Colton Herta won the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach by 0.5883 of a second over pole sitter Josef Newgarden Sunday, the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series victory by the 21-year-old driver who was raised in Valencia.
Herta took the lead from fellow American Graham Rahal on the 64th lap and led for the remainder of the 85-lap race on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit surrounding the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center.
Scott Dixon of New Zealand finished third in the final race of 2021 in NTT IndyCar Series, 1.0752 seconds behind Herta.
Herta called the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach “the biggest race for me outside of” the Indianapolis 500.
“This is the first race I ever was able to come to,” Herta said. “I was two weeks old when I first came to Long Beach. My father (Bryan) was driving in 2000. It was the only race I could go to because I was so young and I couldn’t fly yet.
“I remember growing up around here, coming to this race every year when I was 5, 6, 7, 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.”
Herta was forced out of the 2019 race after 50 laps because of damage to his car, finishing last in the field of 23.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted cancellation of the 2020 race.
Herta started 14th in the field of 28. He took the lead from Brazilian Helio Castroneves on the 34th lap. Dixon took the lead on the 55th lap. Englishman Jack Harvey took the lead one lap later and American Oliver Askew one lap after that.
Rahal took the lead on the 60th lap.
The cars driven by American Conor Daly and Askew made contact on the 62nd lap, prompting the race’s fourth and final caution.
Harvey finished seventh, Rahal 16th, Castroneves 20th and Askew 22nd.
Herta also won last Sunday’s race, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. He has won six times in his 48 starts in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Spaniard Alex Palou won the 2021 series championship. He entered the race assured of the championship with a 12th-place finish or better or 13th or better if he led a lap. Palou finished fourth Sunday.
“Dream completed,” said Palou, who was in his second year in the series. “Let’s get another one now.”
Newgarden and Pato O’Ward of Mexico were the only other drivers with a mathematical chance of winning the Astor Challenge Cup.
O’Ward’s car was hit from behind by the car driven by Ed Jones of Great Britain and spun in the hairpin turn at the end of first lap, dropping to the rear of the field. That contact led to a loss of drive on the 19th lap after the half-shaft in his right rear wheel snapped.
O’Ward returned to the track on the 53rd lap after extensive repair time but dropped out when it became apparent second place in the championship was out of reach. He ended up in 27th for the race and third for the season.
Newgarden needed to win the race, lead the most laps and have Palou finish 25th or worse to win the championship.
The Acura Grand Prix is customarily held in April but moved to September because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Acura Grand Prix will return to its usual April date in 2022.
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