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.

Front Row Show Renewed for Third Straight Week

Photo of Josef Newgarden by Matt Fraver, Indycar

Indycar’s longest running show, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta in the front row, has been renewed by the series for a third straight week. Newgarden edged Herta this time by just 0.004 seconds in a wild qualifying session that saw lots of sliding and dirt thrown around, it had a controversial ending to Group 1 in Round 1.

Jack Harvey looked to be safely the top six ubtil he spun and came to halt just ahead of the timing line. Alexander rossi and Simon Pagenaud sped by, but did not slow enough according to race control. At the checkered flag, Harvey and Pagenaud were in and Rossi was out. Harvey lost his best lap, and Pagenaud and Rossi lost their final lap. As a result, Harvey and Pagenaud did not advance, but Rossi did. Rossi would go on to make the Fast Six.

The question now is, can Newgarden win? His last two poles looked like dominating wins, but tire and gear issues cost him each of the last two races with just a few laps to go. Herta has finished fourth and second in the previous two races.

Some Thoughts

Rinus VeeKay had a nice return race from his injury. The second year driver advanced to round 2.

The Fast Six seemed like old times with two cars each from Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti.

Will Power had to scramble in Round 1 to get his car fired again. He finally got on track with just four minutes left. Power, the active leader in pole positions, made it to the Fast Six. Power still does not have a pole this year. This is not the first time the 12 car has had electrical issues.

I hope Jack Harvey has his bad luck for the weekend out of the way now and can get a decent finish tomorrow.

Points leader Alex Palou starts seventh, while Scott Dixon starts fifth. Pato O’Ward, second in points, starts 20th.

Results:

Final practice begins in just a few minutes. Enjoy.