Alex Palou clinches historic first IndyCar title as Colton Herta wins at Long Beach

Alex Palou sealed the 2021 IndyCar championship with a measured and controlled race finishing in fourth for the final round at Long Beach, California which was won by Colton Herta. The Andretti Autosport driver finished the season in style with his third win of the season from 14th on the grid.

Colton Herta drove a magnificent race to take his sixth career victory. Photo Courtesy of James Black.

Josef Newgarden started on pole position ahead of Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves. Herta, who had been on the pace all weekend collided with the wall in qualifying meaning he started down in 14th, but it didn’t take long for the American to carve through the field – within a few laps he was already up to sixth with some incredible late-braking maneuvers on Romain Grosjean and Alex Palou.

Alex Palou started tenth and drove a tentative first half of the race as a Top 12 would be enough to seal the Spaniards first IndyCar title in his sophomore year. He made up a few places but largely remained in the upper half of the Top Ten.

The championship saw a dramatic turn as Palou’s primary rival, Patricio O’Ward was spun by Ed Jones and immediately fell to the rear of the field. However, he suffered further damage to the driveshaft and was forced to retire from the race effectively ending his title hopes to the delight of Alex Palou.

At this point, Newgarden was the only other contender, albeit a win and for Palou to retire would be the only perceivable permutation that would see the American seal his third championship – a long shot!

However, a long shot was all that Newgarden needed and he led the race up until shortly after the second caution of the race, brought out by the Chip Ganassi of Marcus Ericsson, who crashed into the wall after failing to pull off a move on Alexander Rossi. On the restart, Herta set about clearing Dixon and eventually passed Josef Newgarden for the net lead around Lap 35.

After clearing Newgarden, Herta pulled out almost a seven-second lead and putting the Penske driver effectively out of championship contention.

With O’Ward and Newgarden falling short,  Palou was in fifth and didn’t need to make up any more places in the race. But despite that, he continued pushing forward and putting the pressure on Hinchcliffe in front around Lap 37.

Alex Palou tried to take Hinchcliffe into Turn 1 but it was the Canadian who was later on the brakes to win out that fight, the Spaniard deciding to live to fight another day. In fact, soon after the second pit stop cycles got underway where Palou was able to jump Hinchcliffe in the pits.

Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean was in a title fight of his own, hunting down the prestigious ‘Rookie of the Year’ award. By Lap 37 he was up to seventh having gotten past Alexander Rossi around the outside of the fountain section. The Swiss-Frenchman only needed another 12 points to eclipse Scott McLaughlin.

Unfortunately, he would retire soon after with a rear-left suspension failure essentially gifting the ‘Rookie of the Year’ title to McLaughlin.

After the second set of pit stops, the overall situation at the front had not changed that much. A late caution brought out by a collision between Oliver Askew and Conor Daly threatened to shake things up with around 20 laps remaining.

On the restart, Colton Herta got a fantastic launch and was able to hold Newgarden off by just over a second ahead of Dixon, Palou, and Pagenaud. However, with five laps remaining Newgarden brought the gap down to less than half a second a put a great deal of pressure on Herta.

In the end, it was Herta who crossed the line to take his seventh career win ahead of Newgarden, Dixon, Palou, and Pagenaud. O’Ward briefly attempted to return to the track later in the race but fail to rescue any more points.

Rounding out the Top Ten was Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, and Will Power. Helio Castroneves stayed out on a counter-strategy, refusing to pit after the first safety car, he was quickly swallowed up later in the race and finished down in 20th.

Both Rinus VeeKay, Marcus Ericsson, and Callum Ilott were the other three retirements from the race.

Palou, would be the new and deserving champion of IndyCar – the youngest since Scott Dixon at the age of 23 in 2003 finishing 38 points over new second-place man, Newgarden, as O’Ward slipped to third, just ahead of Dixon.

Ericsson’s retirement and Herta’s sixth career victory meant the Andretti Autosport driver moved up to fifth in the championship.

 

 

F2 Sochi: Piastri wins feature and extends championship lead

Oscar Piastri won the Sochi Formula 2 feature race with a dominant performance over Theo Pourchaire who finished second. Jehan Daruvala rounded out the podium with the rest of the top four in the championship standings finishing one behind the other in fourth, fifth and sixth, setting up a tight fight in the final leg of the championship.

The feature race was only the second of this unusual weekend. After a huge crash in the sprint race yesterday Felipe Drugovich was declared unfit for this race. He is OK but the chief medical officer was not happy for him to compete in the race today.

Piastri had the best start of anyone, pulling out a gap immediately on Daruvala who bogged down off the line and lost two places down into fourth. The virtual safety car came out before the end of lap 1 with contact between Bent Viscaal and Roy Nissany in Turn 3 leaving Viscaal’s car stranded. Nissany was given a 5 second time penalty for his part which he served during his pitstop.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

As Juri Vips came into the pits he suffered a problem and on the way out couldn’t get it resolved. This meant he had to stop on track but managed to park in a good place and no flags were needed. This brought in the first of the mandatory pitstops early on lap 8 for Daruvala and Robert Shwartzman. Both had quick stops but with a lot of traffic in the pit lane they struggled to get out of the box.

Piastri pitted just one lap later leaving Pourchaire, Guanyu Zhou and Dan Ticktum at the front of the pack. A radio message from Ticktum to say ‘let me chase him’ as he was only a couple of tenths off Zhou. Importantly, he made a great move on track around Turn 6 and then came out in front once they went in for tyres.

With warmer tyres, Piastri manage to get past Pourchaire who had come out from the pitstops in front. However, once Pourchaire’s tyres were warmed up he was on a charge, consistently getting fastest laps in an attempt to get back to the top. On lap 15 both drivers were behind Nissany on the alternative strategy. Piastri got past quickly, but Pourchaire took an extra lap, which meant that Piastri open up a gap on Pourchaire.

With work to do, Daruvala was closing the gap on Ralph Boschung in the last 8 laps. By lap 23 Boschung was feeling the pressure and had a huge left front lock up down the back straight, sending him wide and allowing Daruvala to make an easy move back into third.

Ralph Boschung, Campos (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Boschung lost out again with no grip left as Shwartzman took advantage of the mistake and dropped Boschung down to fifth. Just three laps later that lock up came back to bite Boschung. The tyre began to fall apart, and a puncture meant he had to retire from the race with just two laps left.

Importantly for the championship Ticktum was able to keep Zhou behind him, despite only a three tenth gap between them for several laps, and they finished fifth and sixth respectively. However, championship leader Piastri extended his lead with a dominant win. Pourchaire finished with a strong performance in P2 and Daruvala made up for his poor start, finishing on the final step of the podium.

For the championship, Shwartzman finished in fourth, gaining points on Ticktum and Zhou but still significantly behind Piastri. Pourchaire with that second is now just nine points behind Shwartzman in the standings in fifth.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA F2)

F3 Sochi: Doohan seals Trident teams’ title with contentious feature win

Jack Doohan took his fourth win of the season in the Sochi feature race and helped Trident to snatch the Formula 3 teams’ championship away from Prema, albeit by ignoring team orders in his battle with Clement Novalak.

Doohan and Novalak started alongside each other on the front row, and although Novalak got a quick launch to challenge Doohan into Turn 2, Doohan was able to hold his lead from pole position. Behind them Jonathan Hoggard kept third place while Frederik Vesti dropped from fourth to sixth behind Juan Manuel Correa and Lorenzo Colombo.

Vesti soon took those places back however, repassing Colombo by the end of the first lap and Correa on lap 3. On lap 5 he then caught and passed Hoggard’s Jenzer to bring himself up into the podium positions with just over three seconds separating him from the Tridents out front.

Jonathan Hoggard, Jenzer (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Colombo and Correa continued to fall back through the field after those opening laps. Colombo dropped to ninth place after running wide while being passed by Vesti, and was then bumped out of the points altogether by Oliver Rasmussen by the end of lap 1. Meanwhile Correa lost fifth and sixth to Logan Sargeant and Jak Crawford, although he managed to hold seventh by seeing off the new F3 champion Dennis Hauger.

Hauger continued to pressure Correa for seventh, closely pursued himself by Victor Martins. Their battle came to a head on lap 7 as the three of them ran side by side through Turn 7. Correa came out ahead as Martins ran wide, but Hauger was spun around by Rasmussen who tried to take advantage of the melee.

Hauger dropped to the back of the field while Rasmussen and Martins both ended up outside the points. Arthur Leclerc benefited from the incident to sneak through and take seventh from Correa, while Ayumu Iwasa and Alex Smolyar were promoted into the points.

Arthur Leclerc, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

At the front of the field Doohan and Novalak were separated by just a few tenths of a second as they fought for the lead. Novalak set the pace early on with the fastest lap and ran just two tenths behind Doohan by lap 7. On lap 9 Novalak tried a move around the outside of Turn 2 for the lead, but he ran deep into the corner and was forced to slot back into second.

While Doohan and Novalak battled, Vesti was closing in fast on the pair of them. By lap 10 he’d halved his gap to 1.5 seconds behind the Tridents, while Novalak was being visibly held up by Doohan who was sliding through the hard right-handers.

With Vesti coming up fast behind them and the team needing to protect the win to take the teams’ title, Trident instructed Doohan to let Novalak through as he appeared to be the faster driver. But unsurprisingly with a win on the line Doohan didn’t let his teammate past, even though that allowed Vesti to close to just half a second by lap 15.

Trident were spared some anxiety a lap later when Vesti ran wide and dropped out of DRS range of Novalak. But Doohan also ran wide on the same lap which gave Novalak a run on his teammate down the straight at the start of lap 17. Novalak initially got ahead through Turn 2, but Doohan used the corner to set up the inside line into Turn 3 and retake the lead.

Clement Novalak, Trident (Rudy Carezzevoli, Getty Images / FIA F3)

To make matters worse for Novalak he then lost grip in Doohan’s wake and not only dropped out of DRS range of Doohan, but into Vesti’s clutches. Vesti was just a tenth behind Novalak heading through the middle sector while Novalak was warned about weaving in his defence.

When they got to the DRS straight out of Turn 10 Vesti had little trouble pulling alongside and passing Novalak for second. But despite his earlier speed, Vesti’s brief but close battle with Novalak had given Doohan the opportunity to open up a slight lead with two laps remaining, and he ended up crossing the line with two seconds in hand.

Vesti held onto second while Novalak completed the podium in third, but despite losing the 1–2 Trident were still able to take the teams’ title by six points from Prema. Sargeant completed a quiet race in fourth ahead of Crawford and Hoggard, while Leclerc finished seventh and Martins, Iwasa and Olli Caldwell rounded out the points.

Winning the race meant that Doohan keeps his second place in the championship, while Novalak finishes the season in third place ahead of Vesti and Martins.

Frederik Vesti, ART (Bryn Lennon, Getty Images / FIA F3)

F2 Sochi: Ticktum dominates sprint race in tricky damp conditions

Dan Ticktum took his second win of the season in the Sochi F2 sprint race, surviving the difficult conditions while drivers behind him fell afoul of the damp track in an assortment of incidents.

The race got off to a dramatic start before the grid had even formed, as first Guanyu Zhou spun on the lap to the grid and stalled his engine, then his teammate Felipe Drugovich spun into the wall and wrecked his car. As a result neither UNI-Virtuosi was able to take the race start.

With the track still wet in places the race began with a rolling start after two formation laps behind the safety car. Ticktum made the most of that rolling start to get a good gap over second-placed Juri Vips across the line, while Christian Lundgaard was the only driver in the field able to pull off a lap 1 overtake as he passed Marcus Armstrong for tenth.

Although Ticktum got the jump on Vips at the start, Vips responded through the opening lap to be just two tenths behind the Carlin at the start of lap 2. But Ticktum then put in his own answer with a fastest lap to open the gap up again, which began a game of trading lap times between the two of them.

Just a few tenths behind Ticktum and Vips, Liam Lawson was defending third place from Robert Shwartzman. Shwartzman appeared to have the better pace than Lawson and looked at a move out of Turn 3 on lap 3, but with the track still wet outside the racing line he couldn’t get alongside the Hitech. Shwartzman then ran wide through Turn 18 and lost several tenths to Lawson.

Liam Lawson, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

On lap 4 Bent Viscaal spun out at the Turn 15/16 chicane and brought out the Virtual Safety Car. When it was withdrawn on lap 6 Oscar Piastri tried to overtake Jehan Daruvala for eighth place, but he immediately lost tyre temperature when he moved out to the wetter part of the track and instead fell to 12th behind Lundgaard, Armstrong and Richard Verschoor.

The VSC then made an immediate reappearance when Lawson, lacking brake temperature from the first VSC, couldn’t get his car stopped heading into Turn 13 and damaged his left rear suspension on the exit wall. With Lawson out, Shwartzman moved up to third place ahead of Jake Hughes, Ralph Boschung, Theo Pourchaire and Daruvala.

Once again, the VSC restart caught out several drivers. Shwartzman ran wide through Turn 10 with cold tyres and was passed down the straight by Hughes, although Shwartzman was able to regroup and take back third into Turn 13. Meanwhile Boschung was slow to react and was passed by both Daruvala and Pourchaire, with Daruvala coming out on top in fifth.

Daruvala then set the fastest lap shortly after and joined the battle for third at just half a tenth off Hughes and Shwartzman. But despite his speed he also couldn’t find a way past, and on lap 15 Daruvala then spun at Turn 15 and dropped all the way down to 12th place.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Back at the front Ticktum had come out best over Vips in both of the VSC restarts and had a four-second lead by the start of lap 10. Vips started to come back at the Carlin with a series of fastest laps and brought the gap down to 2.5 seconds by lap 13.

But Vips also ran wide several times as he struggled to keep temperature in his brakes and tyres, and so he was never able to get on the back of Ticktum. He managed to close to within two seconds on lap 16, but with only two laps remaining there wasn’t enough time to challenge for the lead.

After Vips had a few more offs in the final laps, Ticktum crossed the line to take victory with 4.5 seconds in hand over the Hitech while Shwartzman finished third.

Hughes took his first F2 points with fourth place ahead of Pourchaire, who also recorded the fastest lap late on for an extra two points. Boschung survived a pair of lockups late in the race to finish in sixth place over Lundgaard, and Verschoor come home in eighth to deny Piastri the final point.

Ralph Boschung, Campos (Lars Baron, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

F3 Sochi: Hauger seals title at first chance as Sargeant wins Race 1

Dennis Hauger clinched the 2021 Formula 3 title with a podium finish in the opening Sochi sprint race, which was won by Logan Sargeant for his first victory of the season and Charouz Racing System’s first victory in the series.

Sargeant started the race from second on the reverse grid alongside Victor Martins but seized the lead around the outside of Turn 2. Meanwhile Hauger tried to take third place from Jak Crawford, but after backing out he was forced to defend against Caio Collet in fifth and Alex Smolyar in sixth instead.

But although Hauger’s start didn’t go to plan, things were much worse for his title rival Jack Doohan. Starting from 12th on the reverse grid after claiming pole for the feature race, Doohan found himself caught up in the middle of the pack and bounced onto the kerbs at Turn 2, which dropped him down to 17th in the order.

Logan Sargeant, Charouz (Rudy Carezzevoli, Getty Images / FIA F3)

With Doohan out of the points and Hauger only needing six points to claim the title he didn’t need to make up any more places in the race. But despite that, Hauger continued pushing forward and putting the pressure on Crawford in third.

On lap 4 Hauger forced Crawford to take a deep defensive line through Turn 2 and used the opportunity to line up a move through Turn 3, putting himself into the podium positions. He then set the fastest lap and started cutting into Martins’ gap in second.

By lap 7 Hauger had gotten within four tenths of Martins and tried the same Turn 2 setup as he had on Crawford three laps earlier. But Martins was able to better hold off Hauger through Turn 3 and used Hauger’s championship considerations to force the Prema to back out.

But despite coming out on top in that battle, Martins couldn’t keep Hauger behind for much longer. On lap 10 Hauger ran within a tenth of Martins as he set up a move, which he then completed to take second a lap later.

With Sargeant little more than three seconds up the road, Hauger set off with the win in his sights. But with half the race done he started to struggle with his rear tyres losing temperature, and found Martins and Collet in fourth filling his mirrors. Meanwhile Clement Novalak, who had taken the fastest lap from Hauger, was rapidly closing on all three of them.

Victor Martins, MP Motorsport (Dan Istitene, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Sargeant ran wide on lap 14 and lost seven tenths from his lead, but Hauger wasn’t able to take advantage of the mistake as he had Martins just two tenths behind him. But before Martins could capitalise on Hauger’s tyres and reclaim second, the virtual safety car was brought out when Tijmen van der Helm retired on the side of the road with an engine failure.

When the VSC was withdrawn a lap later Hauger was able to get the better restart to pull out of DRS range of Martins, while Sargeant was just under two seconds ahead of him. Hauger continued to cut that gap as Sargeant’s own tyres fell off, and he closed to within DRS range of the Charouz on the final lap.

Going through the DRS zone after Turn 10, Hauger closed to four tenths behind Sargeant, but with the title in his hands he held back rather than making a lunge into Turn 13. Sargeant crossed the line just ahead of Hauger, and Martins finished third for his sixth podium of the year.

Novalak come through to take fourth from Collet in the final laps. Lorenzo Colombo took sixth for Campos ahead of Arthur Leclerc, Frederik Vesti, Juan Manuel Correa and Ayumu Iwasa. Crawford fell through the top ten in the latter stages of the race to finish 11th, while Doohan came home in 15th.

IndyCar Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview: The Final Showdown

IndyCar returns this weekend for the final time this season, as California’s Long Beach plays host to the championship showdown between Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou and Arrow McLaren’s Patricio O’Ward.

Palou has a commanding lead with three wins and eight podiums to his name, the most out of any driver. This mix of consistency and speed has given him a sizable 35-point advantage over O’Ward with 54 points on offer for the season finale.

What this means is Palou can take the championship on Sunday as long as he finishes 11th or better This situation becomes even better if the Spaniard is able to seize pole position and lead the race into Turn One which would give him the extra two points to make 15th enough for the title.

Patricio O’Ward has everything to do this weekend and more. Without bonus points, the minimum target is third to stay with a shout of Palou’s points tally. But in reality, the Mexican needs to win and his nearest rival to be beset with issues.

The first thing on O’Ward’s mind will be to take pole position, putting himself in control of Sunday’s proceedings. He has the leading number of pole positions this year and has a good track record at street circuits, including a double podium at Detroit. But we have learned to expect the unexpected in IndyCar, and who knows what could happen to those in the mid-pack throughout a full race distance.

Of course, this provides Palou doesn’t qualify near the front – which unfortunately for O’Ward, he has – in four of the last five occasions, the Spaniard has qualified in the Top Six.

O’Ward has the slight advantage of having raced here once before in 2019, but how much that will favor the Mexican remains to be seen. In any case, it is set to be a thriller of a showdown with either driver set to take their first IndyCar title and become the youngest champion since Scott Dixon at age 23.

Patricio O’Ward, Josef Newgarden, and Scott Dixon arrive at Long Beach with an interesting subplot in the fight for runner-up. Photo Credit: James Black

Is the Runner-Up Position Up For Grabs?

The short answer is, yes.

While O’Ward remains in the hunt for the title, he is still within reach of a host of drivers who, until last week, were within championship contention.

Josef Newgarden is mathematically in with a chance of the title himself but is adrift by a whopping 48 points. The two-time champion’s hopes of a third are remote, but not impossible. Effectively, a win and for both O’Ward and Palou to retire will do.

Therefore, we must turn our attention to what is entirely realistic. He is only 13 points behind O’Ward and could sneak into the runner-up position in the standings by Sunday evening. Scott Dixon is 34 points behind the Mexican and has won at this track on two occasions, could he sweep in under the radar and make it a one-two for Chip Ganassi in the standings?

Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin are the main protagonists in the Rookie of the Year battle. Photo Credit: Chris Owens.

Two-Way Rookie of the Year Fight

There are remarkably few names to watch out for this year as the two premier contenders for this award are between Penske’s Scott McLaughlin and Dayle Coyne’s Romain Grosjean.

McLaughlin holds a 20-point lead over the Swiss Frenchman, with one podium to his name versus three in Romain’s favor. In fact, the latter is coming off a magnificent showing at Leguna Seca where an electric final stint saw him climb up to third having started outside the Top Ten.

However, you may be remiss in forgetting that Grosjean has missed three races this season, due to agreeing not to take part in the first few ovals on the season including the Indianapolis 500 worth double points. Therefore, to be only 20 points behind heading into the final race is remarkably impressive and by all accounts should be considered the Rookie of the Year no matter where he finishes.

He has found a place to call home in the IndyCar series, with a new lease of life where he has pulled of some incredible qualifying performances and overtakes along the way. No doubt he is part of the IndyCar family and will likely earn himself a place at the highly sought-after Andretti team next year.

Colton Herta has taken two wins and three pole positions this season. Photo Credit: James Black.

Watch out for Herta and Rossi

Put simply, Herta is our most recent race winner and has been one of the most in-form drivers in the second half of the season. He took his seventh IndyCar victory and will likely want to finish the season in style.

Meanwhile, Alexander Rossi has taken the victory at Long Beach on the past two consecutive visits to the famous street course. He qualified on the front row at Leguna Seca and was pushing his teammate for the win until unfortunately spinning out of contention on Lap Two. Both will undoubtedly be the ones to watch to steal the limelight this weekend.

Colton Herta dominates, Palou closes in on title, and Grosjean steals the headlines at Leguna Seca

Colton Herta did what Colton Herta usually does, dominating from pole position to take his sixth career victory at Leguna Seca.

Herta led the field cleanly ahead of Alexander Rossi, Will Power, and Alex Palou. However, on Lap Two, it was Rossi who tried to capitalise on a brief mistake by Herta, diving down the inside of Turn Two. The Andretti drivrt understeered into Herta and spun out into the gravel bringing out the first caution of the day. Meanwhile, Arrow McLaren SP driver Felix Rosenqvist spun but was able to return to the track and get racing again.

After the first lap, the championship leaders were in fourth (Palou), fifth (Dixon), sixth (O’Ward), and 17th (Newgarden).

Patricio O’Ward was one of the only front runners to start on the primary tyres and would finish fourth. Photo credit James Black.

The restart got underway on Lap Four as O’Ward, who started in sixth and had already lost out to Dixon, started to fall down the order. He was soon swallowed up by Marcus Ericsson and Simon Pagenaud as he continued his season-long struggle on the primary sticker blacks. 

Will Power pitted on Lap Ten with an engine issue which kicked started the first stops for other drivers like O’Ward, who desperately needed track position. However, Josef Newgarden had pitted earlier and was able to jump O’Ward out of the pits.

Colton Herta would wait until Lap 19 before pitting, emerging out of the pits comfortably ahead of Alex Palou who had benefited from the misfortune of Rossi and Power. O’Ward would eventually pit again on Lap 40 while Herta would hold a 30 second lead over Palou. However, after both drivers pitted Palou was able to close up to within a second of the leader.

IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Preview: Can Anyone Stop Palou?

IndyCar will take to the WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, California this weekend for Round 15, as we sprint towards the conclusion of the 2021 season.

The penultimate round will run from Friday to Sunday with a maximum of 54 points on offer before we bookend the championship with the final race at Long Beach, California.

This is always an incredibly popular destination, with the famous ‘Corkscrew’ section, and with plenty of fast sweeps and narrow apexes to navigate around the 2.2-mile circuit, as well as a tricky pit lane that could cause some chaos in the race.

The title fight has also taken an interesting turn following the events of Portland with only a handful of contenders still mathematically in contention.

Can Anyone Stop Alex Palou?

The Spaniard went into Portland ten points behind rival Patricio O’Ward and on the first lap, you would be remiss in thinking he may have lost his championship hopes.

However, after falling down the order a fantastic two-stop strategy, helped by a few cautions, allowed him to fight up the order and take his third win of the season.

A 35-point swing in Palou’s favor means he now leads O’Ward by 25 points. Newgarden is third in the standings, 34 points behind Palou. Dixon is 49 points behind in fourth, and Ericsson, now the last driver that is mathematically eligible to win the championship is fifth, and 75 points behind.

But should we really be surprised? He has shown remarkable speed, consistency, and maturity beyond his years, and had it not been for a run of misfortune he would have definitely been out of reach in the points standings.

For example, Palou was set for a Top Five finish at the recent outing at the IMS road course before a frustrating engine failure spelled the end of his race. He has also faced grid penalties due to engine changes resulting in a nine-grid place penalty and starting 21st at Gateway. But after carving through the over 60 Laps the Spaniard would be collecting in a three-car crash out of his control.

If you were to assume he would have finished fifth at IMS, disregard Gateway altogether, and take his average finishing position since Detroit Race Two it would be a remarkable third.

That consistency is what may seal the championship for Palou.

Concern for O’Ward?

The Mexican driver had no explanation for his lack of pace on Sunday, suggesting he lacked three-four mph on the straight as his race deteriorating after he switched on the black primary tyres.

It will be a concern that out of the previous three finishes outside the Top Ten this year, two of them were because of a lack of pace. He has struggled with consistency as of late and has only been able to complete three races in a row that he was happy with. This inconsistency could be the difference between being an IndyCar champion or not.

O’Ward definitely has the ability to pull it out of the bag on his day, evidenced with a series-leading four pole positions. Moreover, he set the pace during the pre-season test at Laguna Seca in March and has previously won here during his Pro Mazda Championship campaign in 2016.

Without a doubt, this is one of O’Ward’s most important races of his career.

Who Else Is In The Mix?

The three contenders that remain include Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, and Marcus Ericsson but realistically the first two are the ones that have a good chance.

Josef Newgarden is always on top form come to the tail end of the season, having had two wins and been inside the Top Ten at every race since Mid Ohio. His race at Portland saw him qualify near the back but was able to run a magnificent counter-strategy to finish inside the Top Five.

Scott Dixon remains without a win at Laguna Seca in his career and will be looking to steal a march on his high-flying teammate. A podium at Portland has rescued what has been a difficult few races for the New Zealander. However, the six-time world champion is accustomed to pressure and will now his objectives going into the final two rounds.

Colton Herta will be another one to watch out for after winning here in 2019 while Rinus VeeKay dominated the circuit during his Indy Lights campaign.

Alex Palou takes remarkable comeback victory at the IndyCar Grand Prix of Portland

You would be fooled into thinking this was a relatively easy win; a pole-to-win scenario for Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou at the Grand Prix of Portland, right?

Well, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. After having to avoid contact at the start, the Spaniard was left to fight through a competitive field, fraught with danger and risks at every turn.

The start of the 110-lap race was somewhat chaotic. Pole sitter Palou got a brilliant start, with third-place Scott Dixon in hot pursuit. However, Felix Rosenqvist came upon them two at a frightening pace, clipping the rear-left of Dixon and as he avoided heavier contact he pushed both Alexander Rossi and pole-sitter Alex Palou into the Turn 1 runoff. In fact, all the front-runners missed Turn 1 as further mayhem ensued – James Hinchcliffe, Oliver Askew, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Romain Grosjean also ran wide.

IndyCar insists that cars that make the chicane are given priority when it comes to reordering the pack, so all three (Palou, Dixon, and Rosenqvist) were relegated to the back while Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward was promoted to the race lead ahead of Graham Rahal, Ed Jones, Marcus Ericsson, and Sebastien Bourdais.

However, a cautionary period followed after contact between various cars including Helio Castroneves, Calum Ilott, and Romain Grosjean who took Andretti’s James Hinchcliffe out of the race.

O’Ward led from the restart on Lap 11, stretching a solid gap right ahead of Graham Rahal, while championship rivals Palou and Dixon were left floundering near the bottom, but having taken the initiative to go onto an alternative strategy and pitted early.

However, things turned when O’Ward pitted from the lead on Lap 29. Graham Rahal would stay out five more laps before pitting and would eventually assume the race lead after O’Ward struggled to make his new black tyres work.

On Lap 52, Dalton Kellett and Callum Ilott both stalled on the same lap which brought out the next caution.  Some drivers, such as O’Ward would take this opportunity to pit for their second out of three pit stops, while others such as Graham Rahal would stay out, opting to use the extra yellow time to make it to the end on just one stop.

Patricio O’Ward inherited the lead on Lap 1 but would eventually finish down in 14th. Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens.

O’Ward suddenly found himself down in 12th needing to pass 11 cars on track in order to retake the race lead. On the restart, the Mexican reported a loss of power due to being in the wrong fuel mode and was quickly swallowed up by a multitude of cars which would signal the beginning of the end of his race.

Meanwhile, Rahal had remained in the lead on the restart, however, his choice not to stop meant that he needed to excessively fuel save across his final two stints. He led heading into his final stop on Lap 75 followed by Ed Jones and Jack Harvey.

However, others on the two-stop began to use the overcut to good effect. Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Alex Palou all separately leapfrogged one another on overcuts, resulting in Palou taking the race lead ahead of Rossi before two separate spins brought out the final two cautions of the day.

The first was brought out on Lap 86 by Simon Pagenaud who spun coming out of the pits after coming into contact with teammate Will Power. The second on Lap 90 by Oliver Askew who would also, unfortunately, spin and stall the car.

Alex Palou won his third victory from pole position to retake the lead in the Drivers’ Championship. Photo Courtesy of Joe Skibinski.

Alex Palou led the final restart from Rossi, Dixon, and Harvey, and Newgarden but was able to masterfully hold off his American Andretti rival in impressive fashion. The gap was brought down to 0.3s with 10 laps remaining, but it would be the Spaniard who crossed the line victorious to take his third IndyCar victory of 2021.

Rossi, Dixon, Harvey, and Newgarden would complete the Top Five while Rosenqvist, Ericsson, Herta, McLaughlin, and Rahal would round out the Top Ten.

O’Ward eventually finished in 14th place after struggling to make any significant ground on the restarts.

It would be a massively important win for Alex Palou who retakes the lead of the Driver’s Championship with two races remaining at Leguna Seca and Long Beach. The Spaniard now holds a 25 point lead over the Mexican, with Josef Newgarden a further nine points behind and Dixon another 15.

Marcus Ericsson is still mathematically in with a shout of the title but would have to overcome a 75 point deficit to achieve what would be a ‘Deus Ex Machina’ type scenario at this point.

F2 Monza: Piastri survives Ticktum charge to win feature race thriller

Championship leader Oscar Piastri took his second win of the season after converting pole position in the Monza feature race, while Dan Ticktum and Carlin provided a late-race threat with a fortuitous tyre gamble.

Piastri got away well from pole to hold the lead into Turn 1, but had to watch his main championship rival Guanyu Zhou assume second place by passing Jehan Daruvala off the line. Daruvala struggled for traction at the start and lost another place to Liam Lawson, while Felipe Drugovich pressured him for fourth throughout the opening lap.

The race was neutralised soon after when Guilherme Samaia spun out of the race at the second Lesmo and brought out the safety car. On the restart on lap 5 Piastri managed to break the tow on the rundown to Rettifilo to see off Zhou, while Zhou then came under attack from a rapid Lawson and lost second place into the Roggia chicane.

Piastri, Lawson and Zhou spent the opening laps more or less matching each other’s pace, with the gap between the three of them never more than 1.5 seconds. On lap 5 Piastri set the fastest lap but wasn’t able to definitively break clear of DRS range from Lawson.

Liam Lawson, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

On lap 8 Juri Vips, who was running seventh between Theo Pourchaire and Ticktum, slowed suddenly with a mechanical failure in the middle of the Roggia chicane. That caught out Ticktum who made contact with the rear of the Hitech, although he escaped with no significant damage to his own car.

The safety car was brought out again while Vips’ car was cleared away, and the leaders took that opportunity to make their mandatory pit stop from softs to mediums. But Piastri, Lawson and Zhou were followed into the pits by everyone apart from Ticktum, Marino Sato, Christian Lundgaard, Marcus Armstrong and Alessio Deledda, who had started the race on mediums instead.

Sato then dropped out of the race with a mechanical problem of his own, which meant that Piastri rejoined the race in fifth place behind Deledda. Lawson lost out in the pitlane scramble and not only came out behind Zhou but also Daruvala.

At the restart on lap 11 Piastri immediately set about clearing Deledda to get back towards the front. Meanwhile Daruvala found a new turn of pace on his medium tyres and began battling with Zhou for net second.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Daruvala got ahead of Zhou at the Roggia chicane but completed the move off track and was ordered to give the place back. He did so on the main straight, but used the momentum to immediately repass Zhou into Rettifilo. But as they came to Roggia again, Zhou went around the outside and reclaimed the position from the Carlin.

By lap 13 Piastri, Zhou and Daruvala had got past Deledda and set about clearing Armstrong as well. Deledda fell back to ninth by the end of the lap, then at the start of lap 14 he made contact with Enzo Fittipaldi at Rettifilo. That allowed Fittipaldi and Robert Shwartzman through, but Drugovich lost out avoiding the HWA and dropped to P12.

Drugovich then dropped out of the midfield battle altogether thanks to a miscommunication with his team. He’d asked his engineer on the radio to check if his front wing was damaged in the incident, but his engineer thought he was reporting wing damage and called him in to pit for repairs — when Drugovich left the pits after the confusion he was in P18 and last.

At the front of the field, Piastri passed fellow Alpine junior Lundgaard for second place on lap 15 and only had Ticktum 1.5 seconds up the road. From the pace of Lundgaard, Armstrong and Deledda it was clear that the worn mediums had run their course, but Carlin kept Ticktum out in front to gamble on another safety car in the final phase of the race.

Dan Ticktum, Carlin (Lars Baron, Getty Images / FIA F2)

Piastri kept closing in, bringing the gap to half a second by lap 18. But Ticktum’s gamble paid off a few laps later when Lawson stopped on the main straight after his fire extinguisher went off and the safety car was deployed. Ticktum immediately pitted for softs and rejoined the race in P12, while Piastri led from Zhou, Pourchaire, Daruvala and Shwartzman.

The race restarted on lap 25, with six laps to go. While Piastri locked up heading to Rettifilo and had to get on the defensive to keep Zhou behind, Ticktum immediately began clearing the cars ahead with his fresh soft tyres. The Carlin driver had a hairy moment at Roggia when he was tapped off the road by Ralph Boschung and narrowly avoided collecting Roy Nissany, but he regrouped to hold seventh place by the end of the lap.

Over the next few laps Ticktum continued to improve with uncontested moves on Nissany, Shwartzman and Daruvala, then on the penultimate lap he passed Pourchaire into Rettifilo for third place. With half a second between him and Zhou and only another eight tenths to Piastri up the road, it seemed inevitable that Ticktum and Piastri would be fighting for the lead on the final tour.

But shortly after Ticktum got past Pourchaire, Bent Viscaal and David Beckmann came together at Rettifilo further down the pack and brought out yet another safety car. With just under two laps left to run, the race was completed under the safety car and Ticktum was forced to settle for third place behind winner Piastri and Zhou in second.

Guanyu Zhou, UNI-Virtuosi (Clive Mason, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F2)

Pourchaire finished fourth ahead of Daruvala and Shwartzman. Richard Verschoor took seventh place from Lirim Zendelli, who made a two-stop strategy work to give MP Motorsport a double points finish, and Nissany and Armstrong rounded out the final points positions for DAMS.

With Piastri and Zhou finishing first and second, they remain in the same positions in the championship standings with 15 points separating them. Shwartzman remains third, albeit 21 points behind Zhou and 36 adrift of the lead.

Formula 2 returns on 25–26 September at the Sochi Autodrom in support of the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix.