BIRMINGHAM, AL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Alex Palou’s teammates have multiple Championships but on Sunday Palou accomplished something those Champions didn’t, winning in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Palou beat Will Power by 0.402-seconds to capture the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opening Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. Palou’s teammate and defending Champion Scott Dixon finished third, giving CGR 2 of the 3 podium spots.
“It was an amazing weekend,” said Palou, a native of Spain. “I’m super, super proud of the team. The team did an amazing job. Today they gave me the best car. I just had to do the obvious things right as Chip likes to say. I’m just super, super happy.”
Palou started third behind pole sitter Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport.
The race was barely green when Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden got loose and spun in front of half the field.
“I got loose coming over the hill,” said Newgarden. “I just got loose in the wake. I thought I had the car (saved) and then touched the grass. I think once I touched the grass it pitched me sideways. Obviously my mess created a bigger mess.”
Ryan Hunter Reay, Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist, Max Chilton and Rinus Veekay all suffered some type of damage. Veekay was able to continue. Chilton, Rosenqvist and Herta eventually returned to the race several laps down after making repairs.
The race restarted on lap 8 with O’Ward leading Rossi, Palou, Power and Dixon making up the top 5. The field appeared to settle in at that point until the second caution of the day came out when Jimmie Johnson spun the No. 48 Carvana Honda.
“As we got two yellows it was clear,” said Palou of the possibility of a two-stop strategy. “As soon as the first yellow came I was already thinking two stops. I was trying to save as much fuel as possible there.”
The race restarted on lap 13 and saw no change in the top 5 until O’Ward and Rossi hit pit road on lap 20 for their first pit stops, handing the lead to Palou.
“To be honest I saw that Rossi and Pato, they were not saving that much fuel and I was wondering, ‘are they going to not even try to do it or do they just know how to do it and not me?’ I was surprised that they didn’t go for a two-stop because I think it was fairly easy after the two yellows. Hey, I didn’t call a two-stop, it was the team. They just told me now is the time to push. Do 15-more laps and this is the target for fuel mileage that you have do. That’s what I did and it worked.”
Palou made his first pit stop on lap 32 for the Firestone primary black sidewall tires with Power inheriting the lead followed by Dixon, Ericsson and Romain Grosjean, who all made pit stops in the following three laps.
O’Ward came to pit road on lap 42 for his second stop handing the lead back to Palou with 48-laps to go. Rossi hit pit road a lap later.
Palou stayed out front and the only question was whether the race would remain caution free to allow the strategy to play out.
The first driver on the two-stop strategy to make his final pit stop was Ericsson, who pitted for the final time on lap 61 while running fourth. Palou and Dixon pitted a lap later.
Power pitted from the lead on lap 62 followed by Graham Rahal and Grosjean. Power came out behind Palou but ahead of Dixon with O’Ward inheriting the lead but needing one more pit stop.
O’Ward pitted on lap 67 and came off pit road and settled into the fifth spot behind Ericsson.
Palou inherited the lead followed by Power and Dixon. Palou built a lead of 2.4-seconds but in the waning laps got caught behind traffic allowing Power and Dixon to close the gap but neither was able to challenge Palou.
The next event is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, April 25 (live coverage starts at noon ET on NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). The first practice starts at 4:15 p.m. (ET) Friday, April 23 (live on Peacock Premium).
— Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc (@sycamorefilms) April 18, 2021
Jimmie Johnson attacking move to INDYCAR.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmie Johnson is attacking his first year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES with the work ethic you would expect of a Champion.
Johnson is two races into his INDYCAR career and each week presents a new challenge to the veteran racer.
“There’s just many new things,” Johnson told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “A tire I’ve not been on. A circuit I’ve not been on. There’s just so many new things it feels like I am starting all over again.”
What Johnson is trying to do, transitioning from the big and heavy stock cars to a more powerful but lighter INDYCAR, reminds some sports fans of the time NBA Hall-of-famer Michael Jordan played baseball.
Johnson’s CGR teammate, six-time and reigning series Champion, Scott Dixon explained that what Johnson is doing would be like Dixon picking up his golf clubs and trying to go and win ‘The Masters’.
“Jimmie’s learning curve is very steep and very aggressive,” said Dixon. “Probably one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen of anybody trying to do in sport. For him, he’s having to un-learn 20-plus years of what he was doing. I think his work ethic and attention to detail, we’re just going to have to give him some time to get comfortable.”
With a couple of races under his belt Johnson explained to Pittsburgh Racing Now what he’s looking for to go faster.
“Finding the edge,” said Johnson. “Finding it safely and consistently and that edge of grip and traction is two-to-three times what I’ve experienced in a NASCAR vehicle, so I keep reaching and occasionally I reach in the wrong areas but I keep reaching and trying to find it and I’m getting closer.”
Johnson is bringing his legendary work ethic to INDYCAR, spending countless hours trying to shorten his learning curve, impressing team owner Chip Ganassi.
“He’s a damn, hard worker,” said Ganassi. “He’s set the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in. He’s always in the simulator, on the computer, on the phone, making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team. The guy doesn’t slow down. I had no idea what I was up against racing against him in NASCAR. Now I got little feel for it. He’s a hard worker. My hats off to him.”
Ganassi knows there will be up and downs but isn’t setting any expectations for the seven-time NASCAR champ.
“I think some podiums would be considered a success,” said Ganassi. “He has the talent, he has the race craft. Once we get him comfortable I think the racer will come out in him.”
Johnson is sharing the No. 48 with 2004 INDYCAR Champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan. Johnson will drive the road and street circuit and Kanaan will drive the oval races.
“We knew it was going to be hard,” said Kanaan of Johnson’s move to INDYCAR. “I think he’s trying to learn as quick as he can. As competitive as he is, he’s trying to go as fast as he can and sometimes mistakes happen. I think after the mistakes he’s been pretty solid. He finished both races and he was getting a lot quicker towards the end of both races.”
Johnson’s transition is just like when open wheel Champions Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr climbed into stock cars.
“Some of the drivers had a hard time when they made the switch from INDYCAR to NASCAR,” said Kanaan. “That proves that INDYCAR is tough as well.”
Off the track Johnson has had success bringing a new sponsor, online automotive retailer Carvana, into the sport. What’s even more impressive is that he brought a new sponsor into the sport in the middle of a global pandemic.
“We were out working hard trying to find a sponsor through all the traditional means,” explained Johnson. “Literally through my wife (Chandra) and some friends in Oklahoma that she grew up in and around, led me to a phone call with Ernie Garcia (CEO) from Carvana. He instantly had a vision of the transition I’m trying to make and could grasp it.”
Carvana has embraced joining the sport and is not wasting any time activating the partnership with Johnson and the Ganassi team.
“Although he’s (Garcia) new to motorsport and they’ve never sponsored anything in auto racing, he could see this opportunity crystal clear,” said Johnson. “Very thankful to bring a new sponsor in and how they are activating is second to none and I’m really excited about the relationship.”
Part of Carvana’s activation is giving fans the opportunity to pick the color schemes that Johnson will campaign at various races by visiting their website and casting a vote: www.carvana.com/racing/indy/vote.
Vending McQueen? Feeless Flyer? Black Tie Affair? Three new liveries are up for vote!
— Carvana Racing (@CarvanaRacing) April 28, 2021
Attracting a new sponsor to your first year competing in the highest form of open wheel racing in the United States may surprise some people but those who know Jimmie Johnson aren’t surprised at all.
“He’s relentless,” said Kanaan. “He’s the type of guy, he’s going to make this work. I wouldn’t count Jimmie Johnson out just yet.”
Johnson and the No. 48 Carvana Honda return to the track with the GMR Grand Prix, May 15 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 Winner Bobby Unser Dies At 87
(Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser died Sunday, May 2 of natural causes at his home in New Mexico. He was 87.
Unser won “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” in 1968, 1975 and 1981 and is one of just 10-drivers with 3-wins in the event.
“There simply was no one quite like Bobby Unser,” said Roger Penske, Chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Team Penske. “Bobby was a ferocious competitor on the track, and his larger-than-life personality made him one of the most beloved and unique racers we have ever seen. Bobby brought so much to Team Penske during his time with our team, including a memorable victory in the 1981 Indianapolis 500.”
Unser’s last ‘500’ win in ’81 put him in elite company as he joined Rick Mears as the only two drivers to post ‘500’ wins in three different decades. Unser produced 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career “500” starts and led 440-laps in 10 races, still 10th on the all-time list.
“When you mention icons in racing, and particularly the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bobby Unser was a legend,” said J. Douglas Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “He could drive, and win, in any type of car and on any type of track. Over the last several years, I have seen the true Bobby Unser – the man who loved our sport, loved the Indianapolis 500 and loved to be with the fans. He would go out of his way to do whatever he could to be here in May to help us keep motorsports growing.”
Prior to his success at Indianapolis, Unser dominated the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, claiming a record 13-victories. Unser also won in USAC Sprint Car, Midget and Stock Car competition, earning seven career USAC Sprint Car feature victories and placing third in the standings in 1965 and 1966. He also won six USAC Stock Car races and three USAC Midget features.
Unser climbed out of the cockpit and into the broadcast booth where his uncompromising style and matter-of-fact delivery provided some of the most entertaining commentary in open wheel racing history simply because he knew what he was talking about.
Unser was highly regarded for his technical prowess and keen engineering mind. Unser was also widely sought as a test driver because he would always push the car to the limit.
I join the racing world mourning the passing of Bobby Unser. The best of times….. when a fierce competitor can also be a very very very good friend. RIP my friend. Thanks for the memories https://t.co/zTsj1mm3jm
— Mario Andretti (@MarioAndretti) May 3, 2021
Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.
Pato O’Ward gets first INDYCAR win in race 2 at Texas Motor Speedway
FORT WORTH, TX (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Patricio O’Ward has been knocking on the door of winning in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and he finally knocked that door down by winning race two of the doubleheader on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
O’Ward passed Josef Newgarden with 24-laps remaining and pulled away to a 1.2443-second victory. The win was his first in the INDYCAR series and the first for a Chevrolet, that is not a Team Penske entry, since 2016.
“Finally!” exclaimed O’Ward in victory lane. ” I feel like we truly earned our win today. The pit stops were fantastic. The car was very well-balanced. I was able to attack. I didn’t feel like I was in defensive mode. I felt like if I was let loose, I could attack and I could get the job done.”
“It was a decent day for us,” said Newgarden. “Can’t be too disappointed with the second place. Obviously we were in the catbird seat there at the end. The only thing I was worried about, just seemed like we were lacking some speed for whatever reason. Pato’s Chevy seemed to be performing a little bit better than my Chevy.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Graham Rahal came home third after trading the lead with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon in the midpoint of the race.
“Solid day,” said Rahal. “I think last two stints I got just way too loose. But before that, I thought we did an excellent job. The guys, one heck of a pit stop there on the second-to-last stop, which really got us into, what, from fifth to third. From there I thought we could attack pretty hard. Great work by them.”
Dixon, winner of the Genesys 300 on Saturday night, finished fourth after starting from the pole in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“Huge congrats to Pato,” said Dixon, who extended his lead in the Championship standings to 22-points over O’Ward. “I was watching from back a few spots there, and what he did there at the end was a tremendous drive, especially against one of the best guys in the field.”
Several cars failed to make it to the first turn of the race after Pietro Fittipaldi’s No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda hit the rear of Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet when the back of the pack approached the green flag, triggering a melee that involved seven cars and eliminated six.
“When someone checks up in front of you, you should still be in control of your car,” said Bourdais after leaving the infield care center following a mandatory checkup. “It’s still no excuse.”
Conor Daly took the wildest ride in the crash turning over after contact and sliding down the track on the roll hoop and Aeroscreen before turning right-side-up when it touched the infield grass. Daly climbed from the car without assistance.
“On our Bingo card of terrible things to have happened to us this year, I don’t know what’s going to be next,” lamented Daly. “I really hope we can just start turning things around. It’s been a rough start. But I’m good. I’m all right.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is off next weekend and the following week the Month of May activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway begins with the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course on Saturday, May 15.