Colton Herta couldn’t believe it – twice – in Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
NTT P1 Award winner Herta had the dominant car early in the race only to lose two positions – to Alex Palou and Josef Newgarden – on the first pit stop exchange. On the team’s radio, the driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian questioned how the spots slipped away; the answer came via an NBC graphic. He lost 3.4 seconds to Palou, who had pitted three laps earlier.
Later, Herta was similarly dumbfounded, this time by wall contact with the left rear wheel on Lap 56 that ended his race.
“I broke a little too late, got (into the corner), locked up the right front (tire) and that was it,” he said in a dejected tone. “Yeah, just a stupid mistake.”
The combination of slippages cost Herta a chance to win Long Beach for the second consecutive year. In September, he led 43 of the 85 laps. This year, he led the first 28 laps and was in third place when he hit the Turn 9 barrier. Newgarden won the race for Team Penske.
The way this race ended was reminiscent of how Herta spiraled out of the lead and similarly out of the race last August in the inaugural street race in Nashville. Marcus Ericsson won that race.
“We were running good there in third, keeping up with Alex and Josef,” he said of this situation. “It’s unfortunate. I feel really bad.
“I just overdid it a little bit.”
Johnson Having Hand Examined
Jimmie Johnson, who broke his right hand in Friday’s contact with the tire barrier, said he will have the injury examined by a hand specialist Monday in North Carolina. He is interested to see if the best course of action is to place a screw in it.
“I’m not sure what is the best pathway forward, the shortest recovery time,” he said. “I’ll know more tomorrow afternoon.”
Johnson’s race ended with his third contact of the weekend with the tires. This time, the driver of the No. 48 Carvana Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing slid sideways and collected the No. 18 HMD Honda of rookie David Malukas, who drives for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD. Johnson was perplexed by the spin.
“I lost it so early (in the corner), I’m not sure if there was contact from behind or not,” he said. “I was under the impression I lost it in that rubber that was stacking up in corner entry. My crew thought maybe otherwise. Either way, the rubber is unlike anything I’d ever seen before.”
Johnson again expressed how difficult the transition to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES has been on tight temporary street circuits like Long Beach.
“This deal isn’t easy,” he said of racing in this series. “You have to live on the razor’s edge on these street courses, and there’s no margin for error. Trying to be faster (and) trying to be more competitive, I made some mistakes this weekend. I’ll learn from them and come back stronger.”
Odds and Ends
- By finishing third, Alex Palou (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda) continued his remarkable top-three effort as a Chip Ganassi Racing driver. He has finished on the podium in 10 of his 19 races with the team.
- Scott McLaughlin, who finished first and second in races to open the season, struggled Sunday in the No. 3 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet. McLaughlin was unable to get on the track during the pre-race practice due to an electrical issue. The team changed the engine, but he finished 14th, in part because of mid-race contact with Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing as they tried to stop at the fountain turn for Simon Pagenaud’s drive through the flower bed in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing. McLaughlin fell out of the series lead, now five points behind teammate Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet).
- Herta’s pole on Saturday tied him with Lloyd Ruby, Jack McGrath, Tomas Scheckter, Justin Wilson and Alex Tagliani with eight each. It also made he and Bryan Herta the second father-son pair to win Long Beach poles. Mario and Michael Andretti formed the first such pair.
- A name to remember: Max Gordon, the 13-year-old son of former INDYCAR SERIES driver Robby Gordon. He won Saturday’s Stadium Super Truck Series race, leading his father to declare afterward that he expects him to be an INDYCAR SERIES race winner at Long Beach in a few years.
Up Next: Indianapolis Test, Barber Race
In terms of races, the INDYCAR SERIES will take the next two weekends off before staging the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on April 29-May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park.
Alex Palou won last year’s race to kick off his championship drive. Will Power and Scott Dixon finished second and third, respectively. Josef Newgarden is the series’ only three-time winner at the track. The race continues NBC’s run of six consecutive network television races to open the season.
Between now and the Barber race is the Open Test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval (April 20-21). The event will air live on Peacock Premium, NBC Sports’ streaming service.