Herta dominates to win at Laguna Seca, Newgarden clinches the championship

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Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

Colton Herta has taken a dominant second victory in the NTT IndyCar Series at the 2019 season finale, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Herta led the most laps after starting from pole position and held off hard-charging veterans Will Power and Scott Dixon to take the win. However, the focus at the end of the race was on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion, with Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden coming home in eighth place to win his second title.

The race started off in very similar circumstances to that seen a few weeks ago at the Grand Prix of Portland. Herta was able to maintain his lead on the run down the hill into turns one and two, with Dixon briefly attempting to pass the Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver around the outside until he was edged out to the outside of the circuit, thus leaving him to defend his position from Alexander Rossi.

Herta would continue to hold the lead for the opening stint of the race. However, unlike Portland, Herta was able to keep his tyre wear under control and was thus able to continue leading the race after the first pit-stop phase. He would continue leading the race and was able to hold the lead following the race’s only caution period after the halfway point.

Despite leading the vast majority of the laps during the race, Herta was never really able to pause for a breath. He was hounded by series veterans throughout the race, with Scott Dixon continuing to stay within a second of Colton until Team Penske‘s Will Power was able to get into second-place after the final pit-stop sequence.

As the race entered its closing laps, the stage was set for a tense finish to both the race and the championship. Whilst Herta continued to try and keep Power at bay, the championship fight still had the potential to go one of several ways. After starting the race in fourth-place, championship-leader Josef Newgarden fell back into the lower end of the top ten, with his engineer, Tim Cindric, coaching him all the way and encouraging him to play it safe to help his title. When hard-chargers such as Felix Rosenqvist and others came up to challenge him, he would not put up too much of a fight as he and the team both knew that he still had a good cushion of points in the title standings.

With under ten laps to go, Newgarden was running down in eighth-place having just lost a position to Sebastien Bourdais. His closest championship rival at the time, his team-mate, Simon Pagenaud, was running up in fourth-place and was desperately searching for a way to overtake Dixon to try and chase down the leaders. If Pagenaud had been able to get into the race lead, he could have stolen the championship from eighth-placed Newgarden.

Lap after lap, Pagenaud tried to find his way by Dixon. However, the reigning champion used all of his many years of experience to keep the Frenchman behind him.

Credit: Stephen King / Courtesy of IndyCar

By contrast, in the battle for the race lead, Colton Herta was able to defy his limited experience and was able to keep the veteran, Power, behind him. Two mistakes on the closing stages from Power gave Herta a little bit of breathing space, with Herta holding on for the final lap to take the chequered flag and score his second NTT IndyCar Series race win with a margin of just over half a second.

The win would be Herta’s second of his rookie campaign in the NTT IndyCar Series. What’s more, the victory would come at a special location for his family; with his father, Bryan Herta, a former two-time race winner at Laguna Seca back in 1998 and 1999. Sadly for Colton, his multiple retirements over the course of the season meant that he was unable to clinch the rookie of the year title, but with Andretti Autosport confirming him for the 2020 season, there is every chance that Colton could set his sights even higher to a potential overall title challenge.

Will Power gave it everything he had to try and steal the win at the last moment. The Australian tried a last-corner lunge for the victory but was just too far back to make it stick. Nevertheless, his final few races of the season has seen Will end what had been a difficult season with some positive results. He will hope to be right back in contention for the title in 2020.

Scott Dixon entered the season-finale with an outside chance of defending his championship. However, with his other title rivals not getting into trouble, his chances quickly faded away. He would take the final spot on the podium and would seal himself fourth place in the standings, a decent recovery after what has been a rollercoaster of a season for the New Zealander.

In search of his second championship, Simon Pagenaud pushed as hard as he may have ever pushed. However, with Dixon able to keep him at bay, his chances of stealing the 2019 championship crown became slimmer and slimmer as the race drew to a close. He would take a strong fourth-place after a combative drive from sixth on the grid. He will end the season as the runner-up in the championship standings, but he will end 2019 delighted with his efforts after having won the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the season.

Credit: Stephen King / Courtesy of IndyCar

Another determined drive came from fifth-placed Felix Rosenqvist. After being penalised during qualifying yesterday, Felix was forced to start the race down in fourteenth place with what could well have been the fastest car on the grid. Using his anger, however, Felix was able to pass car after car to work himself into the top five. He briefly got as high up as fourth-place before being re-passed by Pagenaud, with Rosenqvist coming home to take fifth-place and with it, the 2019 rookie of the year honours. He will hope to build on his superb rookie campaign during his sophomore season next year, with all signs pointing toward another strong year for the Swedish driver in 2020.

Andretti’s Alexander Rossi began the weekend in second place in the championship standings and was hoping to try and take the fight to Newgarden to take his first championship in IndyCar. However, Rossi’s #27 Honda did not quite look to have the pace of those around him. An elbows-out drive saw him hold on to finish in sixth place, but it wasn’t enough to see him take the championship or hold on to his runner-up spot. He ends the year third in the standings after finishing second last season. In 2020, he will hope to end the season with that elusive number one spot.

It was an incredible drive for Dale Coyne Racing‘s Sebastien Bourdais. The Frenchman climbed from nineteenth on the grid to take seventh place despite having suffered immense back pain throughout Saturday and Sunday’s running. He had even been at risk of being subbed out by his team, but he defied the pain to take a solid finish to end what has been a somewhat unspectacular 2019 season.

An eighth-place finish may not usually be much to be happy about. But for Josef Newgarden, however, eighth-place was good enough to secure him the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship after seventeen gruelling races. Newgarden started the race up in fourth-place but didn’t have the pace to contend for the victory. He and his #2 Penske team drove a smart race and allowed people to pass him so as to not risk the championship crown.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

With his closest rival, Pagenaud, only coming home in fourth, he was able to end the season with an advantage of twenty-five points to secure his second IndyCar championship victory, with Newgarden visibly overcome with emotion post-race as he celebrated with his family, his friends and his team. His speed, week in, week out at every type of track on the calendar, along with his supreme consistency throughout the season, earned Josef the 2019 champion and will only make him stronger heading into the 2020 season. Still, at only twenty-seven years old, Newgarden has the potential to go on to win so many more championships and firmly write his name in the IndyCar history books.

The top ten in the race would be rounded out by James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay, with Marcus Ericsson coming home in eleventh-place after having spent much of the race running well inside the top ten.

The one and only caution period of the race came exactly at the halfway point. Conor Daly, on his return to Andretti Autosport’s #25 car, had been battling team-mate, Marco Andretti when the pair made contact at turn two, pitching Daly into a spin and a subsequent stall. Daly would finish one lap down in twenty-second place and will be hoping to be back on the grid full-time in 2020; with rumours still linking him to a seat at Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

Only two drivers would fail to finish the final race of the 2019 season. Ed Jones suffered an off-track excursion halfway through the race and his #20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet would go on to develop a race-ending issue. It has not been the season that Jones would have hoped for, with the 2016 Indy Lights driver hoping that he has done enough to secure himself a spot on the IndyCar grid for the fourth year in a row despite finishing the year with just one top ten finish in twelve starts.

The second retirement and the final driver on the score-sheet is Dale Coyne Racing’s rookie, Santino Ferrucci. Santino entered the weekend hoping to take the rookie of the year title, but his hopes were dashed halfway through the race when he forgot to set his brake bias to the right position for the braking zone for turn two. As a result, Santino locked up both of his front-tyres and went steaming into the back of Takuma Sato.

Takuma was able to continue on to finish in twenty-first place, albeit one lap down as a result of the contact, whilst Santino was forced to retire from the race. As a result of his poor finish in the final race, Santino drops outside of the top ten in the overall standings and will finish the year in thirteenth-place. Whilst his performances on the ovals have been superb this season, he will need to improve in the road course and street circuit races should he hope to better his championship result next year.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey – Race results:

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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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