6th place finish, in what was a quiet day for the driver of the No. 27 car. The biggest moment for him came during the warmup earlier in the day when he and former IMSA teammate Helio Castroneves came together near the fountain. The four-time Indy 500 winner led 15 laps on strategy but finished 20th as he prepares to return to full-time status next season.

Jack Harvey finished 7th on Sunday, in his final race with the Meyer Shank Racing team. He will move over to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing next season, replacing Takuma Sato who finished 9th in his final start with the team. Sebastien Bourdais finished between those two in 8th, and will apparently shift to part-time status with the AJ Foyt Racing team next season as he slides over to Ganassi’s IMSA team for the full 2022 season.

Will Power rounded out the top ten on Sunday, in what was one of the worst seasons of his career. Power had finished inside the top five of the championship the last 11 straight years but that streak has now come to an end. His teammate Scott McLaughlin finished behind him in 11th, and officially earned the Rookie of The Year Award, finishing ahead of part-time rookie drivers Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson.

James Hinchcliffe had a strong race going until dropping back on the last restart. The Canadian was running inside the top five for most of the race but came home 14th in his final race with Andretti. Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was hoping for a solid finish in his last start with Andretti but he and Herta had contact in the Lap 2 incident that punctured his tire and ruined his day. Ironically enough, it was Grosjean that finished right behind him after making contact with the wall ten laps from the finish. Grosjean will be replacing Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Honda next season.

Marcus Ericsson was aiming for his tenth consecutive top-ten finish to close the season, but that all went away on Lap 26 when he got into the tire barriers, finishing 28th. Though he was checked and released at the infield medical center, it appeared as though he had a hand injury from the incident. Fortunately for him, he will have plenty of time to recover before the October 8 test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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