Race Report: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Sept. 26, 2021)—The NTT INDYCAR Series wrapped up its season under overcast skies but A.J. and his team were beaming as everyone had reasons to smile. And it wasn’t just because their very tough season had ended.

“Today was a pretty good day,” said A.J. Foyt, who made his first trip to California in several years. “I was hoping we would have run a little better but, you’ve got to take what you can get. The drivers and crews all did a good job. This track you’ve got to be real careful because you can get parked real easy.”

Bourdais and Foyt share a laugh after the race.

When the race started, it appeared that Sebastien Bourdais, who started 22nd, was going to be a victim of an aggressive youngster yet again! A bottleneck that occurred in the hairpin at the end of lap 1 due to Pato O’Ward being tagged by Ed Jones, saw Rinus Veekay run into Bourdais’s gearbox bouncing him in the air but luckily not into a barrier. The car stalled and when the car was restarted by the AMR Safety team, Bourdais was 28th — aka last.

This pit stop on lap 18 was the game changer for the No. 14 ROKiT team.

A timely strategy call to pit on lap 18 proved key as it came just before the caution came out on lap 20 for Pato O’Ward’s car which had stopped on the frontstretch. With solid pit stops, savvy driving and saving fuel to make the race with just one more stop, Bourdais worked his way into eighth to notch another top-10 finish!

Seb poses with his parents, Jocelyn and Patrick, who were visiting from LeMans, France.

“A pretty good day for the ROKiT Chevrolet No. 14 here with A.J. Foyt Racing,” a satisfied Bourdais commented on video afterwards. “From 22nd, (and then) essentially last, to P-8 with really good strategy from the boys. I had a pretty quick car, which I knew we were not that bad, but I didn’t think we’d be that quick during the race. Not quite sure what the future is going to be made of but if it was to be the last one, not too shabby for the last one, and I really hope to see you guys next year.”

Charlie Kimball showed he didn’t lose his form in the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet despite a nearly four-month hiatus. Starting 20th, and employing a different fuel strategy from Bourdais, Kimball had run as high as seventh before pitting on lap 27 during the third caution (this time for Marcus Ericsson who was battling with Alexander Rossi and ended up in a tire barrier). The yellows didn’t work to Kimball’s advantage but he was on pace to post a solid 14th place finish until Graham Rahal drilled him in the final corner—the hairpin leading onto the homestretch. Kimball recovered to finish 18th.

Charlie Kimball stands with his dad Gordon, a former engineer in IndyCar and Formula 1.

“Well, it sure was a fun day in the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet!” Kimball exclaimed. “The guys at AJ Foyt Racing did a great job, the car ran flawlessly. We had a great race going, a few strategy calls, things were looking good but then a couple yellows helped the guys ahead of us. And then the last lap I got run into by someone not paying attention. But at the end of the day, it was a great day of racing and I can’t thank AJ Foyt Racing [enough], or Novo Nordisk for the years of support! What a way to finish the season here at Long Beach and crown a champion.”

Dalton Kellett drove one of his best races of the year at a track he’d never seen before this weekend. Starting 26th, he had moved up to 16th by lap 65 and was running just behind Kimball at that point. With less than 15 laps to go, Kellett had run out of push-to-pass seconds (the extra boost in horsepower which was limited to 200 total seconds) to defend against Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, and with just four laps to go, Jimmy Johnson. Helio Castroneves passed him too but the Brazilian was a lap down. Kellett slipped to 19th.

Dalton Kellett with his fiancee Nicole Westra prior to the race. Her parents, Barb and Cory are far right.

“Last race of the year, the 2021 INDYCAR season is wrapped up,” the 28-year-old Canadian said. “Happy to end it on a pretty good note for the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA team. We brought that Team Chevy home P19 I believe with a drag race to the finish with teammate Charlie Kimball, so that was exciting. Took that restart 16th, moved up from 26th so that was some good moves, but was a little over-zealous on the push-to-pass in the middle of the race, so with about 12 to go, I had no push-to-pass. I was having to defend pretty aggressively from Helio and Jimmy so lost a few spots there, but move on and learn as far as managing that. But happy with how we’re wrapping it up. Kind of an up and down year, but we’ve had some high spots and I think this was a good way to end the year.”

Team President Larry Foyt looked back on the race and the season and said, “When Seb got hit on the first lap, it felt like more of the bad racing luck that has hovered over us all season. But what I love about this group is that we don’t give up, so for the ROKiT Chevrolet to come from last to a solid top-10 feels great to end the season. Dalton drove hard and did well for never having been to Long Beach, and I thought Charlie did amazing for being out of the car for a while and should have been top-15 if not for others’ mistakes. All in all, this was not the year that we were hoping for, but we never gave up and the team made gains. We aren’t exactly sure what our lineup will be at this point, but we will be back and focused on getting stronger and moving up further in the championship standings.”

Colton Herta dominated the race, leading 43 of the 85 laps to win his second straight race of the season, bringing his total to three victories this year. Pole winner Josef Newgarden gave chase but finished second in the race which was enough to vault him past O‘Ward in the 2021 standings and become vice-champion.

Rounding out the top five were Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, who clinched his first ever NTT INDYCAR Series title, and Simon Pagenaud.

In just his second INDYCAR season, Palou, 24, is the youngest driver to win the title since his teammate Scott Dixon won it in 2003. Trailing Palou and Newgarden in the final standings were O’Ward, Dixon and Herta. Bourdais wound up 16th and Kellett was 23rd.

The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series kicks off in St. Petersburg on Sunday, February 27th.