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

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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.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.