By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Another dominant race to end the NTT IndyCar Series campaign for Colton Herta, who won Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“What a good car that we’ve come here with,” said Herta, who led 43 of 85 laps. “We’ve actually done numerous changes this weekend, but one very minor change that stuck on the car. It just shows what kind of car we brought do this race weekend.
“Yeah, it was perfect. Without the muff-up in qualifying, I think we could have had a great shot at pole, have another dominant race. It was fun to come from the back. A little bit more stressful, but it was a lot of fun.”
RESULTS: 2021 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach
After topping every practice chart, Herta did had work to do after brushing the wall during Saturday’s qualifying. Consequently, Herta had to roll off 14th, adding tremendous baggage and felt that a win was out of reach.
When the 85-lap contest commenced, more drama ensued. On the opening lap of Turn 11, Herta ran into the left side of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, but minimal harm happened to his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. This really surprised Herta.
“I was very surprised when we were able to keep going after hitting Ryan in the year after (Ed) Jones spun Pato (O’Ward),” Herta on the Lap 1 incident. “We had a little bit of damage to the right front, but luckily it wasn’t enough to kind of take us out, we could keep running around and be quick.”
Even after going for primary Firestone tires later on, Herta fended off a hard charging Josef Newgarden to score his third win of the season.
For the 21-year-old, a victory at Long Beach is the biggest of his career. Outside of the Indianapolis 500, winning in Southern California has its sentimental value.
“This is the first race I ever was able to come to, being from Santa Clarita. I was two weeks old when I first came to Long Beach. My father (Bryan) was driving in 2000,” Herta commented. “It was the only race I could go to because I was so young and I couldn’t fly yet. Lucky enough that it came around.
“I remember growing up around here, coming to this race every year when I was five, six, seven, all the way up until I was racing in INDYCAR in 2019. I can’t believe I won it on my second try. I’m super happy. This is a big one for me.”
Cool, calm and collected as usual, the race lead fell upon his lap and put a stranglehold for quite some time.
That was until the final caution when Oliver Askew stuffed it into the barriers in Turn 9 on Lap 62. Due to the caution, there were concerns from Herta because he was the only one in the top-14 that didn’t go for the Firestone reds.
“I was pretty focused the whole time. Not really stressed, just focused and trying to nail corner by corner, just focusing to the next one,” said Herta. “It was a big ask to keep guys like Scott and Josef behind when they’re on new reds. I guess Josef was on used, but Scott (Dixon) was on new.
“I knew it was going to be tough. I thought when the yellow came out it was kind of game over for us and we were going to be swallowed on the restart being on the blacks, but it worked. I think it just shows how good the car was. We were kind of all in tune, in one, fast on blacks, fast on reds, didn’t matter. We were just fast.”
After 16 grueling rounds, Herta finished fifth in the standings. The highs were his other wins at St. Petersburg and Laguna Seca, but lows such as Nashville, where he crashed in the closing laps, kept him out of the championship battle.
It’s least of his concerns as the mindset shifts on cleaning up his race craft to really fight for the 2022 IndyCar title.
“We’ve been so close. I think there have been three or four other times we should have won and we didn’t for different reasons. I’m not too worried about that right now,” said Herta.
“I think give a month and then look at it afterwards, kind of into the off-season, debriefing on 2021, what we need to do better to kind of be in Alex’s position coming into the final round in 2022.”