IndyCar Recap: Firestone Grand Prix of Monteryby Jack Gaffney September 21, 2021 0 comments
The penultimate round of the 2021 IndyCar season ran on Sunday afternoon at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. A week ago in Portland, Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was able to retake the points lead after a string of poor outings. Much to the dismay of now second place Pato O’Ward, who finished 14th a week ago. With time winding down, this was also a big race for Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, and Marcus Ericsson. All three drivers were at risk of being mathematically being eliminated from title contention. Moreover, Palou could possibly wrap up the championship before Long Beach next week. Could the young Spaniard pick up championship number one on the famed California road course?
Pre Race Headlines
Who Let Romain Drive the Pace Car?
The folks over at NBC decided to do grab some on-track footage with the official pace car. The car, a Honda Civic Type-R, was driven by Romain Grosjean, with Ed Jones in the passenger seat. The lap, as you could probably imagine, went fine, the problem happens when they come back to pit road. Grosjean blew the pit entrance and nailed the tire barrier on the outside. Then both he and Jones just kind of got out of the car and walked away. Luckily both drivers were ok, but it made for a funny visual.
Romain Grosjean crashed the pace car… pic.twitter.com/FkfNSICqJN
— NeedForSpeedz (@ForSpeedz) September 18, 2021
Herta Heating Up?
Colton Herta has had an up and down season since his win at St. Petersburg in the second race of the year. Despite that, he has been superb in qualifying this season, as he racked up his series-tying best third pole of the year at Laguna Seca. This ties him with Newgarden and O’Ward with a race still to go. A good sign for the driver with four sup top-15 runs since that first win, who also is looking for his second win in a row at Laguna Seca.
Rossi is Cursed
Outside of a small Felix Rosenqvist spin, lap one went by cleanly. The first notable incident happened all of about 60 seconds later. Alexander Rossi, who is on one of the worst runs of bad luck in motorsports history, spun coming out of turn five. Looking back on the replay, Herta went slightly off track off turn four, giving Rossi an opening to take the lead. The only problem was he got loose in turn five and went into Herta’s left rear. The good news for Rossi was he was able to get his No. 27 NAPA Honda restarted, the bad news was that he went a lap down. While still better than his day ending, the former Indianapolis 500 winner cannot buy himself any sort of luck right now.
Dixon (Almost) Avoids Disaster
The defending IndyCar champion Dixon absolutely needed to have a good day on Sunday to remain in this year’s title hunt. An incident with Takuma Sato would not help matters, however. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner curb hopped the entrance to the corkscrew, then as his car spun, he inadvertently nailed Dixon going backward across the track.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 19, 2021
The good news was that Dixon did not suffer terminal damage. More importantly, he was taken out of a top-five spot and he never came close to sniffing one out again. Officially, Dixon’s bid to go back to back and a record-tying seventh IndyCar title are over. Worth noting that he has never once gone back to back, but also has not gone more than two years between championships since 2013.
If you remember the senseless slaughter of the California Ground Squirrel population at Laguna Seca months ago, you know exactly where this is going. With under 20 laps remaining, Herta, who was responsible for a solid dozen squirrel deaths months back, added rabbits to his hit list. Coming to the entrance of the corkscrew, the 21-year-old California native sent a poor rabbit to the great grass plain in the sky.
Grosjean Feeling Racey
The Swiss-Frenchman decided to give an encore performance of his Gateway performance on the 2.238 Mile road course. All-day long he was racing with a purpose and made a number of spectacular passes.
That corkscrew pass on Jimmie Johnson did not result in a penalty. Even better for the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion, he picked up a career-best finish of 17th afterward. While not sounding like much, it is a step in the right direction for the 46-year-old. Grosjean also made a late charge to try and get up to second place, but just fell short, large in part due to that corkscrew pass.
Sunday ultimately belonged to the California Kid Herta, and Herta alone. The only laps he did not lead were on lap 19, and then later on laps 69 through 71, both instances were due to pit cycles. Absolute domination for win number two on the year, and fifth of his career. While Herta has been out of the title picture for a while, he has at times shown to be a championship-caliber driver. Once he can get a full season together, he is going to be a capital P problem in IndyCar for years to come.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 19, 2021
And Then There Were Three
With one race left, there are three drivers still capable of winning the 2021 IndyCar Series Championship and the Astor Cup. Palou, O’Ward and Newgarden. There is now a 66 percent chance at the minimum that there will be a first-time Series Champion. Additionally, the same chances are there of a first-time Spanish or Mexican-born IndyCar champion with Palou and O’Ward respectively. The international duo is currently separated by 35 points with Palou on the inside track.
Newgarden, meanwhile, is on the outside track with the chance to win his third title at just 30 years old. Putting himself in what would be a multi-driver tie for sixth-most all-time with names like Rick Mears, Al Unser, and Bobby Rahal. Going into the 2021 Grand Prix of Long Beach, Newgarden sits back by 48 points.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images