ELKHART LAKE - The newly repaved Road America proved fast and tricky for the drivers of the NTT IndyCar Series. Alex Palou took advantage of questionable strategy from Colton Herta and Andretti Autosport to take a commanding win in the Sonsio Grand Prix and extend his championship lead.
ANDRETTI MAKES WRONG CALL IN PITS
“Once my tires were [up to] temperature, I was able to catch [Herta],” said Palou in the press conference. “I saw that he was struggling a little bit more. He had to save more fuel than us because he pitted one lap early…I was just trying to push him to use the push to pass, then overtake him. It worked.”
Palou’s advantage came during the final stint of the race. Colton Herta had, by far, the quickest car on track during Sunday afternoon’s race. Herta started from the pole and led 33 laps, the most of anyone else. However, as the race reached its conclusion, there was some miscommunication between Herta and his Andretti team.
“It’s a frustrating one,” said Herta to NBC Sports after the race. “We had the best car, we were cruising the whole time. I had so much more in it and we never got to show it because we were always saving fuel trying to go that lap later.”
Herta pitted one lap sooner than his competition on track and as a result was forced to save his fuel and tires for the final 15 laps. At Road America, that’s a little under 61 miles.
“It was unclear to me how the race was going to play out at that point, regarding fuel numbers,” said Herta. “[15 laps] is usually a pretty reasonable fuel number, but it ended up being quite a bit more.”
Despite his fifth place finish, Colton Herta remains buried in ninth place overall in the championship standings. Meanwhile, Alex Palou, now boasting three wins in the last four races, has opened up a whopping 74 point lead over second place Marcus Ericsson.
TITLE RACE NOT OUT OF REACH…YET
The competition in IndyCar has been tight this year and in the most recent years. The question for Palou now turns to whether or not he can keep such a stranglehold on the championship lead. Teammate and championship rival Marcus Ericsson finished a quiet sixth in Sunday’s race. Ericsson has been one of the more consistent drivers out of the current title challengers but the 2022 Indy 500 winner will need to win more races to start a title chase.
“We're going to focus on scoring wins because that's the way we can score more points,” said Palou in the press conference. “That's the best way. Honestly, there's some races coming up now that are still really good for us and we know we're going to have a car and my confidence to fight for wins.”
Runner-up finisher Josef Newgarden still sees the championship as wide open.
“If you look at their story, they've not had one bad race yet. When you have eight races in a row without a bad one, this is what happens points-wise,” said Newgarden.
“What's going to happen on the final nine, it's impossible to say. There's so much season still that he's got a good cushion at this point, they've done a great job, but I don't think that guarantees anything in IndyCar.”