Alex Palou, Ganassi, IndyCar, Barber Motorsport Park, 2021

Palou starts IndyCar season with first win, Grosjean 10th on debut

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Alex Palou claimed the first IndyCar win of his career in his first race for Ganassi as the 2021 championship began at Barber Motorsports Park.

The new season got off to a spectacular start as several major names were involved in a crash on the first lap. It was triggered by Penske’s Josef Newgarden, who spun over the crest of turn six and was collected by Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Colton Herta was also taken out on the spot, while McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist rode over the top of Carlin’s Max Chilton. The latter pair were able to return to track several laps down, before McLaren eventually opted to retire Rosenqvist’s car.

After the restart McLaren SP’s pole winner Patricio O’Ward led the first stint of the race in a tail-happy car until pitting on lap 18 of 90, swapping his fresh set of red alternate tyres for a used set of primary blacks and committing to the three-stop strategy. The drivers trying to complete the race on two pit stops stayed out at least 14 laps longer and during this time O’Ward lost time in traffic as new race leader Alex Palou got faster as his fuel load decreased.

When Palou made his first stop on lap 31, also going to used blacks, he returned to track ahead of O’Ward. But with his tyres not up to temperature, and O’Ward now freed from the drivers he had been stuck behind, the gap between the pair quickly shrank and O’Ward got his move done exiting the turn five hairpin.

Soon after that O’Ward was back in the lead as Foyt’s Sebastien Bourdais and Ed Carpenter Racing driver Rinus VeeKay pitted for a second set of fresh blacks. While O’Ward now looked far more comfortable on his tyres he was about to get rid of them in place of fresh blacks and another drop down the field.

This time the traffic wasn’t a problem, but instead the difficulty of getting his tyres up to temperature hurt O’Ward and he lost places to Bourdais and VeeKay. Palou then filtered back into the lead with a 10-second advantage over Penske’s Will Power.

The victory fight was now between the drivers going for two stops. Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson was the first of those to pit with 30 laps to go, opting for another set of blacks. Encouragingly for his team mates, he got the tyre up to speed quickly and cleared O’Ward when the McLaren driver made his third stop on lap 66, just four laps after Ericsson’s team-mates Palou and Scott Dixon.

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Much of Palou’s advantage was slashed by an incredible in-lap and rapid pit stop by Power, meaning the two were just a few seconds apart going into their final stint and with a further 10 seconds back to O’Ward who eventually got back past Ericsson as he started to fade.

The front-runners began driving to their fuel targets to ensure they didn’t run their tanks empty before the finish. But the appearance of lapped cars added excitement and enabled Power to get closer to Palou in the late laps.

Dixon finished third, while O’Ward’s strategy only converged with his two-stopping rivals in the closing laps and he finished fourth.

Bourdais and VeeKay were next as they passed Ericsson, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal did the same with a few laps to go to earn seventh despite only running three laps on his red tyres at the start of the race.

Ericsson finished eighth, but only just as he ran out of fuel after the chequered flag, ahead of Andretti’s Alexander Rossi who qualified second but didn’t have the race pace to match.

Former Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean was one of those who attempted the harder two-stop strategy in his first ever IndyCar race, and the Dale Coyne with Rick Ware driver was one of the front-runners in the first stint after qualifying seventh. His later stints weren’t quite as impressive though, and he faded to 10th place.

The next best rookie was Penske’s Scott McLaughlin in 14th, while seven-times NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson struggled to adapt to single-seater racing in his Ganassi-run car and finished several laps down as he tried to avoid trouble.

This article will be updated

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Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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11 comments on “Palou starts IndyCar season with first win, Grosjean 10th on debut”

  1. Not sure if it was because the F1 race was so exciting but gave the Indy race a shot today and my wife looked at me and said she’d rather watch golf so we did. The racing is boring and the production is horrible. When the race is in progress, I don’t need 30 second segments looking at a driver’s helmet. I’d love to see a pass being made. Not sure if there is any passing but the positions seemed to change according to the graphic on the left of the screen. I switched back at the end and caught the “best move of the race” and it was a pit stop.

    1. Have to agree, I watched a virtual race ‘on this track’ last year that was more engaging.

    2. It was an interesting race for a place where it is hard to pass. F1 connoisseurs that like strategic battle of wits and skill of managing fuel and tyres 2 stoppers vs full send of 3 stop option.
      Luckily Sky coverage had no commercial breaks and we saw live battle for lead in one point and important pit stops.
      Don’t like that headshots. Aeroscreen really exaggerates how wide the cockpits are now.
      Also, too much focus on JJ 48 who was unfortunately just doddering around

    3. Geez your wife sounds fun. :P

      It was a fine race but it’s a TV issue you’re right. The NBC production always sucks.

    4. Hopefully a much more interactive TV will be “invented”.
      For example I have seen an effort, where an engineering team experimented with producing a system, where you can watch a football match, in live, and you can select and shift your point of view in live, from anywhere in the stadium, from anywhere on the field. That would be so amazing, although yet it would be too demanding on hardware either on server side, or on the spectator’s side too.

      Streaming or directors made content can be good, but for example as a hardcore Counter-strike player, the first time I gave up on watching the world championship, when they first tried to broadcast the matches via steaming, instead of the HLTV format, which allowed the spectators to choose their POV, and for example turn a mini-map on and off, to see more of the strategies and their execution. A plain stream, with POV selected by the director was so restrictive and much less amazing for me. Never forget, there are many sponsor logos on most of the helmets :)

    5. The race itself was just about (or maybe slightly below) average for Indycar standards and the F1 race definitely played a big role in how people perceived this one. Sort of a reversal of the Monaco GP/Indy 500 situation. The strategy battle for the lead was very interesting to follow however and it stayed largely unresolved until about 5 laps before the end with O’Ward’s charge.

      I’m with you on the production side though, but i think that’s just a thing generally with American sports broadcasting. Tons of too long ad breaks and a lot of hyperbole and ‘wooooow’s and ‘aaaah’s from the commentators. I think Sky or ESPN has some deal to broadcast it without ad breaks though living in Europe i’m not entirely sure about it.

      St. Petersburg next weekend should be a bit more exciting. For a street race it always has a lot of action!

  2. I watched it and found it incredibly hard to follow once the pit stops started.

    That and the apparent lack of overtaking meant I could have been watching a practice session.

    F1 gets some stick for being processional, but this just didn’t even seem to be a race. Also, everyone has their own livery so from an outsiders perspective it’s near impossible to work out who team mates are.

    I expected Grosjean to finish higher, but it’s good that he avoided the lap1 crash and seemed to put a clean race in.

    1. It was hard to follow because of strategy variance. That thing F1 used to have and we lament the lack of remember? 3-stop vs 2-stop vs 3-stopping with first stop behind early safety car making it virtual 2-stop, all coming together. Totally captivating.

      Like all top level racing series’, there isn’t a massive amount of overtaking, but there’s a lot more on the street tracks in particular where the downforce is so low that the dirty air isn’t as bad. Barber is a fast, awesome, high downforce track so overtaking is particularly hard there.

      Not an Indycar classic, as Barber tends not to produce (despite being an amazing track, ala Monaco, Imola, Hungary etc) but still great stuff. What it really shows is how bad the TV production is because yeah, it is. If it was better and gave you more idea what was going on it would have made more sense and been easier to understand how good it was.

  3. I also watched the race and also found it extremely difficult to follow. The amount of adverts on the graphics, sponsored in cam footage, etc. was highly amusing and just made me grateful that F1 is not like this and needs to be protected from becoming Americanised at all costs.

    1. IndyCar and IMSA have too many things on the graphics!

  4. IndyCar usually has some very exciting races, but that was certainly not one of them. The huge crash at the start got things started off badly. The increased speeds at a place that is very hard to pass to begin with made it processional.

    St. Pete is next and that is generally very good.

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