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INDYCAR at Monterey: Herta Dominates in Laguna Seca Win; Palou Closes in on Championship

Monterey, CA, Sept 19/21 (by Paul Kelly/INDYCAR) Colton Herta continued his family’s success at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with a dominant victory Sunday in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, while Alex Palou marched closer and closer to an even bigger win.

Herta earned his second victory this season and fifth career victory, beating Palou’s No. 10 NTT Data Honda to the finish by 1.9747 seconds. Pole winner Herta led 91 of the 95 laps in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.

California native Herta also won this event from the pole the last time it took place, in 2019 in his only other start here. This race was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Herta’s father and race strategist, Bryan Herta, won this race as a driver from the pole in 1998 and 1999.

“I enjoy racing here so much,” Herta said. “It’s an amazing track for me and my family. It’s been so good to us. To go two-for-two so far (at Laguna Seca) is great. We were fast all weekend, and I’m glad we could pull it off in the race.”

Spaniard Palou pulled 35 points ahead of Pato O’Ward in the INDYCAR Series standings with just one race remaining, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach this coming Sunday at Long Beach. If Palou finishes 11th or better at Long Beach he will clinch his first title in his second season in the series.

“We didn’t have it today for the win, but we did the most we could,” Palou said. “I was trying, but it was tough. It was Herta’s day today. I’m happy with P2.”

Palou, O’Ward and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden are the only drivers eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup at the season finale. Newgarden is third in the standings, 48 points back. Six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson were eliminated from contention at this race after finishing 13th and sixth, respectively.

Romain Grosjean finished third today in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda after a stirring late-race charge past rivals and lapped traffic in which he sliced between one to two seconds per lap from Herta and Palou. Grosjean’s third podium finish of the season helped him stay alive in the race for Rookie of the Year honors, as he trails Scott McLaughlin by 20 points.

Grosjean was 10 seconds behind Herta with nine laps remaining but closed to within 3.7 seconds at the finish after some deft driving, including a wheel-banging, side-by-side duel to lap Jimmie Johnson in the famous “Corkscrew” turn with seven laps remaining..

“The last stint was very fun because we were on new tires and fresher than everyone else,” Grosjean said. “So, that was exciting. It’s been a great day. Sorry to Jimmie for the contact out there. He was trying to protect Alex (Palou, teammate), and I wanted to go chase Alex. P13 to P3 today, it’s a pretty good day. Laguna Seca, I love you. That’s all I can say.”

Graham Rahal finished fourth in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda, with O’Ward rounding out the top five in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

The only time Herta didn’t lead the race came when Grosjean was at the front on Lap 19 and from Laps 69-71 during pit cycles.

Palou kept the race close around the midway point, pulling to within one second of Herta as both drivers’ tires wore during a stint. But Herta had extended his lead to 5.4 seconds by Lap 75.

“There was always pressure there from Alex behind me,” Herta said. “Even at the beginning of the stints when I was a little bit better, he was still there. And he closed it back up at the end of the stints. I think he was a little better that time.

“I’m just happy to have done it. This place is so awesome – it’s my favorite track in North America by far. To win here means so much.”

While the Drivers’ Championship will go to the wire at Long Beach, Honda today clinched the Manufacturers Award for the fourth consecutive season.

Next week’s race at Long Beach, on Sunday, September 26th, will be the final race of this year’s INDYCAR season.

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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