One final race, three worthy contenders, not just to decide the NTT IndyCar Series championship but also the distinction of Rookie of the Year.
A strong argument could be made for all three drivers — Felix Rosenqvist, Santino Ferrucci and Colton Herta — as to whom has been the most impressive newcomer entering the double-points Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sept. 22 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Rosenqvist, in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, is 27 points ahead of Ferrucci and 49 in front of Herta after equaling his best season result with a second in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland. The 27-year-old Swede was also second in July’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio and won his first pole for May’s INDYCAR Grand Prix.
Scott Dixon’s first-year teammate (above) has overcome a few setbacks, most notably 28th in the double-points Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, to improve to eighth overall in the points. And Rosenqvist is so fixated on trying to get his first series win after being runner-up twice, it’s as if Rookie of the Year doesn’t enter into his thinking.
“I mean, I'm pretty hungry for a win,” he said Sunday. “You know, we've been kind of close two times. I thought Mid-Ohio was definitely closer, but we've definitely been there, and we've been there on merit, as well. It hasn't been like a fluke result.
“I'm definitely aiming for a win in Laguna, and when we tested there in January, I thought our car felt good. Obviously, it was really cold, so probably not much to read into it, but it's an awesome track, and I think it suits my style, and also it's new for everyone, which probably benefits me because many drivers here have done a bunch of most tracks. So yeah, all in for Laguna.”
And Rookie of the Year?
“Yeah, I mean, normally we would care more about the real championship, but we're not fighting for it, so the Rookie of the Year is definitely a fun bonus championship, and it's been pretty good,” he said. “There have been a lot of good drivers, Santino (Ferrucci) and Marcus (Ericsson) and Colton (Herta), and every one of them have been very quick, so it's going to be hard, but I think we took a good leap today.”
Ferrucci, in the No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Dale Coyne Racing Honda, is 10th in the points with 339. The 21-year-old driver (seen on the right) has continually impressed with strong performances on ovals he hadn’t experienced before in finishing a season-best fourth at Texas, Pocono and Gateway.
But he dropped back with a 17th at Portland, where his car failed with nine laps remaining. It’s the first time this season that Ferrucci didn’t finish a race. He had entered with a series-best 1,893 laps completed, but relinquished that No. 1 spot to Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud by one lap.
“The day started pretty well as we were able to avoid a massive pile up in Turn 1 at the start,” Ferrucci said. “After that, we decided to try a different strategy but it didn't quite pan out for us. We had an electrical issue that put an early end to our race.
“It's unfortunate because we were on our way to another top-10 finish and that puts us in a hard place going into Laguna for the rookie championship. We'll bounce back and do our best at the season finale in a few weeks.”
Ferrucci previously reminded that he won what he considers the most important Rookie of the Year honor when he finished seventh in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
Herta can lay claim to rewriting the record books as the 19-year-old son of team co-owner Bryan Herta became the series’ youngest driver to win a race in just his second start. He was 18 years, 11 months and 25 days old when he prevailed in the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas on March 24th.
Herta (on left) has since won two poles, including for Sunday’s race at Portland in the No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. But he stayed out too long on worn tires early on, which cost him track position he couldn’t make up in a fourth-place finish. Although it was his second-best result of the season, he couldn’t help but dwell on what might have been.
“I had a blast leading 37 laps of the race today and our pace was really quick,” Herta said. “The car was great and our strategy was there, but our pace on the red tires during the first stint of the race just wasn't there. I really feel we could have won the race, but I'm overall happy with fourth as it's our second-best finish of the year. Looking forward to racing a Laguna Seca in a couple weeks.”
The series’ only other full-time rookie is Marcus Ericsson, who is 17th with 252 points in the No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 22. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).