Herta doubles down on Laguna Seca win

20th September 2021
Damien Smith

There’s nothing like racing on your home patch, especially if it’s your favourite track. That’s certainly the case for Colton Herta, who scored an emphatic victory at Laguna Seca in his home state of California on Sunday. The dominant performance resulted in his second successive win at the great circuit near Monterey, following his victory the last time IndyCar raced here in 2019, and adds to the famous Herta family roll of honour at Laguna Seca. His father Bryan, now calling the strategy for Colton from the Andretti Autosport pit wall, was also a two-time winner at the circuit during his own IndyCar career.


Herta checks out

It’s 25 years since Alex Zanardi sent shockwaves through IndyCar with his audacious pass on Bryan Herta up the inside and over the dirt at the Corkscrew. But that’s little more than a wrinkle in the Herta history at Laguna, especially after Colton’s latest performance. He led 91 of the 95 laps on Sunday which, combined with his similarly dominant performance in 2019 means he has led 94 per cent of the way through the track’s last two IndyCar races. Impressive numbers.

Herta set up his second win of the IndyCar season with pole position, which he converted into the lead from the start as Andretti Autosport team-mate Alexander Rossi attempted to exert pressure. But the ex-Formula 1 racer got it all wrong on the second lap when challenging Herta for the lead, tapping his rival’s left-rear tyre and spinning out. From there, the result was never in serious doubt.


Palou tightens grip on championship

Spaniard Alex Palou is now a strong bet to win his first IndyCar Series title after extending his points lead with a fine second place at Laguna. The Chip Ganassi Racing ace heads to the final round, the Long Beach Grand Prix next weekend, 35 points up on main rival Pato O’Ward having stretched his advantage by 10 in the first leg of the Californian double-header. At 24 and in only his second season in the series – and his first with Ganassi – he is on the cusp of something very special.

Palou won at Portland last time out and shadowed Herta for the win on Sunday, finishing just 1.9 seconds down on the winner as O’Ward slipped to fifth. Only Penske’s Josef Newgarden remains in range of the pair, but at 48 points down on Palou’s tally with just one race to go, his hopes of a third IndyCar title are remote.


Grosjean stars with podium charge

He’s always had a big smile, but we’re seeing it plastered across his face a lot more this season than last. Romain Grosjean is loving his IndyCar adventure in the wake of his miserable final season in Formula 1 with Haas – and that horrendous fiery accident in Bahrain – and the Frenchman scored the third podium of his maiden season after a charging performance at Laguna.

Starting 13th, Grosjean tore through the pack in his Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Dallara, using his fresher tyres in the closing stages to pull off a fantastic outside pass on O’Ward at Turn 2. He then chased down Graham Rahal to snatch third place and with stunning pace looked set to give Palou a late headache. But a Zanardi-style dive as he attempted to lap NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson at the Corkscrew almost ended in disaster. Grosjean surprised Johnson by coming from way back and the pair made contact, fortunately without meaningful consequences. But it was enough of a delay to give Palou the breathing space he needed to confirm his second-place result; Grosjean still in close attendance when they took the chequered flag.

Two days before the race, Grosjean made a few headlines after crashing a Honda Civic Type R pace car that appeared to have a brake problem as he entered the pitlane. It’s said the impact was enough to deploy the airbag and to deepen his blushes, team-mate Ed Jones was sitting alongside him when the incident occurred. Still, it was all forgotten on Sunday night. Grosjean has been linked to a drive with Andretti Autosport for 2022 and has even ventured on to an oval this year despite vowing only to race on road and street courses. It looks like he’s well and truly hooked on his new life on the US scene.


Bitter-sweet for McLaren SP and O’Ward

There was disappointment for Mexican O’Ward as the impressive 22-year-old lost ground on his rival Palou at Laguna. But the bigger picture is bright for a driver who has been promised an F1 test by his Arrow McLaren SP boss Zak Brown before the year is out, and there was further good news in the run-up to the race.

Electronics firm Arrow has re-committed as title sponsor to McLaren for the 17-race 2022 season, extending a partnership that will only increase Brown’s commitment to the series. O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist will remain on board for next year, while there’s open talk of committing a third car for a full season. Ex-McLaren F1 racer and current Mercedes EQ Formula E frontrunner Stoffel Vandoorne is a contender for the drive, which would only add lustre to a team that is making great strides in IndyCar. After its strong 2021 season, McLaren should now be considered a major player in the series, on the level of Ganassi, Andretti Autosport and Penske. That will give proud American Brown immense satisfaction.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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