The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at Lugana Seca was packed with excitement and lots of overtakes. Despite the track’s reputation that it’s hard to pass on the narrow and very technical track, there were 367 on-track passes throughout the race. California native and Andretti Autosport driver Colton Herta dominated and took home his second victory at Laguna Seca, title championship leader Alex Palou secured a solid second-place finish, and the daring driver of the day Romain Grojean was the biggest mover on the grids starting from the thirteenth pace and ending the race with a third-place podium.
Despite leading ninety-one of the ninety-five laps of the race, Herta confesses that not only was the race not easy but that both Alex Palou and Romain Grojean were putting the pressure on him until the very last lap. In the post-race press conference, Herta described how difficult the race was for him:
“No, it wasn't. Alex, really the whole race, was right there. Then Grosjean at the end pressured Alex, therefore pressured me. It was very interesting to see the cars that struggled with tire deg that we were much faster than.”
“Once we got to them, were stuck behind them, struggling to overtake. The balance for most of the race, when I was stuck behind lap traffic, defending from Alex but trying to get by the other drivers, was very difficult and different to the race I had in 2019. They were both refreshing and fun. Glad it was over because it got hectic at some points. I really didn't want it to be.”
For the second-place finisher Alex Palou, who described the race as “good” and “exciting” he ultimately knew that they didn’t have the pace to catch Herta:
“Yeah, was good. Was really exciting race. Unfortunately we didn't had the pace that Colton had. I think in reds and blacks he had a bit more. As soon as I tried to catch him, which we tried, I would just cook my tires. Yeah, I couldn't go as fast as him without losing my tires.
“Yeah, it was exciting. We had to save some fuel, overtake some cars. Yeah, I think was a good race. Another podium feels good. We carry some momentum for Long Beach now.”
The second-place podium at Laguna Seca extends the championship lead for Palou going into the series finale at Long Beach. Palou only needs to finish in eleventh position to win the championship title. Although Palou’s notable result at Laguna Seca puts him in a favorable position to secure the IndyCar championship title this season at the Acura Grand Prix, he remains focused and pragmatic knowing that he will be diving on a track that has not raced on before. However, his fellow competitors and championship contenders Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden have raced on the streets of Long Beach previously and therefore could have a possible advantage over the Honda driver.
... “I'm going to Long Beach where I've never been. Pato, Newgarden been there. Dixon. Everybody that I'm fighting been there. It's not going to be easy. Even if I only have to finish P11, I still have to finish P11. As I said, I'm not going to think about the points till last pit stop.” stated Palou.
The highlight of the race was not from race winner Colton Herta, or championship leader Alex Palou. It was from Roamin Grojean who scored his third podium of the season for IndyCar at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Not only did the French driver push hard the whole race, he started from thirteenth position on the grid and drove fearlessly on one of the most challenging parts of the track, the corkscrew which is also referred to as a no-passing zone due to its tricky design. After the race Grojean recounted the gutsy move he made on the corkscrew on Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and seven-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson:
“Well, I think you need to be confident in what you can do in the car, where you are. (Indiscernible) better tires than anyone else. Yeah, I had some good passes. I had a close moment with one of the Meyer Shank cars that actually slowed down to let me by.”
“I didn't realize till quite late. I had to bail off. Yeah, I mean, the race was fun. Turn one is a good place to overtake, the corkscrew is another good place to do so. Cool tires was very hard for a couple of laps. Warm tires was hard for the last 10 laps of each stint, very tricky. It was about keeping the car on track and trying to maximize your pace.”
With only one race left of the season, there are now two title contenders who can possibly win against Alex Palou. Pato O’Ward is still in the fight and so is two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. O’Ward had mixed emotions after the race at Laguna Seca and was shocked at the Fast 6 qualifying result which helped him score a fifth-place finish :
“Yeah, I'm, like, disappointed, happy. Happy because I think we pulled off a miracle with what package we had this weekend. We didn't have anything at all. I don't know how I pulled off a Fast 6 in the qualifying, to be fairly honest. I think that put us in a great position to start. We took a risk.”
In terms of the championship battle with Alex Palou, O’Ward knows it will be an uphill battle till the end but his concentration still lies on winning the last race at Long Beach.
“So, I mean, we're sort of still alive in the championship. I know a lot of things can fall either our way or against us in Long Beach. What we can try and do is just go there and try and win it and we'll see where everything else falls, I guess.”
Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden who is third in the championship battle recounted the race at Laguna Seca expressing some frustration with his seventeenth starting position:
“It was just hard to do much more than we did starting 17th. We can’t start back there. We know that. It was just a punch to the gut yesterday with the way that went, two weekends in a row. It’s still a little bit hard to digest. I’m not sure what has caused that. But I’m proud of my team. They’ve been doing a stellar job. We’ve had excellent prep coming into the weekends. I’ve felt more confident than ever, showing up, and I’ve certainly gotten everything from my team...
Newgarden stated that the team did the best they could do given the lack of yellow flags along with the low starting position at the start of the race. Despite the fact that Newgarden still has a chance to win the IndyCar championship in Long Beach, the team’s aim seems to be on finishing second in the driver’s standings. Newgarden continued:
“ But I think we had a fast day. I really do. On a four-stop strategy, I think we executed pretty well. It’s just not going to make up much more ground than we did without some yellow help. And we, unfortunately, needed that on a day like today. So, yeah. We just need to start up higher. We know that. But Team Chevy and Hitachi did a good job for us. I think we got what we could out of it. Now we’ll go to Long Beach and at least try to get second in this championship.”
Alex Palou will head into the IndyCar series finale at Long Beach with a thirty-five-point lead over Pato O’Ward and a forty-eight-point lead over Josef Newgarden. The championship title is still on the line and one thing is for certain, the two Chevy drivers O’ Ward and Newgarden will both fight till the end.