Palou wins IndyCar crown as Herta dominates Long Beach

Alex Palou lofts the Astor Cup. Picture: James Black

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou has won the 2021 IndyCar Series in just his second season in the North American single-seater series.

A fourth place finish at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach secured Palou the title in what was a dramatic conclusion to the season.

At 24 years old, Palou becomes the first driver from Spain to win the IndyCar Series.

“That’s ours, right? Oh my god, what a race,” said Palou.

“What a year. What a season. This team is amazing. I don’t know what to say. I’m super proud to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing. All of our partners. I’m super happy.

“I can’t thank enough everybody that made this possible, Chip Ganassi especially. Yeah, my family, everybody, management team, amazing.

“I’m super proud to be a champion and the opportunity that these guys gave me, so we’ll keep it going.

“Those were good moments where I was just feeling like I was living my dream, now I’m doing it, so it’s even more special.

“I think what got me here, part of everybody that got me through all the junior categories is the team, the team got me here. My team-mates were amazing. I’m super happy.

“Dream completed. Let’s get another one now.”

Alex Palou has become Spain’s first IndyCar Series winner. Picture: Chris Jones

Having dominated proceedings, Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta survived a late race caution to hold off Josef Newgarden of Team Penske for the win while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was third.

It was a typically awkward rolling start to the race, as rows four and beyond were left behind coming to the green flag.

It was a fairly even start heading into Turn 1, though the inside line allowed Newgarden to prevail over Dixon.

As the field came to complete the first lap, Ed Jones (Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan) sought to make a move on James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing).

As he poked his nose down the inside at the hairpin, he clipped the back of O’Ward and sent the Mexican into a spin.

Chaos ensued as Colton Herta launched over the back of his Andretti Autosport team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Fortunately, the field managed to make it through, though Hunter-Reay received a puncture in the melee.

O’Ward, who dropped to the tail of the field, was given a reprieve as the yellow flag was drawn for Sebastien Bourdais (A. J. Foyt Enterprises) who had ground to a halt.

With the field under the control of the Safety Car, it was Newgarden who led Dixon, Helio Castroneves (Meyer Shank Racing), Felix Rosenqvist (McLaren SP), Romain Grosjean (Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing), Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske), Hinchcliffe, Palou, Herta, and Jones.

Soon enough, Jones was handed a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

Despite picking up damage in the first lap kerfuffle, Herta was the hardcharger early on from 14th to sixth by Lap 15.

Drama struck on Lap 18 for O’Ward who slowed on the front straight with a broken driveshaft.

With a yellow flag looming, the leaders made their way to the pit lane. Come Lap 21, the Safety Car was deployed for O’Ward who parked up at pit exit.

Having not taken the opportunity to pit, Castroneves led the field to green on Lap 25 ahead of Rosenqvist, Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske), Hunter-Reay, and Will Power (Team Penske).

Newgarden was the first of those cars to have pitted in 12th.

It wasn’t long before the yellow flag flew again as Marcus Ericsson (Chip Ganassi Racing) buried his car in the tyre wall at Turn 1 come Lap 26.

Most of those who hadn’t pitted in the first round of stops opted to come into the lane at the second time of asking, except for Castroneves and Rahal. That quickly vaulted Newgarden to third.

Herta was the biggest mover in that sequence having been the first to pit, moving his way effectively to third behind Newgarden and Dixon.

Herta continued his charge, passing Dixon on the restart at Turn 6 and soon enough was past Newgarden at Turn 9 to take the projected lead.

Come Lap 34, Castroneves and Rahal pitted, putting Herta into the lead ahead of Newgarden, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Palou, Pagenaud, Rossi, Grosjean, Bourdais, and Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing).

Herta wasted no time stretching his legs, edging out to a four-second lead over Newgarden.

The second round of pit stops began in earnest with a little over 40 laps to go as Herta pitted from the lead with a mammoth eight-second lead.

Grosjean’s race came undone when he slid out of Turn 8 and bent the left rear corner of his car, forcing him to the pit lane. That put paid to his Rookie of the Year title aspirations, handing the win to McLaughlin.

Drama struck again with 24 laps to go as Oliver Askew (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and Conor Daly (Ed Carpenter Racing) made contact at Turn 9, resulting in Askew nosediving the wall and Daly stopping in the run-off.

That saw Herta’s 12-second lead evaporate, bringing Newgarden back into the frame.

Racing resumed with 21 laps to go, Herta heading Newgarden, Dixon, Palou, Pagenaud, Rossi, Harvey, Bourdais, Sato, and Jones.

Herta looked to have the final stanza of the race under control, though his tyres began to fade in the closing stages, bringing Newgarden back into the frame.

Ultimately, Herta would hold on despite a late challenge from Newgarden. Dixon would cross the line in third ahead of team-mate Palou who in doing so secured the title.

Results: IndyCar Series Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

Pos Num Name Laps Diff Gap Engine Team
1 26 Colton Herta 85 Honda Andretti Autosport
2 2 Josef Newgarden 85 0.5883 0.5883 Chevy Team Penske
3 9 Scott Dixon 85 1.0752 0.4869 Honda Chip Ganassi Racing
4 10 Alex Palou 85 2.412 1.3368 Honda Chip Ganassi Racing
5 22 Simon Pagenaud 85 3.1237 0.7117 Chevy Team Penske
6 27 Alexander Rossi 85 4.6739 1.5502 Honda Andretti Autosport
7 60 Jack Harvey 85 6.3467 1.6728 Honda Meyer Shank Racing
8 14 Sebastien Bourdais 85 8.0275 1.6808 Chevy AJ Foyt Enterprises
9 30 Takuma Sato 85 10.5939 2.5664 Honda Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
10 12 Will Power 85 11.4297 0.8358 Chevy Team Penske
11 3 Scott McLaughlin 85 12.3327 0.903 Chevy Team Penske
12 18 Ed Jones 85 26.966 14.6333 Honda Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan
13 7 Felix Rosenqvist 85 27.4167 0.4507 Chevy Arrow McLaren SP
14 29 James Hinchcliffe 85 27.9725 0.5558 Honda Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport
15 59 Max Chilton 85 30.0358 2.0633 Chevy Carlin
16 15 Graham Rahal 85 30.3482 0.3124 Honda Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
17 48 Jimmie Johnson 85 31.1603 0.8121 Honda Chip Ganassi Racing
18 11 Charlie Kimball 85 32.1546 0.9943 Chevy AJ Foyt Enterprises
19 4 Dalton Kellett 85 32.1585 0.0039 Chevy AJ Foyt Enterprises
20 6 Helio Castroneves 85 32.6206 0.4621 Honda Meyer Shank Racing
21 20 Conor Daly 84 1 Lap Chevy Ed Carpenter Racing
22 45 Oliver Askew 83 2 Laps Honda Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
23 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 83 2 Laps Honda Andretti Autosport
24 51 Romain Grosjean 75 Honda Dale Coyne Racing w/RWR
25 21 Rinus VeeKay 48 Chevy Ed Carpenter Racing
26 77 Callum Ilott 47 Chevy Juncos Hollinger Racing
27 5 Pato O’Ward 43 Chevy Arrow McLaren SP
28 8 Marcus Ericsson 25 Honda Chip Ganassi Racing

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