Hoping to do the same thing his dad in 1998 and 1999, rookie sensation Colton Herta dominated to win the final race of the IndyCar season at Laguna Seca. Herta earned his second win of the season and is coming off a contract signing for next season with Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport.
“20 years ago, this was the last winning car here,” Herta told IndyCar Radio. “Meant a lot to win here, meant a lot to win at the end of the year to cap it off and go into the off season with a lot of confidence.”
Herta had to fend off two IndyCar Series champions (Will Power and Scott Dixon) en route to victory at Laguna Seca.
“My mouth is dry, I didn’t get to drink a lot in those last few laps with them right behind me,” Herta says to IndyCar Radio. “I thought I had it won after the last stop and I knew had the number on (Scott) Dixon. As soon as we got halfway into the stint, Will Power came out of the pits and I thought, oh god it’s going to be tough. Saving fuel number and tires isn’t easy, but something that we learned in Portland and that just shows we did our job.”
Herta drove the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda to a flawless race at the returning Laguna Seca in Monterrey, California. In what will be the new Andretti driver for 2020, Herta qualified on the pole in Saturday’s qualifying session. It was his second pole of the season, his first since Elkhart Lake back in June earlier this year.
As the race started, he never looked back only losing the lead just a couple of times due to the pit stop cycle. However, once the stops cycled out, Herta would be back in the lead and pulling away from the field. Simply put it was his race to lose.
Despite it being Herta’s race to lose, he managed to stay out front on fresh tires that the No. 88 team gave him. He would have to fend off multiple challenges throughout the road course. Drivers like Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power all tried their hands to take the lead away. Despite the runs from the other drivers, Herta hung on and went on to win his second race of the season and the final race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series.
He had a shot at winning the Rookie of The Year title, but came up five points short as Chip Ganassi Racing driver Felix Rosenqvist finished fifth just enough to collect the title in his name despite the challenges he faced throughout the weekend.
“It was a tough race,” Rosenqvist said to IndyCar Radio. “Really tricky conditions today, really slippery on the track. There was a little bit of mind games on who wanted to go to push their tires really hard at first. I tried to be really conservative and then I was aggressive when I needed too, it paid off. We actually managed to pass a lot of guys out there, I didn’t think that I was able to pass. Good strategy from the team, really cool season. It’s been up and down, but ending P6 in the championship and Rookie of The Year. Big thanks to NTT Data and Chip Ganassi Racing for leading me through it.”
While there was a race winner, there was another race to be settled on track and that was the NTT IndyCar Series Championship. Four drivers still had the chance to win the title. Two of them from Team Penske (Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud), Alexander Rossi from Andretti Autosport and Scott Dixon from Chip Ganassi Racing being the long shot coming in.
All of them ran their race and was doing what they needed to do. Dixon was the highest running championship driver running in the second throughout the event. However, during the late stages, an Ed Jones retirement mathematically took him out of the championship. Leaving just three drivers to duke it out among themselves.
After Dixon was mathematically eliminated, it was up to Pagenaud and Rossi to put up a fight to Josef Newgarden. Pagenaud was right behind Dixon in the late goings, trying to do what he could to get around him. Though, laps were winding down and Pagenaud was running out of time to pass Dixon and run down Herta. In order for him to win championship, the Indy 500 winner had to win the race.
Ultimately, Pagenaud fell short and with an eighth place finish, his teammate Josef Newgarden earned his second series title.
“I don’t know why, but it fell like it means a lot more than the first one,” Newgarden described to IndyCar Radio. “It’s tough to win races and be in the fight every weekend. You know, to drive for Team Penske, it’s such a dream situation. I wanted this so bad, I felt like the guys deserved it. They have done the best job all year and they deserve the championship. If I did something stupid, I was going to feel terrible throwing it away for them. I just tried to do my job today, everyone around me did theirs’. Can’t ask much more than that, they give me the best cars every weekend, pit stops.”
“We have a lot of great partners, Hitachi, Chevy. I’m just really happy for everyone involved in this whole deal.”
Newgarden ends the 2019 season with four wins, seven podiums, two poles and 490 laps led.
There was one caution for three laps that occurred on lap 45. Conor Daly spun around in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport machine. There were three leaders among eight lead changes.
Herta led four times for 83 laps for the second victory of his career.
With Newgarden winning the championship, it was Honda’s second Engine Manufactuer championship.
Official Points Standings
- Josef Newgarden, Champion
- Simon Pagenaud, -25
- Alexander Rossi, -33
- Scott Dixon, -63
- Will Power, -91
- Felix Rosenqvist, -216
- Colton Herta, -221
- Ryan Hunter-Reay, -221 both Hunter-Reay and Herta tied for seventh
- Takuma Sato, -226
- Graham Rahal, -252
- Sebastien Bourdais, -254
- James Hinchcliffe, -271
- Santino Ferrucci, -290
- Spencer Pigot, -306
- Tony Kanaan, -337
- Marco Andretti, -338
- Marcus Ericsson, -351
- Zach Veach, -370
- Matheus Leist, -380
- Ed Jones, -424
- Colton Herta, led 83 laps
- Will Power, led six laps
- Scott Dixon
- Simon Pagenaud, led one lap
- Felix Rosenqvist
- Alexander Rossi
- Sebastien Bourdais
- Josef Newgarden, 2019 IndyCar champion
- James Hinchcliffe
- Ryan Hunter-Reay
- Marcus Ericsson
- Graham Rahal
- Max Chilton
- Marco Andretti
- Charlie Kimball
- Tony Kanaan
- Matheus Leist
- Zach Veach
- Jack Harvey
- Spencer Pigot, one lap down
- Takuma Sato, one lap down
- Conor Daly, one lap down
- Ed Jones, OUT, Mechanical
- Santino Ferrucci, OUT, Crash
Up Next: The NTT IndyCar Series drivers will now have their off season before returning on track for the 2020 season in St. Petersburg on March 15.