By: Spencer Neff
September 22, 2019 | 5:15 PM
In the NTT IndyCar Series’ return to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course did not disappoint. For the first time since 1996, Laguna Seca hosted the season finale as the series made its own return for the first time since 2004.
While Harding Steinbrenner Racing rookie Colton Herta earned a dominant victory from pole by leading 83 of the 90 laps, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden earned the 2019 championship at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.
The victory for Herta was his second of 2019, and he joins his father Bryan as winners at the famed road course in central California. With the win, he is now the fifth rookie winner at Laguna Seca.
Herta also joins Jimmy Vasser as the only California-born drivers to win at this track. During the 90-lap race, he held off Team Penske’s Will Power by .5878 seconds, the third-closest margin of victory at Laguna Seca. Rounding out the podium was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.
By finishing fourth, Simon Pagenaud came home second to his teammate Newgarden by 25 points in the title race. With the championship triumph, this extends Penske’s record total to 14 titles in IndyCar history. It is also their sixth 1-2 finish in the standings – the last one occurring with Newgarden and Pagenaud two years ago.
Finishing the race fifth, Dixon’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist capped off his Rookie of the Year campaign to beat out other contenders like Herta, Santino Ferrucci and Marcus Ericsson. For Ganassi, Rosenqvist is their first Rookie of the Year winner since Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999.
After entering the day 41 points back, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi finished sixth in the race and will end 2019 as the third-place winner in the championship – highest among the Honda entries in the standings. Honda did win the Manufacturer’s Championship, though.
As for Newgarden, he earned his second championship in the last three seasons. After winning a series-high four races, the Penske driver now has a second title to go along with his 14 career victories.
After a string of first-lap incidents during the past few races, the 90-lap event began cleanly.
By Lap 12, Pagenaud was first among the four title contenders to stop. A lap later, Newgarden and Rossi stopped.
After the two pitted, the points leader beat his main championship rival off pit road. During their out lap, Pagenaud and Rossi got together, forcing Rossi off track. However, Race Control opted not to take any action. Three laps after, Rossi took back the spot.
Up front, Herta and Dixon waited until laps 17 and 18 to hit the pit lane. After losing the lead to Dixon and Power, Herta edged out Dixon on Lap 20 during his stop. Soon after, Power relinquished the lead of the race.
During the second stint of the race, Herta and Dixon continued to hold serve at the front of the field. Further back, Rossi struggled to keep control of his car on the alternate Firestone tires. Fortunately, he was able to beat Newgarden off pit road during the second cycle of pit stops.
Taking advantage of another lengthy stint, Power rejoined the fray between Herta and Dixon. In Turn 5, Dixon was able to muscle past Power to retake second.
After the first half of the race was run under green, Lap 46 saw the first caution of the day. In Turn 2, Conor Daly spun while battling to the inside of Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti. However, Daly was able to continue on despite losing a lap.
When the race restarted, the action intensified quickly. During the restart, Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci collided with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato.
Further back, Ed Carpenter Racing-Scuderia Corsa’s Ed Jones also went off course for a moment. While Sato recovered from his spin, Ferrucci pulled off course in Turn 6, signaling a disappointing end to his rookie season.
With 27 laps remaining, the final cycle of pit stops began. After working their way up from midpack, Rosenqvist and Ericsson were the first to stop.
A lap later, Herta, Dixon, Rossi, and Newgarden pitted. When Pagenaud left pit road a lap later, he was between Herta and Dixon. By Turn 5, Dixon had taken back the runner-up spot.
During the final stint, Herta continued to manage the gap over Power. Late in the race, Power went wide in Turn 11 but was able to gather it up and continue on without losing a spot.
Thank You to everyone who has followed us throughout the 2019 season. Although it is the last race, there will be plenty more from Open-Wheels.
Stay with us on our various platforms for all the latest on the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, the end of the 2019 season, the offseason before 2020, and beyond.
We look forward to March 8-10, 2020 when the series returns to the streets of St. Petersburg in Florida for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. From all of us at Open-Wheels, have a great offseason everyone.
Header Image By Stephen King/INDYCAR