Palou Welcomes Detroit Challenge as He Fights to Keep Points Lead

Photo by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Alex Palou isn’t afraid of a challenge. He proved that at the Indianapolis 500 when he dueled four time winner Helio Castroneves over the last seven laps of the race. Going to Detroit, a track he has never seen in person, will be another step for the current Indycar points leader.

“…it’s going to be challenging for sure. I’ve never been to Detroit. It looks — the track looks awesome. Looks really bumpy. But yeah, I think the layout, it’s super nice as a street course. I’m looking forward,” Palou told the media earlier this week.

“I’ve been preparing a lot on the sim, the track, just for myself, not setup related. I’ve been doing it at home, just because it’s super important on a street course to really know the bumps, to really get some references. And then aside, as well, we’ve been working with the team doing the setup stuff so we don’t have to work that much during the race weekend.And then during free practice, it’s going to be tough. I’m going to be able to — I’m going to have to be able to get up to speed really quick, and yeah, I just need to focus on everything. I need to focus on all the bumps. I need to see how the car rides the bumps. That’s super important. And then braking zones. I think it’s super important on street courses to really nail and attack the braking zones. Hopefully we are able to do that soon enough so we can start developing our car during free practice,” he continued.

On his near miss at Indianapolis, Palou said,

“I think it all came down to traffic, so I think I would just have waited for the last pass a little bit more. But at that point we had Rosenqvist in front, and that helped me. I actually pulled, and if Rosenqvist kept himself out, I think we would have had a chance to just go or maybe to fight again, but yeah, he went, and I was alone there, and he got traffic.Maybe just wait, but it’s super easy to say it now. Maybe a yellow comes out and you are waiting there second and you are like, why did I wait?”

Palou is fighting with teammate Scott Dixon for the championship right now. Some see that as an advantage, but Palou disagrees,.

“No, that’s the opposite because I know he’s going to compete with the same car as me, so I know he’s going to compete with a really good car, and it’s going to be up to us. I would prefer him to be on another team so I could know that I have the best team around me. But no, joking aside, it’s cool. It’s super good to be able to do what he’s doing, to know the strategies they are doing,to know how he’s approaching the weekends. It’s been really helpful for me so far, and it’s going to still be really helpful.”

Palou has a six place grid penalty for Race 1, which puts his record of leading every race this year in jeopardy. Qualifying will be extremely important to his chances of remaining on top of the points standings.

Quick Thoughts- Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo: A very happy Alex Palou. Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Maybe this is the year for the kids after all. Pato O’Ward won the pole and Alex Palou won the race after being in his first Fast Six yesterday.

I was not shocked by Palou’s victory. He was fast all weekend. Watching him yesterday just gave me a feeling that he was in for a big day.

Josef Newgarden didn’t kill his chances for another title, but he certainly made it more difficult. Barber is ne of his better tracks, so seeing him cause an accident was a surprise.

Nice Top Tens:

Sebastien Bourdais 5th , Rinus VeeKay 6th, and romain Grosjean 10th.

Bourdais led four laps as well. A good start for his time at A. J. Foyt Racing. The team improved every session.

VeeKay recovered from spinning in the first lap melee and a penalty for service in a closed pit.

Grosjean has impressed all weekend with his seventh place qualifying and a top ten finish. A very nice Indycar debut. Maybe the driver wasn’t the problem in F1 his last few years.

Chip Ganassi Racing had three drivers in the Fast Six Saturday and three drivers in the top 10 today. Along with Palou’s win, Scott Dixon finished third and Marcus Ericsson ended the day in eighth. This team could be the power this season.

Simon Pagenaud is starting 2021 the same 2020 went for him- poor qualifying result and a climb through the field. He didn’t get very far today, ending 12th after starting 15th.

Ryan Hunter-Reay begins the season with a DNF again. He has had awful luck in season openers the last few seasons.

Graham Rahal’s seventh place finish from an 18th starting spot must seem like a win for the team. Takuma Sato came home 13th from staring 19th. Both Rahal drivers struggled all weekend.

It felt great to get the season underway and to return to a track whose race was cancelled in 2020; The crowd was as large as it could be. The fans in Birmingham still love this race. They were happy to see it return.

I will have another story about Barber up tomorrow or Tuesday. Then it’s on to St. Pete. Thanks for reading this weekend.

Palou Moves to Ganassi; Team Set for Four Cars in 2021

Photo of Alex Palou from Chip Ganassi Racing

Alex Palou will move from Dale Coyne Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing for 2021. he will drive car number 10, recently vacated by Felix Rosenqvist, who was announced this morning as the drive of cqar 7 for arrow McLaren SP.

Palou’s move gives CGR two drivers who have won multiple championships on different platforms and two drivers with two years or less experience. It should be a great learning environment for Palou and teammate Marcus Ericsson.

The announcement for Chip Ganassi Racing:

Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) announced today that 23-year-old Spaniard Alex Palou will join the team’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES program in the No. 10 Honda beginning in 2021. He will team up with Six-Time and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion, Indianapolis 500 and 50-time race winner Scott Dixon, Seven-Time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, and recently re-signed Marcus Ericsson for an expanded four-car lineup in 2021. Partnership details will be announced in the off-season in preparation for the 2021 INDYCAR season and beyond. 

NOTES OF INTEREST:

About Alex Palou: In 2020, Palou spent his rookie NTT INDYCAR SERIES season with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh where he scored his first-career podium at Road American en route to a 16th place result in the championship standings. Prior to that, he won a Super Formula Championship race in 2019, competed at the All-Japan Formula 3 championship in 2017, recorded his first race in the Formula 3 Series in 2015, and made his debut in open-wheel racing competing in the Euroformula Open Championship in 2014.

2020 Highlights: Palou debuted at the Indianapolis 500 by qualifying for the Fast 9 Pole Position Shootout in his first visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which resulted in an impressive seven-place starting position. The Rookie also made three starts inside the top four by qualifying third at Road America in Race 2, fourth at Mid-Ohio Race 2 and fourth again at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in Race 2. He also ran as high as 11th in championship points after Iowa Speedway.

QUOTEBOARD:

Alex Palou Driver, No. 10 Honda: “To say I’m thrilled or excited to be making this step in my career would be an understatement. Driving for Chip Ganassi is just a dream come true. I’ve followed the team for as long as I can remember, and it’s the kind of team and owner any driver would want to race for. Scott has had another tremendous season, reaching 50 wins and a sixth title, so you absolutely couldn’t ask for anything more in a teammate. I can’t wait to work with Marcus and Jimmie as well, and to start contributing to the team and getting to spend more time with everyone.” 

Mike Hull, Managing Director, Chip Ganassi Racing: “I love to watch the growth of young drivers. This year racing Indy cars has been very difficult for young drivers like Alex who hadn’t had the opportunity to visually see the tracks in advance, nor have days of practice in private team testing, or open testing or three-day weekends. Putting that into perspective, he did a heck of a job. We had an opening, and he became available, and Chip has a great eye for talent. Alex has that spark, that intangible thing you combine with talent that is a lot of fun. It’s a great exploration thing, actually. You’re exploring how far you can go, and he has one year of experience with a quality team, quality engineering and a quality teammate. He stood up to that test extremely well.”

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Chip Ganassi Racing

Andretti Rides the Wind to Capture the Pole- Quick Thoughts

The shifting winds brought part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s legends back today as Marco Andretti just edged Scott Dixon to win the pole for the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The last time an Andretti won the pole was 1987 when Mario led the field to the green flag.

Andretti Autosport seemed to be floundering this season until the got to IMS. The team certainly has its act together here.

It appeared the wind shifting from turn 4 to turn 2 after Dixon’s run would help him stay in the top spot, but Marco found just enough speed to continue  his dominance of the week.

Marco’s dad Michael never won the pole at Indianapolis. Maybe victories skip a generation as well.

Marco is in good shape for the race with Brian Herta calling his race. Herta has now put a driver on the pole as well as bringing two other car 98s to victory lane (Wheldon 2011 and Rossi 2016).

Where would Alex Palou end up if he hadn’t had a problem with the weight jacker? He could be a sleeper in the race.

Rinus VeeKay in fourth is the fastest rookie in the field.  VeeKay could be another player next Sunday.

Graham Rahal had a couple of wild rides today. I hope they can balance the car better for the race.

Car 98 has now won four poles and four races. Just three drivers have won poles in the 98- Walt Faulkner, Parnelli Jones (twice), and Marco Andretti.

I don’t know if there were any poles won by a smaller margin, but 0.0113 seconds and 0.017 mph is pretty close.

Marco also started on the front row in 2013, when he started third.

It was frustrating when NBC didn’t immediately show the lap times because they were too busy playing with their graphics. Give the audience the information it needs at the time they need it.

No matter how the race ends, it will be great having an Andretti lead the field at the start.

Qualifying results, including all attempts from yesterday:

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 Thanks for following this weekend.

 

Quick Thoughts- Qualifying

Photo: Indycar, Walt Kuhn

A Fast Nine with no Team Penske cars is something I never thought I would see.

Today was a complete rout for Honda. I’m pretty sure Chevy will be better in the race, but they have a lot of ground to make up.

Congratulations to Marco Andretti on an outstanding run.

Was Dixon just sending a warning shot for tomorrow?

Sato played some pretty good defense at the end of qualifying.

Dixon’s and Sato’s late runs really show the flaws of this qualifying format. Indycar needs to get rid of the keep your last time if you don’t beat it rule. If a car goes out to qualify it should withdraw its time.

Qualifying with no fans in the stands really took a lot of the excitement out of what was an interesting day.

Gusty northwest winds tomorrow could make fast nine qualifying interesting.

I wonder how many of the Fast Nine will actually use the practice time tomorrow morning? Today a total of six cars, all Chevys, practiced. All the cars were in group 2.

What outstanding debuts for Rinus VeeKay and Alex Palou. VeeKay has the only Chevy in the Fast Nine. Palou put a Dale Coyne entry in the Fast Nine.  After Sebastien Bourdais and Craig Hampson left the team, I wasn’t sure how well they would fare this year.

I wish NBC would stop those “Different Month, Same Feeling” spots. It’s not the same feeling at all.

I will be back tomorrow morning and then again after the Fast Nine. Have a great evening and thanks for following along.

 

 

Coyne Adds Palou, Team Goh

The upheaval at Dale Coyne Racing has stopped. It has been a chaotic time at Coyne the last few weeks. Frist, Sebastien Bourdais was let go November 22. Last week engineer Craig Hampson left to become the head engineer at Arrow McLaren SP. Coyne has been silent about the return of Santino Ferrucci, although it appears that announcement will come in a few weeks.

Today, however, it is positive news for the Plainfield, Illinois team. Alex Palou will drive for Coyne as he partners with Team Goh for the 2020 NTT Indycar Series season. Palou, from Spain, drove  Super Formula in 2019. He earned Rookie of the Year with one victory, a series best three poles, and finished third in the points standings. Palou drove for Team Goh in the Super GT Series at Twin Ring Motegi. He put the McLaren 720S on pole in the GT3 on pole, setting a class record.

Team Goh won the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2004 with Seiji Ara, Tom Kristensenand Rinaldo Capello. The team used a black and hot pink livery which will look great on an Indycar. I hope they keep it.

While one question at the team has been answered, there are still several more. Will Ferrucci move to the 18? Who will be the engineer? Will Vasser Sullivan return as part of the team?

Palou Joins Askew, VeeKay in Rookie Class

Palou will compete with Oliver Askew at Arrow McLaren SP and Rinus VeeKay at Ed Carpenter Racing for Rookie of the Year in 2020. In 2019, Ferrucci was in contention for the honor going into the final race at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca. I’m glad to have a third rookie in the field.

Palou’s entry into the series is another step in the changing of the guard. the grid seems to have drivers mainly at the young and the old end of the age spectrum. With Hinchcliffe likely not driving next year, there is a bit of a gap in the middle of the age range.

Seats Still Open

With Coyne fairly solid for 2020, Foyt and Carlin look to be the last teams with nothing confirmed driver wise. There is talk of Charlie Kimball, Dalton Kellett, and Tony Kanaan driving in some combination at Foyt. I have no idea what’s happening at Carlin.