(Photo: IndyCar on Twitter)
Colton Herta stole the show at the Grand Prix on Long Beach by coming from 14th on the grid to win for the third time this season. But heading into the final race of the season along Shoreline Drive, Alex Palou, Josef Newgarden, and Pato O'Ward were all fighting for racing immortality to crown a series champion.
Trouble started for Pato O'Ward before even completing the first lap on Sunday. In a close battle for seventh place coming into the hairpin, Ed Jones did a very aggressive, inside move on James Hinchcliffe and made contact with O'Ward which sent him around. Behind them, Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact with the left rear of Palou and escaped with out damage. O'Ward eventually retired from the race on lap seventeen citing gearbox issues for that Arrow-McLaren SP machine. Ending the young Mexican's championship hopes for 2021.
Picking up on lap four after the restart, Herta has moved his way up into the top six as he passed Palou and set his sights on the leaders. Rosneqvist and Castroneves where fighting for fourth while Grosjean was in close pursuit.
Fast Forward to lap twenty-five after clean up from removing O'Ward's car from pit lane, Newgarden and Dixon were running first and second on the Firestone-black compound. As Herta, Hichcliffe and Palou were on Firestone Reds. Caution came one lap later as two-time winner in 2021, Marcus Ericsson overshot turn one and drove into the tire barrier.The following caution saw Rosenqvist, McLaughlin, and Will Power pit for the second time of the day. Newgarden remained the leader. Herta was in third. Alex Palou rounded out the top five.
On Lap 31 going into turn six, Herta took advantage of fresh tires and passed Dixon to move into fourth place. One lap and three turns later, Herta passed Newgarden to take third place. Castroneves and Rahal pitted on lap 34, which gave the lead to last weekend's winner, Colton Herta. From lap 34 on, you could feel that the race was for second as Newgarden was racing for his life, hoping Palou would make a mistake and Newgarden could become a three-time champion at race end.
By Lap 50, Colton Herta extended his lead over Newgarden by eight seconds.
Moving on to lap 62. Oliver Askew was getting back up to speed when he and Conor Daly got into it going into turn nine. Ending both of their days. Herta and the rest of the field dived to pit road. Herta was the only one in the top ten to take the primary black tires as everyone else took the red compound tires. Herta could finally breathe easy eleven laps later as he pulled to a second lead over Newgarden. Alex Palou was in fourth place.
With only five laps remaing, Newgarden closed down the gap as Herta struggled to put the power down coming off the final hairpin corner, but it was not enough as Colton Herta won the Grand Prix of Long Beach with a margin of victory of only 0.5883 seconds over Newgarden. Palou finished fourth
With that, in his only second season. Alex Palou stands atop the IndyCar series as the champion. With four wins to this season, and a very strong finish to the 2021 season. Look for Palou, O'Ward and the other young and hungry talent to take over the series for years to come.
From everyone at RacingRefresh.com, Congratulations to Alex Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing: your 2021 NTT IndyCar Series Champions.