Herta, O’Ward Focus on Indycar While Waiting for F1 Chance

Photo above: Colton Herta

Two of the top contenders for the 2022 NTT Indycar Series championship this year say they are focused on Indycar this season while hoping for a future opportunity to drive in Formula 1 someday.

Pato O’Ward finished third in the standings in 2021. The Arrow McLaren SP driver looks to improve that position this season. He did get to test a McLaren F1 car in Abu Dabi in December and still hopes one day to drive in that series. But not this year.

Indycar image by Chris Owens

“I mean, right now I have one focus, and
that one focus is in INDYCAR. I want to give these guys
their first championship. I’d love to give them their first 500. This is what my focus is right now,” O’Ward said during Indycar Content Day yesterday.

“Who knows if F1 will be an option or won’t be an option.
Obviously if it comes about, I will 100 percent take it and
every single driver in my position would do it because it’s
Formula 1. That’s what I grew up watching and that’s what
I grew up dreaming of. That same dream that you have as
a kid will never go away.

Right now, like I said, I have a challenge here, and I want
people to enjoy. I want people to enjoy me in INDYCAR. I
want them to know what INDYCAR has to offer, I want
them to enjoy me in INDYCAR, the racing.”

O’Ward said to move up in the standings, the team needs to find consistency.

” I mean, in short, I just don’t think we’ve
had a very consistent car. Where we’ve been strong,
we’ve been very strong, but where we haven’t been strong,
we’ve been very weak, and that’s where we’ve lost a lot of
points. I feel like there’s no sugar coating it. It’s just not
good enough.
I have to try and maximize what I can control, and I know
the engineers are going to do their part. We’re not up to
where Penske, Andretti and Ganassi are. We sure as hell
are trying to and working hard for that, but they are
Penske, Ganassi and Andretti for a reason.
Yeah, I think we’re definitely on the way.”

Herta

Unlike O’Ward, Colton Herta sees F1 as another racing series he wants to try. He realizes he has a limited time frame to get an F1 ride, but thinks his age is in his favor.

“The time is right for me if I got the opportunity. I’d have to
have a good think about it, but I most likely would do it
because I want to run in Formula 1 at some point.
That’s not to say I think people forget that I’m 21 years old
and I can’t come back in five years and still run 15 years in
INDYCAR and be 40.
Yeah, I definitely want to give it a crack if I get the
opportunity. But definitely not disappointed at all in
INDYCAR. I like this series more than any series in the
world, and I enjoy racing in a it a lot. But yeah, there’s just
a lot of stuff that I’d like to try in my racing career outside of
INDYCAR, also.”

As far as pressure to win the championship this season, Herta isn’t feeling any. He has confidence in his Andretti Autosport team.

“No, because I’m 21, so I think I have
plenty of time. But I do want to win it earlier rather than later.
I don’t feel the pressure from that aspect. I don’t feel like I
need to get it done this year.
But that’s not to say I don’t want to get it done this year.
That’s kind of like my goal.”

Herta said he learned a valuable lesson about collecting points after crashing out of the Nashville race while running second.

“… it was a good learning experience, and it’s
probably in the grand scheme of things, it’s probably good
that it happened, because you just kind of learn from
repetition. That’s probably the best way to learn I feel.
That’s something I’ll keep in the back of my head, and I
think it’s something that next time it won’t be a problem.”

Right now I have Herta and O’Ward as the top two to win the title. At this point, I give a slight edge to Herta. Both drivers need to be more consistent than last year. With the uncertainty of how long they remain in Indycar, now is the time to enjoy these two young drivers.

Holiday Wishes for Indycar

As we begin the most festive week of the year, I have some holiday wishes for Indycar. The first practice at St. Pete is just two months from Christmas day. Knowing that should make the holiday better. Here are six things I wish for in 2022.

A Full 17 Race Schedule

Indycar has not run its complete, originally announced schedule in two years. 2021 looked promising, but Toronto again was cancelled due to COVID-19. The border has reopened, but will the Omicron variant close it again? If it does, for how long?

I hope by July that things will have settled down enough to allow the race to go on.

I am not concerned about St. Pete or Texas yet, but the situation warrants wartching.

The Unicorn

I wish for the elusive third OEM to be announced. An announcement in 2022 means the new engine will appear in 2024. With the growth in entries anticipated for next season and a number of other teams looking to join Indycar, a third engine is a necessity. Honda is maxed out for the season and the Indianapolis 500. Chevrolet is close to capacity as well.

A third engine opens the possibility for 30 cars at some tracks and 39 or more entries at the 500. I think one of the bigger teams will align with the new manufacturer.

A Sold Out Indianapolis 500

Conditions permitting, it would be great if the 106th running of the 500 would be a sell out. Local television might show the race live again if all tickets are sold. Many fans who skipped the 2021 race plan to return. The 135,00 or so at the 2021 race seemed larger than that to those who were there, but the partially empty grandstands did not look good on television.

I spoke briefly with Doug Boles at the PRI show. He said that ticket sales are looking good.

A Title Fight Between O’Ward and Herta

Just like 2021, 2022 will bring more of the younger kids contending for the championship. This coming season I would love to see a battle for Astor Cup between Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta. The youngsters had two the fastest cars last season. Herta was never really in title contention because of some early DNFs. He still tied for the most wins in the series with three, and he had four poles.

O’Ward had some early issues with team strategies and setup problems. He finished third in the standings after being taken out of the finale early. His two wins in 2021 kept him in the hunt. I think he is ready for an even bigger season.

Some Top 5s for Kirkwood

First of all, I am happy that Kyle Kirkwood has a full time ride. Of course, I wish he were on a more competitive team. But I hope he can raise the bar at A. J. Foyt Racing and maybe squeeze a top 5 or two out of the car. It will be a challenge. His best chance for a good finish will be at World Wide Technology Raceway, where Foyt cars have a third and two fifth place finishes.

Kirkwood might sneak in a good finish at a road course somewhere as well. Realistically, I can see him getting some top 10s in 2022.

The Biggest Wish of All

Well, maybe the second biggest after the third OEM, but an announcement of a 2023 IMSA race at IMS would make me very happy. The odds are long as IMSA has established a May race at Mid Ohio. The sports car series seems happy with their schedule. I don’t think they are looking for new venues or to switch any dates around.

I have also heard IMSA is not happy with Indycar putting Texas on the schedule on March 20, the day after the Sebring 12 Hour race. Many Indycar drivers participate in the 12 hour as an extra driver. Some plan to do double duty that weekend.

All, or possibly none of my wishes may come true, but I hope that all of your holiday wishes do. I will have a post next week before moving to winter headquarters. Happy holidays, everyone.

Long Beach Thoughts- A Race that Reflected the Season

As races at Long Beach go, today was one of the better ones. Yellows forced pit strategy, the winning pass came on the track, and there was early doubts as to who would win the championship. Hometown driver Colton Herta won the race after starting 14th. He should have won pole yesterday, but a mistake in qualifying pushed him back on the grid.

Herta led every session except for qualifying. He held off Josef Newgarden on the last restart to win by 0.5883 seconds. The sad thing about eing the winner of the last race of the year is that no one cares. It is a shame in this instance. Herta grew up in Southern California and first went to this race when he was 2 years old to watch his father Bryan race. Winning here is very special for him, but everyone focused on seris champion Alex Palou.

Herta will have to win here next April when the 2022 edition of the Long Beach Grand Prix runs. Don’t bet against him. He won California this year.

9/26/2021 Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

A Deserving Champion

Alex Palou won the NTT Indycar series championship with consistent driving and an unflappable focus. he reminds me of Scott Dixon in his approach to a race. I don’t think this will be the last of his titles. I will have more on him tomorrow.

Random Thoughts

Ed Jones had been racing well the last few weeks, but today we the Jones of old. I was concerned after qualifying yesterday when I saw that he would line up between title contenders Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou. Unfortunately, he ended O’Ward’s race and the chain reaction nearly took Palou out of the race. Jones seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time more often than not.

I have never seen so much tension and anger in the paddock as I did this weekend. I loved it. Indycar felt alive. I hope the tension continues all season in 2022.

Three drivers I felt for today- Pato O’Ward, who didn’t get a fair shot to fight for the championship. This team will be even stronegr next year and O’Ward will be in the title mix as long as he drives in the series.

Romain Grosjean, an instant fan favorite from the moment he started his Indycar career this spring, felled by wall contact and dropped out of the race with 10 laps left. He had some amazing races this year, and while not officially the Rookie of the Year, he was the first timer that was the most fun to watch.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, whose last drive for Andretti Autosport ended as the last car running at the end. Hunter-Reay was involved in the Ed Jones incident on lap1 and struggled with a poor handling car the rest of the day.

Sebastien Bourdais recovered from an early spin to finish eighth in what may have been his last drive for A. J. Foyt Racing.

Photo by Chris Owens, Indycar

Congratulations to Scott McLaughlin, the Rookie of the Year. McLaughlin had a steady, if unspectacular year. Like the other rookies in the series, he had to learn a completely different type of car. I think we will hear his name a lot more in 2022.

I hope the new deal with NBC doesn’t include Rutledge Wood. His pieces are insipid and interrupt the race broadcast unnecessarily.

Josef Newgarden’s last three seasons- Champion in 2019, second in 2020, and second in 2021. Newgarden was also champion in 2017.

Thanks for following along this weekend. I will have a story about Alex Palou’s season and a season wrap up this coming week.

Herta Paces Second Practice

Colton Herta continues his dominance of California, leading the second practice for the Acura Grand prix of Long Beach. Herta was the only driver to turn a lap in less than 68 seconds on the track that has been a skating rink so far this weekend, with cars sliding towards the wall, locking up brakes, and making varying degrees of contact.

Romain Grosjean had at least three incidents of locking up and missing the turn. he had had contact with the wall near the end of the session. In the final minute of practice, Rinus VeeKay and Scott Dixon spun stalled on track.

Points leader Alex Palou worked on race setup most of the session, ending with the 16th fastest time. His closest competition, Pato O’Ward, was eighth. Josef Newgarden, with a very slight chance at the the title, was fourth. The previous two weeks saw Newgarden strong in practice, but fade to the back in qualifying.

The top 12:

Notes

Mark Miles said that despite Penske taking control of Indy Lights, the Freedom 100 will not return to Carb Day. It was always a fun race with several close finishes, one of which was four wide, but there was always some first time drivers who weren’t ready for that level. It did not end well for them, and I always felt that part of it was very dangerous.

Team Penske put all four of their drivers in the top 10. They will be a factor in qualifying.

Qualifying begins at 3 pm Eastern and is on both Peacock and NBCSN.

Herta Leads First Practice; Palou Third

Colton Herta at Long Beach. Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Colton Herta is looking to win California. He backed uop his dominating performance at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca by having the fastest time in today’s only practice session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Andretti Autosport cars showed a lot of strength as the cars of Herta Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, and James Hinchcliffe were in the top our spots late in the session. Hunter-Reay finished fifth, Hinchcliffe eighth, and Rossi ninth.

Alex Palou led the championship contenders in third. Pato O’Ward, who trails Palou by 35 points was 16th, and Josef Newgarden, who is barely hanging on to a chance at the crown, was10th.

The session was disjointed with two red flags and several yellows. Josef Newgarden spun and lightly tapped the tire barrier. Oliver Askew had two incidents of wall contact, the second one breaking the rear suspension arm.

Turn nine was troublesome as a bump just before the turn had cars airborne and caused several drivers to take the runoff area.

The top 12:

Notes

The track looked great. Perhaps i was just nice to see the Long Beach course again after 17 months.

O’Ward sounded very subdued and frustrated in a post practice interview with NBC.

Indy lights points leader Kyle Kirkwood hinted at having an Indycar ride for next year, but said he can’t say what it is for a couple weeks. The Indy Lights season ends next weekend at Mid Ohio. Your favorite blogger is planning to be there. So am I.

Herta Holds Home Court; Palou on the Brink of a Title

Colton Herta leaves the pits after a stop. Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Some rambling thoughts on a race with some entertaining parts:

Colton Herta’s win in today’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey was pretty much a foregone conclusion, but there was some entertaining action behind the front two.

Herta’s two wins this year have come from the pole position. In his two victories Herta has led 188 of 195 laps.

Romain Grosjean put on quite a show, in moving from 13th on the grid to third at the end. He made some excellent passes, especially in the Corkscrew, and his altercation with Jimmie Johnson was probably the highlight of the race. Grosjean caught Johnson at the top of the hill leading to the Corkscrew, but he appeared to misjudge his speed. His car got airborne as the two collided, and Johnson was forced to go off track in the turn. How Grosjean did not have damage to nd his race I don’t know.

Indycar photo by Chris Jones

Grosjean is now just 20 points behind Scott McLaughlin for Rookie of the Year honors although he has run three fewer races.

Alex Palou started fourth and seemed content to run the entire day in second place after he fell into the position. Alexander Rossi collided with Herta in an attempt to take the lead. The two touched wheels and Rossi spun into the dirt and stalled. A lap later Will Power, who started third, pitted with an engine issue.

Palou is now very close to winning the series title next week at Long Beach. He extended his lead over Pato O’Ward to 35 points. Josef Newgarden, the only other driver who is still in contention, is 48 points behind. Newgarden needs to get the maximum 54 points while Palou finishes 25th or worse. An 11th place result next week will give Palou the title if O’Ward wins the maximum number of points. Palou is taking nothing for granted next week. After the race, he said,

“INDYCAR you cannot relax at any moment. We just keep
doing what we’ve been doing, race hard, race smart, and
hopefully we can get that championship without needing to
finish 11 or anything. We will try and get the best result as
possible.”

Another nice run for Ed Jones today with a 10th place finish. Jones is ending his time with Dale Coyne Racing on a high note. He has qualified and raced well except for Gateway.

Simon Pagenaud ‘s eighth place was his best finish in a while. This has been Pagenaud’s best weekend of the year.

Oliver Askew has done enough this weekend to earn a ride somewhere for 2022. In just his second race for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, the former Indy Lights champion qualified fifth and came home ninth. I’m not sure theses last three races are an audition for RLL, but I’m sure someone in the paddock has noticed what he did.

O’Ward’s fifth place seems surprising. He was fighting the car and the tires all day, yet pretty much maintained his spot in the top five. he will be a champion some year.

Scott Dixon charged into the top five on the first lap, then faded after colliding with Takuma Sato. I can’t remember the last time Indycar went into the season’s last race without Scott Dixon having a chance at the championship. Still, he will finish fourth in the standings.

Jimmie Johnson recorded his best Indycar finish, 19th. He showed some competitiveness, making a couple of passes for position and had that great battle with Grosjean.

I thought that NBC could have spent some time in the prerace show talking about the schedule for 2022. I didn’t like seeing it mentioned during the race when it cut away from on track action. You would think they would have given it more emphasis since 14 of the races will be on NBC.

Honda clinched the engine manufacturer’s title with Herta’s win.

Herta Family Tradition Continues; Palou Fastest Contender

Indycar photo by James Black

Some thoughts on a wild qualifying session:

This event should be renamed the Herta Family Invitational. Colton Herta’s pole today is the fifth for the family. His father Bryan won three straight pole from 1997-1999, and now Colton has two in a row. The elder Herta also won the race in 1998 and 1999, which almost makes the winner tomorrow a foregone conclusion. I don’t think it will be that simple, though.

Herta has three poles and five second place starts this season. His results from the front row have been mixed, and he has just one win.

It was an exciting, dramatic session to set the grid for tomorrow’s 95 lap race. The points leader just squeezed into the second round, the two cars that led the practice sessions did not advance, and off track excursions led to drivers losing positions.

It has been a long time since we have seen an all Andretti front row. Alexander Rossi moved to the front row due to Power’s penalty.

I feel bad for Scott McLaughlin, who looked to be in position to advance, but pitted when he had time for another lap. I’m sure it was a communication mixup.

Herta beat Power’s best lap by .027 seconds as time expired. Power’s lap was deleted because he did not slow for a local yellow.

Alex Palou was the fastest of the title contenders. After barely escaping Round 1, Palou made the Fast Six and he will start fourth. O’Ward was the only other driver with a chance at the title to make the Fast Six. O’Ward starts sixth after losing his fastest two laps when he spun off course. Josef Newgarden will start 17th tomorrow, his second consecutive ninth row start. Scott Dixon will start eighth.

The star of qualifying today was Oliver Askew. He took RLL’s third car to the Fast Six, led his Round 1 group, and will start between Palou and O’Ward. Today was Askew’s second career appearance in the Fast Six.

It was nice to see Simon Pagenaud have a respectable qualifying day. Pagenaud has struggled in qualifying all season. He made the second round today and will start ninth.

What happens to Newgarden’s car in qualifying? For the second week in a row, the two time champion was one of the fastest in practice, but did not make it out of Round 1.

Herta’s Very Hot Lap on a Very Hot Day

Photo: Colton Herta after his win at St. Pete

From the practice results and the early qualifying rounds, it was pretrty clear that Colton Herta would win the pole for tomorrow’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. The shock was two fold- His margin over Scott Dixon- more than a half second- big by Indycar qualifying standards- and this pole winning lap time-0 1:13.683. Looking at yesterday’s and this morning practice times, I though a lap in the 1 minute 14 seconds range would take the pole. I certainly didn’t expect a lap below 1:14.

Herta finished second in his round 1 qualifying group without going to the alternate red tires. Because of a late red flag in the morning practice, no one got many laps on the reds. Herta then had two sets of freshc reds for the final two rounds of qualifying.

The Andretti Autosport driver will be making his fifth front row start this season, and fourth in a row. Today’s pole is Herta’s second in 2021. He won the pole at St. Pete and ran away from the field in a dominating win. He has won from the pole the lastr three times he started at the point.

Herta is becoming a qualifier in the mold of Will Power. he is always a threat for the Fast Six and can never be counted out for the front row. Speaking of Power, it is hard to believe he has yet to win a pole this season.

Some of the pole drama was lost when Josef Newgarden crashed in turn 10 just as the second round was ending. Newgarden was fast enough to make the Fast Six, but the crash wiped out his best lap. He will start 12th. Newgarden had not shown much pace in practice, but his car was beginning to come alive in qualifying. He has to be a bit frustrated at how his hometown race has gone so far.

Alex Palou, the series points leader, qualified third but will start 9th because of an unauthorized engine change at the test in Portland. I think he is still in good shape He actually gains because none of his closest competitiors won the bonus point for pole.

If there aren’t a lot of yellows or red flags tomorrow, which is iffy, I look for Herta to disappear from the field’s view at the start and not be caught. Given the craziness we’ve seen so far this weekend, that may not happen.

Notes

Romain Grosjean continues his quality qualifying. He made the Fast Six at Newgarden’s expense, but it was another top 10 effort from the rookie who may be bound for bigger things kin the series next year.

Grandstand 6 was nearing completion by the end of Indycar qualifying, but the fans who purchased tickets for arguably some of the best views of the track were unable to use their seats for the second day in a row. It appears the stand should be ready for the race tomorrow. The Grand Prix is issuing refunds, but several of the fans I talked to who had tickets in that stand are not happy.

Workmen continue to assemble Grandstand 6 during Indycar qualifying.

There have been long lines at the ticket resolution windows as well. Some people have had trouble accessing their mobile tickets. I did as well, and it still takes me a couple of tries to find them. I think it was a mistake to have ticket access through the Tennessee Titans team app. A direct link sent via email like Gateway and some other tracks do would be much simpler and reliable.

Today’s crowd was bigger than the Friday crowd. The gas station which was closed for the weekend was packed with viewers.

Herta Leads Successful First Day for Music City Grand Prix

Alex Palou leads Graham Rahal heading to turn 9.

Colton Herta took first day honors on the first day of practice for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix. Herta has been on the front row of the last three races, and he showed no signs of letting that streak last. Herta’s time of 1:16. 587 beat Scott Dixon by 0.38 seconds. Points leader Alex Palou was sixth fastest as Hondas took the first six spots and seven of the first twelve. Dalton Kellett sat out the session with a wiring issue discovered after his installation lap.

The top 13:

I thought today’s practice round was one of the best of the season. It might have been the novelty of the new track, but it just felt like a great session to me. Pato O’Ward hit the wall hard exiting turn 3, causing a six minute red flag. The session ended early when Conor Daly spun into the tire barrier in turn nine with less than five minutes to go.

Pato O’Ward hits the wall exiting turn 3. Photo from O’Ward’s Twitter account

It was fun seeing the cars going both directions on the bridge at once. It looks like there are several places to pass. The most difficult places on the track are turn 1 where it runs alongside pit out. Tis area could be dicey on race day; turn 3 is very difficult- there is is bump right at the apex of the turn. Some drivers figured out how to get through the corner without touching the bump. Drivers tried several different lines,many of which resulted in a significant wiggle upon exit. The turn 4 and 5 complex at the far end of the bridge is tight, and there were several close calls there. Overall, this track is great for Indycar.

Graham Rahal approaches turn 3

A Great First Day

The Music City Grand Prix had a great first day. There were the usual first day glitches- grandstands not complete, some staff not sure how to solve issues,and some materials not cleaned up. I think tomorrow will be much smoother.

The rain passed without falling. There was a cloud cover and a breeze with made the temperature a little more comfortable. The next two days are expected to be warmer.

There is an advantage to having a football stadium as a base for a street race. It provides a place for shelter should the weather turn bad, it allows the race management to have ticket space and entry gates built in, and they have ready made concession stands.

The food choices aren’t limited to the stadium. Multiple food choices abound inside and outside the track. On one side of the stadium sat a line of food trucks with a large variety of offerings from empanadas to cupcakes. It is probably the largest variety of concessions I have seen at a track. I liked that fans did not have to travel far to find food. At some tracks some grandstands are not close to any concessions. The promoters have made sure no one has to go far for food and drink.

I am already thinking about next year’s event.