Honda’s second consecutive IndyCar Manufacturers title

IndyCar’s Manufacturers’ championship was settled at the final event of 2019 in an interesting fashion.

On the 17-race scoresheet, Chevrolet and its 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 engines built by Ilmor Engineering earned the most victories with nine; but in the unique accounting process for the prized championship for auto manufacturers, Honda came out ahead with the season-long victory.

Although Honda Performance Development’s eight wins trailed its rival, the knockout-style point system, which disqualifies entries from scoring Manufacturer points after its regular allotment of four engines per season has been exceeded, meant reliability made the difference in how the title was won.

With more of HPD’s front-running drivers able to contribute to the Manufacturers’ championship in the final rounds, the Los Angeles-based arm of American Honda took a second consecutive title.

“Back-to-back, and defending champions,” HPD CEO Ted Klaus told RACER. “I’m fond of saying that when you celebrate after a win, it means more when you have a strong competitor. So, to Ilmor and Chevy, hats off to them. And hats off to Team Penske winning the championship.”

Klaus and his HPD associates celebrated the win for their brand and the 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 powerplant manufactured and maintained in Southern California as another SoCal creation — Colton Herta of Harding Steinbrenner Racing — dominated the weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Raised within a few miles of the HPD compound, Herta was a perfect messenger to deliver Honda’s title.

“He’s very close to where we are,” Klaus added. “Bryan and Colton Herta and their family are right down the street from Santa Clarita where we have our own homegrown team at HPD. And to see the growth in all the rookies using Honda power — especially Colton. We wondered could he keep his tires under him? Could the team perform under pressure? And they did it. And they earned it and that also clinched the win for Honda.

“I’m just proud that these young guys are powered by Honda,” Klaus continued.

Chevy, winners of six straight Manufacturers’ championships, has watched as Honda moved to the fore in 2018 and again in 2019. Despite missing out on its most valued prize, the Bowtie has taken the last two Indianapolis 500 wins. As one would expect, Chevy and Ilmor will work tirelessly to prevent Honda from winning three in a row on the Manufacturers’ side; and when it comes to the Indy 500, Honda is intent on keeping Chevy from a three-peat.

“Obviously, emotions are a little high after this win,” Klaus said. “But we’ve got some unfinished business to address in the off season.”

The Week In IndyCar Sept 28, with Colton Herta

Colton Herta returns for The Week In IndyCar podcast to answer listener Q&A after dominating the season finale at Monterey in his Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda. Everything from a disastrous attempt to celebrate the win with his traditional ‘Victory Tacos,’ to his favorite nickname, to how he expects to work with Andretti Autosport title contender Alexander Rossi is covered, all driven by your submissions via social media.

This year’s rookie class ranks with the greats

There have been some great rookie lineups throughout the history of IndyCar, but the Class of 2019 must rank right up there. Pretty damn impressive.

Teenage sensation Colton Herta won two races and three poles; Felix Rosenqvist finished sixth in the NTT IndyCar point standings; Santino Ferrucci went from unknown to fan favorite; and Marcus Ericsson left the mediocrity of Formula 1 for some enjoyable, hard-nosed competition in America.

“Man, these kids and new guys are tough, and they’re going to be around for a long time,” said veteran Will Power after stalking Herta through the final 15 laps in the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca series finale and winding up second. “I tried everything I could to get him, but he never made a mistake.”

It’s hard to imagine how poised a teenager can be in a high-pressure environment that would seem to favor experience. But Little Hertamania is anything but your typical teenager. He became the youngest winner ever last spring at COTA after taking advantage of a Power technical failure. But the final weekend of the season was all Colton. He captured the pole position for the Harding Steinbrenner team on Saturday and then whipped Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport on Sunday — leading 83 of 90 laps in his Harding Steinbrenner Honda.

“It was a perfect race. Whenever you win, it has to be perfect with no mistakes,” said the 19-year-old Californian. “We were definitely the best today, and we deserved to win.”

No brag, just fact as the second-generation driver was flawless despite unrelenting pressure from Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Power.

“I didn’t feel threatened until the end when Will was all over me,” Herta said. “I felt I had things under control for 80 percent of the race, and I had a great car.”

The other drive of the day, though, came from Rosenqvist. The 28-year-old Swede started 14th and charged all the way to fifth in his Ganassi Honda while clinching the Rookie of the Year title.

“It was a fun day and an interesting race,” said Rosenqvist, who would very likely have started first or second had he not been penalized for impeding another competitor with a half-spin early in qualifying.

“It was not ‘aggressive all the time’; just kind of pick your moment and then try to save tires and fuel. We were really good on reds and only a little bit worse on blacks.

“It was a helluva year, and my crew was flawless all season,” Rosenqvist added.

The former Formula E, Indy Lights, DTM, Super Formula and Formula 3 competitor scored a pair of podiums for Chip Ganassi and just missed winning at Mid-Ohio.

While the well-traveled Rosenqvist’s performance was no surprise, Santino Ferrucci’s pace was — maybe the most pleasant surprise of 2019. Turning 21 midway through the season, the Connecticut native gave Dale Coyne a display of driving the enduring team owner never expected.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” said Coyne, who has probably given more rookies their first opportunity than any other owner in the paddock. “I certainly didn’t expect this. He did a great job all year.”

Three fourth places, a seventh at Indianapolis (which earned him Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors) and a fearless style on ovals made him instantly popular with the paying customers. He never put a wheel wrong until Sunday when he slid into Takuma Sato on a restart.

“We were having a good race, but then on the restart I forgot to put the brake bias back to the rear, and going into Turn 1 I locked the fronts,” he said. “I knew I was going to hit (Takuma) Sato, so I just tried to hit him square to do the minimum amount of damage. Sadly I ended up with most of it. I’m sorry to him and his team for messing up their race. It was my mistake.

“Looking back, I feel pretty good about our season as a whole. I feel it went exceptionally well. It’s just unfortunate because I think today is the only mistake I made all year. It’s not the way I wanted to end the season but overall we’ve had a great year and I think we can be proud of that.”

As for Ericsson, he left F1 after five years with mediocre teams, most recently with Sauber, before moving to North America and stepping in for the injured Robert Wickens at Arrow SPM, and he quietly impressed all season long.

The Swede finished second at Detroit and had many better drives than the final results showed, though he finished mid-pack (11th) at Laguna.

‘We had the pace, and we deserved to win’ – Herta

Colton Herta wasted little time applying lessons learned from Portland to close out his IndyCar rookie season with a win from pole at Laguna Seca on Sunday.

Herta had also put the No.88 Harding Steinbrenner car on pole at Portland three weeks ago and led through the opening stint, but torched his tires and ultimately fell out of contention for the race win.

But, on a track where degradation levels were even higher, and in the face of race-long pressure from Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and, later, Will Power, Herta controlled his pace — and his Firestones — superbly to take the second win of his short career.

“ great car,” he said. “A car that you could manage the tires pretty easily with, so that seemed to be really important.

“And yeah, it was a tough race. I was either getting hounded by Dixon or Pagenaud or Power the whole time; they definitely didn’t make it easy on me. But, yeah, happy to kind of put together what we had in Portland and learn from our mistakes the tire-wear issues, and go forward with it.

“But it seemed like our tire wear was a lot better than a lot of people’s. I would say for sure Dixon and Pagenaud; definitely not Power. He seemed to have a little bit of an edge. But those last two or three laps, I would gap by a second a lap and have a nice margin coming into the pits if anything were to go wrong, or if I had a slow out-lap or in-lap.”

The race will be the last for Harding Steinbrenner as a standalone team ahead of its integration into the Andretti Autosport fold in 2020, and, while Herta fell just short of stealing Rookie of the Year honors (Felix Rosenqvist’s swashbuckling drive from 14th to sixth left the Swede five points to the good), Herta was pleased to end the season on the strongest possible note.

“It was a perfect race,” he said. “Whenever you win an IndyCar race, it has to be a perfect race. You can’t really make mistakes and get away with it, just because there’s always two or three other guys on that day that can win. For sure there were a few guys that could win today, and we just outdid them. We had the pace on them, and we were definitely the best today, so we definitely deserved to win.”

Herta reigns in Monterey; Newgarden takes title

Josef Newgarden became a two-time IndyCar champion at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in a race that was controlled from start to finish by Colton Herta.

Newgarden came into the race with a 41-point lead, and right from the outset it was clear just how important that buffer would be. A day-long struggle with his rear tires meant that he never had the pace to challenge for the race win, and even the relatively kind Plan-B scenarios that kept his claim to the title safe as long as he hung around the top six started to look at risk of buckling under pressure from teammate Simon Pagenaud.

“Man, it was… I was so pissed early; I thought we were throwing it away,” said a visibly emotional Newgarden. “I was thinking of the team there; we were trying to divide and conquer, and I was thinking of the team — we didn’t want to throw it away. I’m so proud of the team. To win the Indy 500 with Simon, and then the championship… you can’t ask any more of the team. It’s amazing. This is big for us man. I was crying for the whole lap.”

The signs that another championship was destined for Penske began to appear fairly early on when Alexander Rossi was beaten out of the pits by Newgarden after the first round of stops, and then never really had an opportunity to respond. Scott Dixon was eliminated from contention just after mid-distance when the bonus points that he required to keep his already-slim chances alive went elsewhere, but Pagenaud never gave Newgarden a chance to relax.

Newgarden’s rear tires required an especially delicate touch almost from the start, and without little hope of being able to push hard over a stint, his ability to influence the outcome was restricted mostly to not making mistakes and hoping Pagenaud didn’t start carving through the pack.

Pagenaud certainly gave his teammate reasons to be nervous. He’d muscled past Rossi after the first round of stops, causing Rossi to momentarily trip over the gravel, and then picked off Newgarden a couple of laps later.

He spent the next couple of stints hovering around third or fourth, gaining and losing places through the pit stops, but it was when he leapfrogged Dixon to claim second in the final round of stops that the radio chatter back to Newgarden’s car probably became a bit more urgent. Dixon got the place back almost immediately though, and then Power threw a cat among the pigeons by staying out two extra laps before his own final stop and popping out ahead of both of them in second.

Power set off in pursuit of Herta, while Pagenaud settled in for almost 30 laps of trying to pass Dixon, and with almost no push-to-pass left. His best opportunities came late when Dixon’s own supply of extra boost had been exhausted, but Dixon’s car can become supernaturally wide when he wants it to be, and unfortunately for Pagenaud, this was one of those days.

“I knew if I got Dixon I had a chance in the championship, because I really had a lot of pace in the car, but I was using up my tires,” said Pagenaud.

“He didn’t make it easy, that’s for sure. But we tried. He’s a racer, I’m a racer and that’s what we have to do . I think Josef was the best all season, he was the most consistent and he deserves it. I got the 500 and I’m happy with that. I think this was my most complete season, so I’m proud. And very proud for Team Penske. We’ll see what we can do next year, but this one will be hard to top.”

Rossi, meanwhile, had gambled by starting on scuffed reds when both of his Penske rivals started on blacks, but discovered to his dismay that the reds weren’t performing as well as he’d been hoping.

“I think the blacks were much friendlier for us, which was unfortunately because we started on the used reds,” Rossi said. “It was a risk that didn’t pay off, unfortunately.

“At the end of the race when we knew that the championship was out of touch it became about trying to close down Simon, but for whatever reason we didn’t have the tire life we needed. I think we were one of the better cars on blacks. Our bed was made on the first stint, unfortunately. It was diabolical. It’s unfortunate that for the second year in a row we were in the position of having to roll the dice, but regardless I don’t think we had the car to win. We probably had the car for third, which wouldn’t have been enough anyway.

“ was an educated risk. It wasn’t a shot in the dark. The conservative strategy would have been to match the cars around us and pick up spots through strategy or attrition or whatever. If you have the car, then any strategy can look pretty magical. But we just didn’t have it today.”

Herta led from the start, and for every lap outside of the pit stops, but his afternoon was no less straightforward than it had been for the contenders. Tire management was the obvious question; the high degradation rate at Laguna being amplified in his case by the fact that overworking his tires had been his undoing last time out in Portland. As it turned out, Portland had proven to be a valuable lesson that he leaned on this time around.

“We had a really good strategy,” he said. “We had to save a little fuel at the end and it hurt us a little, but we were really quick. Learning from Portland; we were really bad there so I was staying within the limits, not doing anything that hurt it, and that’s what we brought here.”

The win was Herta’s second of the season, but it wasn’t quite enough to wrest Rookie of the Year honors from Ganassi’s Felix Rosenqvist, who rebounded from the qualifying penalty that relegated him to 14th on the grid to put on a masterclass of overtaking that carried him up to fifth.

“It was an interesting race, because there was a lot of deg on the tires and we all knew that, so it was not just being aggressive all the time, it was about picking your moments,” said the Swede.

“You could feel every time you pushed through a corner properly — the next corner you were on ice, so it was tricky managing it. But the strategy was perfect, that safety car helped us a little bit for sure. It was a hell of a year. My crew has been flawless all year, and I think they deserve this sixth in the championship and rookie of the year.

“Yesterday was a tough day, and if I didn’t get angry I think there was something wrong with me. We all go 100 percent into this with full heart and when something like that happens — which I still think is a bad decision – it’s part of the show, I guess.”

The safety car in question was the only one of the race, and was prompted when Conor Daly caught the dirt and spun while trying to go inside teammate Marco Andretti at Turn 2.

The only other incident of any consequence came just after the restart when Santino Ferrucci made his first real mistake of the year and ran into Takuma Sato. He was formally deemed to have caused avoidable contact, but it was a moot point since by the time the decision came down, his car was already being pulled behind the wall with a broken control arm. He and Ed Jones, who dropped out with a mechanical problem, were the only two retirements. There could have been at least two more though when Sato, Zach Veach and Matheus Leist decided to see whether they could go three-wide through the Corkscrew. Spoiler alert — they couldn’t — but amazingly, the only harm done was Veach needing to take the Zanardi line before rejoining.

Outside of the championship battle — and Rosenqvist’s heroics — Ryan Hunter-Reay earns a salute after rallying to 10th after dropping to dead last when he stalled during his first stop, while Sebastien Bourdais rebounded from the neck problems that sidelined him from Friday’s warm-up session to finish eighth.

RESULTS

 

Adding to the Herta legacy at Laguna Seca

Bryan Herta claimed two wins and three poles at Laguna Seca during his career, and second-generation racer Colton Herta added a new chapter to the family’s history at the storied northern Californian venue by claiming pole for tomorrow’s IndyCar season finale.

“It obviously means a lot with the family history, and 50 percent of IndyCar wins coming from here,” Herta said.

“It means a lot to kind of keep on the family tradition. Honestly, going into practice 3, I thought maybe we lacked a little bit, and we didn’t have quite as big of a gap. We were P7, and we needed to find a little bit of time, so I was going to be happy to make it into the Fast Six. That would be an improvement. But we got there and we led every group that we were in, so I knew that if we dialed a lap in and we put it together, we could be on pole.”

Herta’s third career pole came on the same afternoon that Andretti Autosport confirmed that he, along with the framework of the current Harding Steinbrenner operation, will be absorbed as a fifth Andretti entry next season. Future team-mate and current championship contender Alexander Rossi will line up directly behind him on the grid tomorrow, raising the possibility that he might find himself positioned as the hurdle that stands between Rossi and the Astor Cup.

That prospect raised the inevitable question of whether he’d move over if that situation were to arise, and Herta admitted that it won’t be an easy decision to make.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure I’m going to get talked to tonight about something of that nature. I’m hoping I’m not in the position. Honestly it depends where I’m at in the race, for sure. If I’m leading, it’s going to be really hard to say yes and help him out. It’s got to be some incentives there, know what I mean?

“I mean, I would love if I let Rossi by, I would love half the championship money, that would be great. What do you get, a million dollars? That would be awesome. Move out of my parents’ house.”

Herta beats title chasers to Laguna pole

Colton Herta upstaged the championship contenders to claim pole for Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series title decider at Laguna Seca.

Barely an hour after being officially confirmed as a fifth Andretti driver for 2020, Herta rattled out a 1m10.1405s to secure the third pole of his career, and earn another point towards his push for Rookie of the Year.

“It was the Herta genes,” he joked after getting out of the car. “No, the team did great, the car was phenomenal and had such good pace. Hoping for better tire management than we had in Portland…”

The title protagonists will line up second, third, fourth and sixth, but in nothing close to championship order. Dark horse Scott Dixon was the quickest, coming in 0.07s slower than Herta to claim the outside of the front row. Alexander Rossi fell 0.03s short of taking the New Zealander’s place and will start from third alongside points leader Josef Newgarden, who scrapped his potentially fastest lap after running wide at Turn 2.

Overcooking his final shot for pole, points leader Newgarden will start fourth.

“We may have still been where we are,” Newgarden admitted. “We saved our good tire for the end, and I went for it. I knew it was going to take a really good lap like a zero or a one to get the pole, and I just pushed too hard — I went really, really deep, and it was kind of a one-lap deal so I aborted after that and that was it. But we’ll start fourth, which is pretty solid for us tomorrow.”

James Hinchcliffe did an excellent job to put his Arrow SPM car onto the third row, where he’ll be joined by Simon Pagenaud.

“This was time to go as hard as I could, and the temperature was a lot higher than it was in practice, and the car was too lose on corner entries,” Pagenaud said. “No regrets. I think we could have done as well as Josef, not better. We did well in race running yesterday, so we’ll see.”

Prior to the session, the most potential for drama appeared to lie in the fact that all four of the players in the title battle had been drawn together in the first qualifying group, which ratcheted up the likelihood that at least one of them would be forced to try to win the championship from the wrong end of the grid.

Rosenqvist was fast, but a spin and a resulting penalty cost him dearly. Image by Barry Cantrell/LAT

All four went on to transfer to the second round comfortably, and it instead fell to early-weekend pace-setter Felix Rosenqvist to stir things up. The Swede was on his second lap on the black tires early in the opening session when he ran wide and spun on the way up the hill, forcing Hinchcliffe to take evasive action.

Race control ruled that it constituted interference, and docked Rosenqvist his two fastest laps. His final lap — on three-lap-old reds, mind — would have been more than fast enough to promote him to the second round; instead, he will start from 14th. He was quick to express his displeasure on TV, and doubled down on via Twitter:

 

Newgarden later admitted that it would have helped his cause in the championship to have Rosenqvist taking up a place in the top six, but said that he also had some sympathy for the rookie’s situation.

“To be fair to Felix, he has been fast all weekend,” he said. “He would have been in contention all weekend. If you look at where Dixon is, he probably would have been quicker than Dixon. He would have been there on merit.”

RESULTS