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Palou Adds To Victory, Point Totals

| , RacinToday.com Monday, September 13 2021

Alex Palou and teammate Scott Dixon celebrate on the podium in Portland on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

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Ten laps into Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland, pole-sitter Alex Palou was mired in 16th place with his NTT IndyCar Series championship hopes unexpectedly in jeopardy.

Fast-forward 100 laps, after Palou had earned his series-best third victory of the season and fashioned a 25-point lead with just two races remaining.

“We kept our heads down, and we knew the race was really long,” said Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing’s latest rising open-wheel star. “I cannot believe it. We made it (on fuel). The guys made it. They just gave me the numbers and we just follow it. The strategy was amazing.”

Palou overcame losing track position from an anticipated snarl in Turns 1 through 3 on the opening lap on Portland International Raceway’s 1.964-mile/12-turn road-course to beat Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport by 1.2895-seconds. Scott Dixon, the six-time/reigning series champion and Palou’s teammate, finished third in the No. 9  Honda to keep his hopes alive for a record-tying seventh title.

Jack Harvey of Meyer Shank Racing finished fourth in the No. 60 Honda, with championship contender Josef Newgarden fifth in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Palou leads Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP by 25 points heading to California for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 19, followed by the season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday, Sept. 26. O’Ward, who began the day with a 10-point lead over Palou, led 28 laps early but faded in the second half en route to a 14th-place finish in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Two-time series champion Newgarden is third in the standings, 34 points behind Palou. Dixon is fourth, 49 points behind the leader with Marcus Ericsson fifth, 75 points back. Ericsson finished seventh in the No. 8 Ganassi Racing Honda.

“I don’t care that much about the points at this moment,” said Palou, a 24-year-old native of Spain and driver of the No. 10 PNC Bank Honda. “I think the race we did today, it’s just amazing. Not me, but the guys with the strategy, with the pit stops, with everything. With all the bad luck we had, we still won. I’m proud about that.”

A maximum of 54 points are available at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and the Acura Grand Prix on the Streets of Long Beach.

Palou took the lead for good on Lap 86 when Ericsson made his final pit stop from the top spot. Palou never was threatened by Rossi down the stretch despite two restarts, inexorably expanding his lead lap by lap on the Firestone Firehawk primary “black” tires, which had more durability than the Firestone alternate “red” tires bolted onto Rossi’s car during his final stop.

“It was a big fight, for sure,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 27 NAPA Honda. “(Palou) did a good job, he didn’t make any mistakes. The red tires have a peak that’s a little bit better, but they certainly have a bit more fall-off, which is what they’re supposed to do. That’s the beauty of INDYCAR racing with the different strategies.”

Palou’s march to victory seemed almost unthinkable after the chaos that unfolded at the start in the tight right-left chicane in Turn 1, one of the flashpoints in the series. Palou and Dixon both overshot Turns 1 and 2 of the three-turn chicane at the end of the front straight after Dixon’s car was nudged from behind by the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet of Felix Rosenqvist, who also went wide in Turn 1 along with Colton Herta’s No. 26 Honda and others.

Neither Palou nor Dixon suffered damage in the melee that triggered the first of the day’s four caution periods. But five drivers in the mid-pack and rear of the field _ Will Power, Romain Grosjean, Oliver Askew, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves _ were forced to the pits or paddock for repairs after contact. Hinchcliffe was unable to continue.

INDYCAR rules state that cars avoiding the collision and remaining on the racing surface at the timing lines embedded in the track through the chicane are placed at the front of the field on the restart, with drivers avoiding the collision but leaving the racetrack placed behind them, followed by drivers involved in the incident.

That caused a massive reshuffle of the order, as O’Ward and Rahal claimed first and second on the restart on Lap 11 because they stayed on-track and clean in the first-lap incident. Meanwhile, Palou was moved to 16th, Dixon 17th, Rosenqvist 18th, Rossi 19th, Newgarden 21st and Herta 22nd for the restart after INDYCAR officials reviewed timing loop data.

Palou, Dixon, Herta and Rossi were among the drivers who pitted under yellow on Lap 9. Those stops triggered a tactical battle of varying fuel and pit strategies for the rest of the race, as teams and drivers decided whether to overcut or undercut rivals with fast pit-in and pit-out laps and perfectly executed stops.

O’Ward stayed out front until he made his first pit stop on Lap 29, handing the lead to Graham Rahal in the No. 15  Honda. Various pit cycles thrust Ed Jones, Harvey, Dixon and Palou into short stints out front before Rahal took control of the race on Lap 44.

Rahal maintained a lead of around 2.5-seconds over O’Ward until rookie Callum Ilott, in the debut of Juncos Hollinger Racing, and Dalton Kellett of A.J. Foyt Racing both slowed on-track in separate spots on Lap 51, triggering the second caution period on Lap 52.

While a handful of drivers pitted, Rahal elected to stay out and led until Lap 74, when he and second-place Jones pitted to hand the lead to Harvey.

Pit cycles then unfolded over the next 12 laps before Palou _ who made his final stop on Lap 79, one lap before teammate Dixon _ took the lead for good on Lap 86.

Palou pulled away from Rossi on restarts on Lap 89 and Lap 92 after brief caution periods and reached the checkered flag leading 29 laps. Rahal led a race-high 36 laps before finishing a frustrating 10th.

We played the strategy right, but unfortunately all the guys who caused the crash at the start are all the guys who won,” said Rahal, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “It’s just a shame, I don’t know what else to say. I’m obviously disappointed, but the high points are that they definitely knew we were here. Our boys did an excellent job in the pits once again. The car was very strong, out-front leading.

“It was a lot of fun to be out there and get the Total machine out-front. We put our head down and finished all the laps here, and got another top-10. It should have been a win, I can’t help but say it, we played it perfect just sometimes in racing the yellows don’t go your way. Chin-up and on to Monterey we go.”

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Point standings (top-10): 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 477; 2,Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 452; 3, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 443; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 428; 5, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 402; 6, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 348; 7, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 342; 8, Will Power, Team Penske, 332; 9, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 329; 10, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 299.

UPDATED 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE/RACE WINNER

Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (Helio Castroneves, Meyer Shank Racing)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Will Power, Team Penske)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)

 

| , RacinToday.com Monday, September 13 2021
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