MONTEREY, Calif. – Twenty years after Bryan Herta scored his last Laguna Seca victory, 19-year-old son Colton Herta restored the Herta name to victory lane.
Young Herta won Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey for his second NTT IndyCar Series win. He scored his third career pole of his rookie season on Saturday and led 83 laps of the 85-lap race at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Herta’s Honda finished .5878 seconds ahead of Team Penske driver Will Power’s Chevrolet. Scott Dixon’s Honda was third followed by Simon Pagenaud’s Chevrolet and rookie Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda.
Josef Newgarden’s eighth-place finish combined with Alexander Rossi’s sixth place and Pagenaud’s fourth was enough to give Newgarden the NTT IndyCar Series championship by 25 points over Pagenaud, who took away the position from Rossi in the final race.
None of them could match Herta’s Honda, however.
“It was a perfect race,” Herta said. “Whenever you win an IndyCar race, it has to be a perfect race. You can’t really make mistakes and get away with it, just because there’s always two or three other guys on that day that can win. For sure there was a few guys that could win today, and we just outdid them. We had the pace on them, and we were definitely the best today, so we definitely deserved to win.”
It became evident early that Herta’s car was the fastest in the field as long as he stayed up front. He had no problem with that and was never really challenged until the end when Power was able to make it out of the pits close enough to Herta’s Honda to tail him around the twisty, winding Northern California race track.
“I’d never really felt too threatened until the end when Power was on me, and I thought I had it under control for, I guess, 80 percent of the race, 85 percent of the race,” Herta said. “It seemed like our tire wear was a lot better than a lot of people’s. I would say for sure Dixon and Pagenaud, definitely not Power. He seemed to have a little bit of an edge.
“But that last two or three laps I would gap by like a second a lap and have a nice margin coming into the pits if anything were to go wrong or if I had a slow out-lap or in-lap.
“We had a great car. A car that you could manage the tires pretty easily with, so that seemed to be really important.
“It was a tough race. It was either getting hounded by Dixon or Pagenaud or Power the whole time, so they definitely didn’t make it easy on me. But yeah, happy to kind of put together what we had in Portland and learn from our mistakes of the tire wear issues and go forward with it.”
Pagenaud finished fourth in the race and second in the series championship. Rossi took sixth to finish third in the championship, 33 back of the champion.
“Overall, I thought it was an amazing race,” Pagenaud said. “I thought we gave a great show for the fans, and it was a great crowd out here today, and there’s nothing to be disappointed about. I tried as hard as I could all weekend. You saw me drive with my heart. I won Indianapolis this year. There’s nothing to be disappointed about. We finished second. That’s the second time we’re second in the championship. We won the championship in ’16. I think the numbers talk for themselves.”
For Rossi, he was unable to realize his dream of winning a championship despite having a mostly stellar season.
“You can’t take away from the fact that Josef led (the championship after) all but one race this season,” Rossi said. “And from a sporting perspective, probably the right guy won. He came into this thing with a pretty big lead and if it had gone away on double points, I would have loved it, but ultimately it probably wouldn’t have been the outcome that should have happened. Josef did a great job, Simon did a good job there at the end, and we just were a couple points short.”
The win for Honda was its eighth of the year while clinching its second consecutive Engine Manufacturer’s championship.
“The pressure for us is to take care of our teams, to win the Indy 500 every year, and to earn the driving championship,” Honda Performance Development President Ted Klaus said. “You know, the manufacturer’s championship generally is an outcome of those targets.”
Newgarden gave team owner Roger Penske his 16th series championship, including the fourth in the last six years.
“Josef, a great champion. You can see it in his eyes,” Penske said. “You could see it the first time he won with us, and with Will and Simon, who just had an outstanding season, when you think about three wins and certainly the Indy 500 is the crown jewel that all of us want to have every year.”
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