The Herta family seems to own WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, as Colton Herta wins the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, now tying his father Bryan with two wins at the circuit. Herta started on the pole and dominated the race from start to finish, leading 91 of 95 laps.
“I enjoy racing here so much,” Herta said post-race. “It’s an amazing track for me and my family, it’s been so good to us. To two for two so far is great.”
“This place is so awesome, it’s my favorite track in North America by far, and to win here means so much.”
Championship leader Alex Palou finished second, extending his championship lead to 35 points over Patricio O’Ward who finished fifth. The championship now comes down to the final race next weekend between the young duo as well as Josef Newgarden, with Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson mathematically eliminated from championship contention.
Herta led the field to green alongside teammate Alexander Rossi, as Dixon did exactly what he needed to do to assist his teammate Palou by putting himself between the Spaniard and O’Ward from third to fifth. Rossi’s miserable stretch of luck continued with a wreck on lap two, making contact with Herta going for the lead in turn four and sending him spinning into the gravel and bringing out the caution.
Herta led the field back to green on lap five where O’Ward was once again swallowed up while on the primary black tyres as Ericsson passed him for sixth and Simon Pagenaud for seventh. Will Power, who restarted second, found himself on pit road with an engine issue that the team was able to diagnose and get him back on track.
Herta cruised through each stint, with Palou holding onto second place protecting his championship. Palou was closest to Herta at around the halfway point of the race, where he got within one half second, but the two got into a rhythm for the rest of the race to finish first and second.
The only driver to give any threat to Herta and Palou was Romain Grosjean, the only other driver to lead a lap in this race during the pit cycles, as he stormed through the field in the waning laps of the race. Grosjean was the last driver to make his final pit stop on lap 73 for a fresh set of the faster, alternate red-wall tyres. With 15 laps to go Grosjean boldly passed O’Ward around the outside of turn three and charged furiously towards then-third place Graham Rahal, who he dispatched of with 12 laps to go.
The ex-Formula 1 driver was taking multiple seconds out of Herta’s lead per lap, weaving through lap traffic until he reached Palou’s teammate Jimmie Johnson. Heading to the corkscrew turn eight, Grosjean boldy dove to the inside of Johnson where the two made some contact but went on unscathed as Grosjean continued on his march. He wouldn’t get any further than third, but closed a 14 second gap in 15 laps in a brilliant performance.
Grosjean gained ten positions from his starting position of thirteenth, making a total of 27 passes with 15 for position. The Swiss-born Frenchman had an exciting duel early in the race with Dixon that prompted an Alex Zanardi-like move in the corkscrew for position. After the race, he had only one thing to say.
“Laguna Seca, I love you.”
Rahal finished fourth, up eight positions after starting just ahead of Grosjean in twelfth, with O’Ward in fifth as he struggled with tyre wear throughout the stints and fell back at the start on the less favorable compound.
Ericsson finished the race in sixth ahead of Newgarden in seventh, who went off-strategy to make a four-stop work after starting seventeenth. Newgarden sits 48 points back from Palou, putting him mathematically in the hunt for the championship. His Team Penske teammate Pagenaud finished behind him in eighth.
Oliver Askew finished ninth, slipping from his top five starting position to finish ninth after a slow start and error in the pits, but the Florida native still had a great audition with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing as he looks for a seat next season.
Rounding out the top ten was Ed Jones, who has shown a lot of speed in this west coast loop. The 2016 Indy Lights champion finished just on the fringes of the top ten in Portland, now breaking through for his third top ten of the season.
Johnson deserves a special mention outside of the pass with Grosjean, making moves of his own on track including one in the corkscrew on James Hinchcliffe for position. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion earned his best result of the season finishing seventeenth.
Next weekend a champion will be crowned at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, which will take place on 26 September.
Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Final Results
|1||26||Colton Herta||USA||Andretti Autosport||2:02:31.544 sec.|
|2||10||Alex Palou||ESP||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 1.974 sec.|
|3||51||Romain Grosjean (R)||FRA||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Rick Ware Racing||+ 3.708 sec.|
|4||15||Graham Rahal||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 13.861 sec.|
|5||5||Pato O’Ward||MEX||Arrow McLaren SP||+ 24.697 sec.|
|6||8||Marcus Ericsson||SWE||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 28.503 sec.|
|7||2||Josef Newgarden||USA||Team Penske||+ 29.726 sec.|
|8||22||Simon Pagenaud||FRA||Team Penske||+ 30.421 sec.|
|9||45||Oliver Askew||USA||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||+ 32.467 sec.|
|10||18||Ed Jones||UAE||Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan||+ 47.994 sec.|
|11||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||USA||Andretti Autosport||+ 1:07.184 sec.|
|12||3||Scott McLaughlin (R)||NZL||Team Penske||+ 1:13.494 sec.|
|13||9||Scott Dixon||NZL||Chip Ganassi Racing||+ 1:16.359 sec.|
|14||14||Sebastien Bourdais||FRA||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||– 1 lap|
|15||60||Jack Harvey||GBR||Meyer Shank Racing||– 1 lap|
|16||20||Conor Daly||USA||Ed Carpenter Racing||– 1 lap|
|17||48||Jimmie Johnson (R)||USA||Chip Ganassi Racing||– 1 lap|
|18||21||Rinus VeeKay||NED||Ed Carpenter Racing||– 1 lap|
|19||7||Felix Rosenqvist||SWE||Arrow McLaren SP||– 1 lap|
|20||29||James Hinchcliffe||CAN||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||– 1 lap|
|21||59||Max Chilton||GBR||Carlin||– 1 lap|
|22||77||Callum Ilott (R)||GBR||Juncos Hollinger Racing||– 1 lap|
|23||4||Dalton Kellett||CAN||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||– 1 lap|
|24||06||Helio Castroneves||BRA||Meyer Shank Racing||– 1 lap|
|25||27||Alexander Rossi||USA||Andretti Autosport||– 2 laps|
|26||12||Will Power||AUS||Team Penske||– 2 laps|
|27||30||Takuma Sato||JPN||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Mechanical|