LONG BEACH, Calif. (Friday, Sept. 24, 2021) – The good – and quick – times keep rolling for Colton Herta.
California native Herta led the opening practice for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Friday, turning a top lap of 1 minute, 9.2680 seconds in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit. That speed came after Herta won the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey from the NTT P1 Award position last Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.
Simon Pagenaud was second quickest at 1:09.4334 in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet despite entering the runoff area in Turn 9 with about 10 minutes remaining in the 45-minute session.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship leader Alex Palou started with authority what could be a title-clinching weekend at the season finale, ending up third at 1:09.4554 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Second-year series driver Palou never has raced at Long Beach, as last year’s race was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a good session,” Palou said. “I like the track. It was all about getting to know the track and see how that No. 10 NTT DATA car was handling. I’m comfortable and ready to push tomorrow.”
Saturday’s action includes another 45-minute practice at noon (ET), followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at 3:05 p.m. (ET).
The 85-lap race is Sunday, with live coverage starting at 3 p.m. (ET) on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Palou must finish 11th or better to clinch his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.
Felix Rosenqvist will look this weekend to rebound from a tough season after posting the fourth-quickest time in practice, 1:09.4870 in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Ryan Hunter-Reay joined teammate Herta in the top five, ending up fifth at 1:09.5154 in the No. 28 DHL Honda to start his final event with Andretti Autosport after 12 seasons with the team. Rookie of the Year contender Romain Grosjean was named as the driver of the No. 28 car for the 2022 season earlier Friday.
While Rosenqvist found speed, his championship-contending teammate Pato O’Ward struggled in practice. O’Ward is second in the championship standings, 35 points behind Palou. But he ended up 16th in the 28-car field at 1:10.2451 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
“We need to work,” an agitated O’Ward said after the session. “We just need to sort something out, find time.”
The third title contender, two-time series champion Josef Newgarden, was 10th at 1:09.8557 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden spun early in the session after losing traction while running over a bump entering Turn 9, but he continued without damage to his car.
Newgarden is 48 points behind Palou in third and must win the NTT P1 Award, race and lead the most laps while Palou finishes 25th or worse to have a chance to pull off an improbable title charge.