By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California – The fountain of collision and a quest for free tacos being damaged were the main headlines from the bottom of the running order during Sunday’s 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Lap 1 was once again the chaotic point as five cars were involved in a crash, including one driver ending up in the garden where the landmark water fountain is located in Turns 2-3.
Despite this, neither retired from the action. Instead, it was a separate collision that marked yet another blemish to Colton Herta’s rookie season.
Deep in the field was where the action commenced as contact from Marcus Ericsson put Jack Harvey into the garden, notably damaging his rear wing as it was tilted down.
“Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted with the incident at the start,” Ericsson explained. “We got caught out there with everyone packing up in the fountain in Turn 3, so it wasn’t ideal and obviously hitting Jack was very unfortunate.”
The accident caused a huge ripple effect at the tail end of the field as Spencer Pigot ran into the back of Zach Veach, sustaining front wing damage. Matheus Leist was the last of the five to be collected in the bizarre accident.
Neither of the five drivers sustained critical damage and continued on with their races. However, Ericsson and Pigot lost a lap while Harvey lost two in the progress.
“It was a very unfortunate start to the race,” Pigot on the accident. “We got caught up in the mess that was going on in front of me and stalled the car after some contact. We went a lap down and from there, just had to try and claw our way back as much as we could.”
Harvey’s team opted to make two stops under the caution period, with the second focusing on replacing the tilted rear wing. A 22nd-place finish was the cultivation of a struggling weekend after finishing outside the top-15 for the first time this season.
“We were lacking some substantial pace, as I think we had some pretty significant damage from that shunt,” said Harvey. “I was just trying to get to the end of the race to just try and collect as much data for the team as possible. This weekend has been kind of a struggle for us.”
Leist would be the highest finisher out of the drivers involved with a 15th-place effort, one lap behind race winner Alexander Rossi.
Tenth place starter of Herta showed prominent speed after topping the leaderboard during Sunday’s warm-up session.
The 19-year-old continued his momentum during the early portions of the race as he was running inside the top-10. That would change during his pit stop when he nearly ran over the air gun, which would’ve warranted a penalty.
As soon as that near-disaster happened, his No. 88 King Taco Chevrolet stalled for a few seconds, setting him back as he dropped to 12th.
Then on Lap 51, Herta’s bid of scoring free tacos, if he would to win the race, was dashed after his car snapped in Turn 9, over corrected and hit the inside retaining wall, damaging his left front suspension and wing.
The COTA winner brought the wounded car into the pits and nothing could’ve been salvaged to get him back on the track, and for the second straight race, he was credited with a last-place result. His 23rd-place result further plummeted him down into the standings from fifth to tenth after being second in the NTT IndyCar Series title chase earlier on.
“I’m super bummed for everyone on the No. 88 King Taco team and everyone who came out to show support and cheer me on,” said Herta. “I’m really appreciative because I had a lot of family, friends and fans here with it being a hometown crowd. Everyone was awesome.
“We can take positives from here because we were so damn fast all weekend and I was really happy with the car. The guys did an incredible job, everyone has done so well working together. We’ll move forward. We have some testing planned later this week and we have the Month of May coming up, which will be awesome.”
Herta will head into the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with just an eight-point lead over Felix Rosenqvist, currently 12th in points, in the spicy Rookie of the Year battle.
The young star had massive success in Indy Lights last year, sweeping all three events at Indianapolis, including the Freedom 100, where he led 10 of 40 laps.