By DALE BOSOWSKI
Special to the Bulletin
MONTEREY —Starting from the pole 19-year-old rookie Colton Herta (#88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing/Honda) drove a flawless race to capture the win in the NTT IndyCar season finale Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday.
Herta led 83 laps of the 90 lap race on the hilly 2.258 mile, 11-turn road course, only losing his lead when the running order shuffled during pit stops. He was never seriously challenged at any time during the race, taking the checkered flag by over a half second in front of runner-up Will Power (#12 Penske Racing/Chevrolet).
“We had a great strategy today and we were really quick,” said Herta, while celebrating in victory lane. “Everything just went so smooth today.”
Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden clinched his second IndyCar championship in three years with a conservative run to give team owner Roger Penske his 16th IndyCar title
“He held up real well under the pressure,” said Penske. “He had a few butterflies this morning, but he showed what a pro and great driver he is.”
Newgarden qualified on Saturday in the fourth position and drove cautiously all day to finish in eighth which was good enough to beat his Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud (#22 Penske Racing/Chevrolet) by 25 points in the final championship standings.
I tried to be as smart as I could today,” said a tearful Newgarden as he was hugged by his team, fiancé, mom and grandma. “I’m so thankful for this great team and I am so glad this is finally over.”
Scott Dixon (#9 Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda) completed the podium while Alexander Rossi (#27 Andretti Autosport/Honda) finished sixth to beat Dixon out for third place in the final championship standings.
With the heavily worn asphalt tire degradation played a major role in the race. Drivers had their hands full as a car’s performance would drop off considerably the later they went into a stint before their next pit stop.
Despite the challenging conditions there were only two yellow-cautions during the race for minor incidents involving Conor Daly (#25 Andretti Autosport/Honda) and later rookie Santino Ferrucci (#19 Dale Coyne Racing/Honda).
It was a story book weekend for Herta whose father, Bryan Herta, posted his only two IndyCar victories at Laguna Seca in 1998 and 1999.
“I guess I inherited the right genes,” Herta joked, after earning the pole for the race in Saturday’s qualifying.
Despite his two wins and three poles this year Herta failed to capture the rookie of the year title which went to Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (#10 Chip Ganassi Racing/Honda).
Rosenqvist was equally quick as Herta during the weekend, but a penalty for a spin in qualifying relegated Rosenqvist to the 14th-place starting position in the race. He would deliver the drive of the day, finishing in fifth, which was just enough to wrestle away the rookie title from Herta.
The future seems bright for IndyCar’s newest star. Herta has already resigned with the Harding Steinbrenner Racing and the team will be merging in with Andretti Autosport in 2020.
When asked what he would like to achieve next year he replied, “Hopefully a championship!”
Attendance for Sunday’s race was estimated at around 35,000 and the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be return next season on September 20-22, 2020.