Palou Sends Message With Big Victory at Indy Road Circuit

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 14 2023

Alex Palou and his Chip Ganassi Racing team were picture perfect in winning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday. Next up is the 500. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

An APB _ Alex Palou Bulletin _ officially was filed during Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Chip Ganassi Racing ace steamrolled to his first victory of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season.

The 2021 series champion, Palou parlayed a potent combination of speed and strategy and see ya’ to post a massive 16.8006-second victory over Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren after 85 laps/207.3-miles around IMS’ 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course.

“Finally, first win of 2023,” said Palou, who started third in CGR’s No. 10 Honda. “I’m super-happy, super-proud. It was an amazing race and we won by a big margin. A win is a win but if you have a big margin, it feels even better. It fills everybody with energy _ all the crews, the engineers and myself for the big race.”

Palou will attempt to sweep the marathon Month of May at IMS during the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28. Victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is the lone bullet point missing from Palou’s otherwise stellar INDYCAR resume.

Palou methodically distanced himself from runnerup O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet and teammate/third-place finisher Alexander Rossi to record his first victory since the 2022 season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey in September at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California. 

Rossi, winner of the 100th Indy 500 in 2016 as a series rookie, wheeled the No. 7 McLaren Chevy to his first podium since joining McLaren after a seven-year tenure with Andretti Autosport. 

“The fact that McLaren got three cars in the top-five in this field, and this competition, that’s a huge testament to the organization and what we have going on here,” Rossi said. “It’s a big confidence boost in momentum going into the most important race of the year.

Alex Palou got his first victory of the season on Saturday.

“I think we’ve been there every race. We just haven’t quite executed completely. But you know, the pace in the car is there. It’s a really lovely race car to drive. We just got to find a way to extract a little bit more performance for optimal lap time.”

Palou’s margin of victory is the second-greatest in event history, trailing only teammate/six-time series champion Scott Dixon’s 19.9469-second rout in 2020. Palou earned his fifth career INDYCAR victory, all on road-courses. The 26-year-old Spaniard now has recorded a victory in each of his three seasons with CGR, which celebrated its 247th overall motorsports win and 125th in INDYCAR.

“We honestly knew we had a fast car since P1 (opening practice on Friday),” said Palou, who laid down the race’s fastest lap at 123.162 mph/1-minute, 11.2912-seconds on Lap 8 while pacing the field. “The car has been amazing all weekend. Once we knew we were starting on reds (Firestone’s alternate tires), I think we knew we were going to fight for the win.

“Amazing work by these guys. I just had to execute.”

First-time NTT P1 Award-winner Christian Lundgaard of Denmark finished a season-best fourth in the No. 45 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Felix Rosenqvist completed the top five in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, as the Swede’s season-best result gave the team three of the top five finishing positions.

“Right now, I’m satisfied with fourth. It was a tough day,” said Lundgaard, who became the first Danish driver to win an series pole via his hot lap of 1-minute, 9.3321-seconds/126.643 mph on Friday. “There was a point in this race where I thought we weren’t going to finish in the top-10 with that pace and the balance of the car. So, to end up fourth is a win right now. I think we need to look at the perspective of how great performance-wise we’ve run all weekend. That’s the positives to take from this weekend.”

Devising the optimum tire strategy prompted considerable head-scratching for strategists and engineers along pit lane Friday evening and into Saturday, reflected by the fact that six of the top-10 starters began the race on Firestone’s primary “black” Firehawk tires and four started on Firestone’s alternate “red” tires. INDYCAR rules require each driver to use both compounds during road and street-course races.

Palou signaled his aggressive intentions and flashed his Honda’s speed on Lap 1 when he jumped from third to first on the alternate tires, taking the point in Turn 13 from pole-sitter Lundgaard, who was on primary rubber.

For the next 65 laps, Palou, Lundgaard, O’Ward, Rosenqvist, Rossi, Dixon, Graham Rahal and Marcus Ericsson swapped P1 as leaders peeled-off while executing their chosen tire-and-fuel strategies. The race ran caution-free after an incident on Lap 2 between Dale Coyne Racing teammates David Malukas and rookie Sting Ray Robb, with the outcome coming down to a mixture of smarts, speed and execution.

No one executed better than Palou and the CGR brain trust. Palou made his final stop on Lap 60, choosing scuffed Firestone primary tires. Scuffs are slower initially than the softer-compound alternates but their harder compound lasted laps longer than the alternates and proved a better choice for consistent times.

Rossi took the lead on Lap 62 when teammate O’Ward pitted for a set of sticker alternate tires for his final stint. But Rossi surrendered the lead to Palou when he made his final stop on Lap 65. Palou had a 10.5-second lead on O’Ward when he inherited the lead after Rossi’s stop. O’Ward hoped to take a chunk out of that lead and perhaps even challenge Palou for victory due to the extra grip and speed of his sticker Firestone alternates, but Palou’s pace on both Firestone compounds proved too much.

Palou checked-out over the closing laps, leaving the position-swapping contest for the final podium spot to be decided among Rossi, Lundgaard and Rosenqvist.

“Hats off to them,” said O’Ward, referring to Palou and CGR. “I just think they were extremely strong today. They really were. For us, we’re two, three and five as a team and that’s pretty frickin’ phenomenal.

“The guys gave us a great race car. We were kind of just running our own race today. We were there fighting with Lundgaard and all of us teammates. Once I got clear, I had to minimize the gap I had to Alex, but I think they were very strong today. We were just hanging on there at the end, trying not to destroy our reds.”

Palou led 52 of 85 laps, followed by Lundgaard with 13 laps-led. Palou will split $10,000 with Chip Ganassi Racing and his chosen charity, The American Legion, for his victory as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.

Victory also vaulted Palou to the top of the point standings entering the season’s pivotal month. Palou leads second-place O’Ward by six points, 174-168, after five races. Previous championship leader Ericsson, the reigning Indy 500 champion, slipped to third, 19 points behind Palou after finishing eighth in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“It was a pretty tough day for us,” said Ericsson, anticipating an extra-busy schedule around Indianapolis as defending Indy 500 champion. “We had a good start, a good first stint but then we just couldn’t get our red tires to work well. It was another top-10 for the Chip Ganassi Racing Huski Chocolate Honda and we’re OK with that. Now we’re ready for ‘The Big Show.’

“Congrats to Alex and the No. 10 crew; they did a tremendous job today.”

Practice on IMS’ famed 2.5-mile oval for the Indy 500 is scheduled to start Tuesday, May 16, as a lead-in to PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21.

Matteo Nannini notched his first career INDY NXT by Firestone victory Saturday, holding off fellow- series rookie Louis Foster during a wire-to-wire sprint on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course.

A 19-year-old native of Italy, pole-sitter Nannini drove his No. 75 Juncos Hollinger Racing car to victory by 0.3909-seconds over Foster’s No. 26 Copart/USF Pro Championship car fielded by Andretti Autosport. Nannini led all 35 laps of the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix despite unyielding pressure from Foster.

“I really wanted this win, mainly for the team,” Nannini said. “We didn’t start the championship where we really wanted, but I know we have the car to do it, the crew to do it. So, I would have been really pissed if I would not have been the winner of this race.”

Nannini had finished 15th in each of the first two races of the 2023 season. His previous best start was ninth in the season-opener in March on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Kyffin Simpson finished a distant third in the No. 21 HMD Motorsports with CGR machine, 9.8065- seconds behind Nannini on the 2.439-mile/14-turn layout.

Nannini scored the first INDY NXT by Firestone victory for Juncos Hollinger Racing since September 2019, when current NTT IndyCar Series regular Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing swept the season-ending doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California. That also was the last INDY NXT by Firestone win for a team other than HMD Motorsports or Andretti Autosport.

Nannini advanced from 17th to fourth in the point standings for INDYCAR’s development series with the win.

Hunter McElrea finished fourth in the No. 27 Smart Motors car fielded by Andretti Autosport. Championship leader Christian Rasmussen completed the top five in the No. 6 HMD Motorsports with DCR machine after duel for position with McElrea for much of the race’s second half.

Nannini was in control from the start, building a lead of one second after the first green-flag lap and padding that margin to 1.580-seconds by Lap 7. But Foster, a native of Great Britain, stayed in touch by managing his Firestone tires and push-to-pass time during a drive toward the front. With 10 laps to go, Foster closed the gap to within three-tenths-of-a-second.

“I just tried to manage the car to the end of the race,” said Nannini, one of nine rookies in an 18-car field. “I had a little issue with the braking. It was losing (time) quite a bit, but here we are. So happy for the result.”

Foster had two excellent looks at trying to pass Nannini at the end of the back straightaway entering Turn 7 _ on Lap 33 and the final lap _ but couldn’t pull close enough to make a potentially winning pass stick. Nannini had exhausted his push-to-pass before the final lap, with Foster having five seconds remaining on his final trip around the circuit.

“I was pretty convinced we could get it done there, but with the car and the tires coming off (wearing), it’s unfortunate, really,” Foster said. “Our last two weekends haven’t gone particularly well, so this weekend it was all about points, and we got that. Hopefully we can build on this from here in Detroit.”

Next up on the INDY NXT by Firestone schedule is a doubleheader June 3-4 at the Detroit Grand Prix on the Streets of the Motor City.

Results Saturday of the GMR Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (3) Alex Palou, Honda, 85, Running
    2. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    3. (10) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    4. (1) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 85, Running
    5. (2) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
    7. (13) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    8. (7) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 85, Running
    9. (14) Colton Herta, Honda, 85, Running
    10. (8) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
    11. (18) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 85, Running
    12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    13. (17) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    14. (6) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 85, Running
    15. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 85, Running
    16. (16) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    17. (15) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 84, Running
    18. (24) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    19. (21) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    20. (4) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
    21. (25) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    22. (26) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 84, Running
    23. (27) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 80, Running
    24. (23) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 79, Running
    25. (19) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 58, Mechanical
    26. (20) David Malukas, Honda, 2, Contact
    27. (22) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 115.234 mph
Time of Race: 01:47:56.7003
Margin of victory: 16.8006-seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 12 among 8 drivers

Lap Leaders

Palou, Alex 1 – 17
Lundgaard, Christian 18 – 19
Rosenqvist, Felix 20 – 22
Ericsson, Marcus 23
Rahal, Graham 24 – 30
Lundgaard, Christian 31 – 41
Palou, Alex 42 – 43
Ericsson, Marcus 44
Dixon, Scott 45 – 47
Palou, Alex 48 – 59
O’Ward, Pato 60 – 61
Rossi, Alexander 62 – 64
Palou, Alex 65 – 85

Point Standings (top-15): 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 174; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren, 168; 3, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 155; 4, Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport, 134; 5, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 133; 6, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 131; 7, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 127; 8, Will Power, Team Penske, 122; 9, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 111; 10, Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren and Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport, 108; 12, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport with Curb/Agajanian, 107; 13, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren, 97; 14, Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing, 92; 15, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 86.

Results Saturday of the INDY NXT By Firestone Grand Prix on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (1) Matteo Nannini, 35, Running
    2. (3) Louis Foster, 35, Running
    3. (4) Kyffin Simpson, 35, Running
    4. (2) Hunter McElrea, 35, Running
    5. (6) Christian Rasmussen, 35, Running
    6. (5) Josh Green, 35, Running
    7. (8) James Roe, 35, Running
    8. (10) Rasmus Lindh, 35, Running
    9. (9) Jacob Abel, 35, Running
    10. (11) Enaam Ahmed, 35, Running
    11. (12) Danial Frost, 35, Running
    12. (13) Colin Kaminsky, 35, Running
    13. (16) Nolan Siegel, 35, Running
    14. (17) Jagger Jones, 35, Running
    15. (14) Jamie Chadwick, 35, Running
    16. (15) Reece Gold, 35, Running
    17. (7) Josh Pierson, 35, Running
    18. (18) Christian Bogle, 35, Running

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 110.897 mph
Time of Race: 46:11.1605
Margin of victory: 0.3909-seconds
Cautions: 1 for 2 laps
Lead changes: 0
Lap Leaders
Nannini, Matteo 1 – 35


Sunday, March 5 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.: Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, April 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske

Sunday, April 16 _ Streets of Long Beach: Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport

Sunday, April 30 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

Saturday, May 13 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, May 28 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 4 _ Streets of Detroit, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 18 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 2 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio. USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 16 _ Streets of Toronto, Peacock

Saturday, July 22 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, July 23 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 6 _ Streets of Nashville, NBC/Peacock

Saturday, Aug. 12 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 27 _World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill., NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 3 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 10 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif., NBC/Peacock

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 14 2023
No Comment