With the help of his Chip Ganassi Racing team, Alex Palou turned his weekend around at Road America in just a little over 24 hours from a crash in free practice two.
Palou’s car slid off at turn 14 and hit right-side first into the tyre barriers. The team’s reaction was “amazing”, said Palou, “they had only an hour and a half to rebuild all the car. We went back on track, and it was even better than in practice two.”
His incident would have been the highest point of drama in Saturday morning’s lively practice session had it not been for the much more explosive dust-up between Scott Dixon and Will Power during the same session.
“Yesterday, honestly, was a tough day for the team,” Palou said after the race. “They had to, as you said, rebuild not only my car but also Scott’s one. We made it back in time for qualifying – and not only on time, but we were able to fight through qualifying. Amazing.
“Honestly, I was not concerned on the speed that we were going to have. I was more concerned of losing track time and not knowing how the balance was going to be for qualifying.
“I’m super-happy, they gave me the pit stop that gave me the win as well. Cannot thank them enough,” he said of his number 10 crew. “We’re going to try and keep it rolling. We have an amazing team behind us.”
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Palou gave Chip Ganassi Racing its 250th win as an organisation, most of which have come in American open-wheel racing’s highest level – first CART, then the current IndyCar series.
To do that, he had to get past Colton Herta, who was able to switch on the black sidewall primary compound tyres quicker than him. “Honestly he was really quick on the first couple of laps on the blacks, and I thought I was not going to catch him. I knew our tyres were a bit slower getting up to temperature. So we kept on pushing, kept on putting some pressure, and we finally made it happen.”
The difference turned out to be the timing of the final pit stop – Herta came in a lap earlier than Palou, and therefore had to save more fuel to make it to the finish. “We were just a little bit better on tyre deg, as well,” noted Palou. “I was just trying to push him to use the push-to-pass, then overtake him. It worked.”
Palou’s third win in the last four races – following victories at the Indianapolis road course and the new Detroit Renaissance Centre street circuit – puts him in the lead of the championship by 74 points with half of season complete.
How confident is the 2021 series champion about the idea that the title is virtually his? “Zero percent, man!” he exclaimed. “Honestly, it’s IndyCar. We had really good results so far, we’re good on points so far. But IndyCar, you never know.
“You go to Mid-Ohio, and you’re struggling on pace, someone gets on a roll – and they can have three or four wins in a row.”
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“I would understand racing for points on the last two races, but it’s too early,” Palou continued. “We did eight races. There’s still eight or nine left. I mean, somebody else can do the same amount of points that we did, or even more, with the races that we have left.”
Palou’s average finish of 3.5 this season highlights his consistency. His worst result this year is still eighth place at the St. Petersburg opener. If he were to maintain this average, it would be the best average for an IndyCar driver since the 2008 reunification of the series.
“We’re going to focus on scoring wins, because that’s the way we can score more points. That’s the best way,” said Palou. “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.”
Palou has back-to-back podium finishes in the last two races at Mid-Ohio, will have a chance to sweep both Indy road course races later this year – along with returning to tracks like Portland and Laguna Seca where he has also won previously.
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