As Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward flirt with F1, champ Alex Palou committed to IndyCar


If Colton Herta were to move to F1, Alex Palou thinks it would “be awesome for the Andretti family and name, awesome for F1 and awesome for IndyCar.”

And, of course, it also could be awesome for the reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion, too.

“It’ll be great for Herta if he can just go there, and it would be great for me if they can get Herta out of my way,” Palou told NBC Sports with a laugh. “Once they start talking about Andretti in F1, they’ll be talking about IndyCar, so it would be a win-win-win for everybody.”

Though Formula One is in America for the first time in two years with Sunday’s grand prix at the Circuit of The Americas, there will be no announcement in Austin, Texas, of Michael Andretti buying into a team or Herta practicing in an F1 car.

But Andretti still is committed to a future expansion into F1, and that could move Herta, a six-time IndyCar winner who was fifth in the 2021 points standings, into the world’s biggest series.

Also waiting in the wings could be Arrow McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward, who will test an F1 car for McLaren Racing in the offseason (after winning a bet with team CEO Zak Brown by winning a race).

“I would cheer for Herta, 100 percent,” Palou said with a laugh. “I think he’s a great kid, and he’s an amazing driver. So yeah, go ahead and take him! Please. I would be OK with that. And if McLaren takes Pato at the same time, I’d be really, really pleased with that.”

The potential loss of Herta, 21, and O’Ward, 22, would be a blow to IndyCar’s youthful star power (which also counts Rinus VeeKay, 21, in its Gen Z nucleus), but it would be viewed as a major career move for two former Indy Lights rivals who have progressed up the ladder together.

Colton Herta won the 2021 IndyCar finale in Long Beach, California, his third victory of the season (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“I’m still amazed with (Herta),” O’Ward told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in an interview this week. “I’m very, very happy for him. I don’t know if (a move to F1) will happen or end up not happening. I really hope it does. I’m really pushing for him to get it because like I told everyone, we all love IndyCar. We love the racing. But Formula One is Formula One, and what Formula One can open to you as a professional, as an individual, is huge.

“Those opportunities, you have to take whenever they come at you. It’s not like you can pick and choose (and say), ‘Oh, no, let me win the championship in IndyCar first and then go.’ It’s like, mate, you can’t really choose. So you have to take it as they come. Sometimes it’s very rushed, and sometimes it’s going to play out perfectly in your favor. You never know. Or sometimes the opportunity never arises. So we’re both in a position where we just need to take it as things come to us.”

Meanwhile, Palou, 24, has no designs on leaving IndyCar, where he just became the first Spaniard to win a series championship in only his second season and his first with powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing.

He came directly to IndyCar from racing in Japan and hadn’t dabbled in European racing as much as Herta and O’Ward. When Palou looks at the 20 available seats in F1, he sees only “maybe six to eight people” who wouldn’t prefer his situation.

“All the rest, they would trade for my seat, I’m sure,” he said. “I have a great team around me. I’m happy and love the racing. If I can try to get the second (championship), that would be even more amazing. I love America. I have my girlfriend here, and she loves America, too. So having a great life here.”

All that said, Palou also can appreciate why O’Ward and Herta would be interested in making the leap to F1.

“It’s not like I’m old, but next year, I’m going to be 25,” he said. “They are a bit younger. Pato is already on an atmosphere that is toward F1. McLaren is all about F1. He’s already on that path, he just has to have the opportunity. Herta with Andretti could be on the same team in F1.

“They always will have a seat here in IndyCar. At least I’d always give them a seat if I was a team manager. So why not try something else if you have the opportunity?”

Andretti reportedly has explored a transaction with Alfa Romeo, a midpack team with limited prospects for results. O’Ward said even if Herta’s chances for winning were diminished, “you have to take it man.

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself the rest of my life if I didn’t take the opportunity that was presented to me,” he said. “Maybe it’s not with a top team, but you allow yourself to showcase yourself in order to get to a top team. So that’s what I’m telling everybody: If I was in his shoes, I would be doing the exact same thing.”

O’Ward’s F1 test for McLaren will come after the F1 season finale Dec. 12 in Abu Dhabi. The Mexican driver already is well into preparations, including a trip last week to the McLaren Technology Centre in England for a seat-fitting.

“Man, it’s starting to sink in, I feel like all year,” O’Ward told Diffey. “I won the bet fairly early in the year (by winning May 2 at Texas Motor Speedway), and I feel like it just never really sunk in, but going to the MTC, doing the seat fit, all the sim work, all those things I have to learn that are completely different from IndyCar. Everything is starting to sink in, and really looking forward to it.

“I know it’s going to be pretty magical. I know it’s going to be pretty unique and special to what a Formula One car can do. They’re crazy pieces of machines that can honestly kind of bend the laws of physics in a way. It’s so impressive what they’re capable of, so yeah, we’ll see what it does to me, but I feel like I’m going to feel spoiled after that.”

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway