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).
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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou Wins NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship
LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – In just his first year with the team Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou is your 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion.
Palou’s 4th-place finish in Sunday’s season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach guaranteed the 24-year-old native of Spain his first INDYCAR Championship in his second season and the Ganassi team their 14th title since 1996.
“This team is amazing,” said Palou. “I’m super proud to be a part of Chip Ganassi Racing, all our partners. I’m super proud to be a champion and for the opportunity these guys gave me. What a race, what a year, what a season.”
“People win Championships,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “The driver, the team, and especially the people behind the scenes, leaving the shop in the winter when it’s dark out and snowing, that don’t get the notoriety.”
Palou started the race in tenth position in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. Palou’s closest Championship rival, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, started the race in eighth position. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden started on the pole position with Palou’s CGR teammate Scott Dixon alongside in second place in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.
Newgarden took the lead in turn one with Dixon in tow as the field took the green flag. The race wasn’t even 2-laps old when Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan’s Ed Jones made an ambitious attempt to pass James Hinchcliffe, but made contact with O’Ward with Palou right behind Jones!
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O’Ward brought out the caution flag a short time later on lap 20 when the right rear driveshaft failed on the front stretch.
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The caution flag shuffled the field as some cars went to pit road for service while other cars stayed out to gain track position, giving the lead to Helio Castroneves, who took a turn at the front of the field until he went to pit road on lap 34, giving the lead to Colton Herta.
Herta earned his turn at the front as he was making moves through the field throughout the race and following the last restart, it was Newgarden and Dixon giving chase. Palou was behind Dixon in fourth doing what he needed to get the car to the checkered flag in one piece.
Herta pulled away in the end to a .5883-second victory, his ?? win of 2021. Newgarden finished second to jump O’Ward for second in the Championship, 38-points behind Palou.
Dixon finished third followed by Palou in fourth. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud rounded out the Top 5.
Alexander Rossi, Jack Harvey, Sebastian Bourdais, Takuma Sato and Will Power made up spots 6 through 10.
Honda claimed the Engine Manufacturer’s Championship for the fourth straight year.
Josef Newgarden wins pole position for INDYCAR Acura Long Beach Grand Prix
LONG BEACH, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES season-ending Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Newgarden’s fast lap of 1-minute, 8.2241-seconds around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile street circuit was .2181-seconds faster than Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon’s best lap in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.
The pole position and valuable Championship point is exactly what Newgarden needs to do to win his third series title. Newgarden enters the race in third position in the standings, 48-points behind leader Alex Palou, and must win, lead the most laps and hope Palou finishes 25th or worse.
“It’s very improbable for us to win this championship,” Newgarden said. “So, our goal is to win the race tomorrow. Let’s finish our season on a high note, and we’ll see what happens. I think it’s pretty unlikely, but you never say never in this sport.”
The only other driver with a shot at the Championship is Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, who will start eighth in the 28-car field. O’Ward also needs to win and hope for Palou to finish 25th or worse.
“Our car has been good,” said O’Ward. “We didn’t roll off the best, but I think we made some really good changes, just kept improving. We had enough for the Fast 6.”
Palou will start 10th in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Palou and O’Ward were on flying laps when they were forced to slow for a local yellow for Will Power, costing both valuable lap time which eventually cost both the ability to advance to the final round of knockout-style qualifying.
“That yellow flag didn’t help us at all,” said Palou. “I think we were going to be easy through, but racing stuff, right? I’m happy because the car’s good, a bit better than yesterday and this morning.”
“Kind of sucks to get hosed by a very odd call,” added O’Ward. “We should have been in the Fast 6.”
Palou must finish 12th or better – or 13th or better if he leads a lap – to clinch his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship and CGR’s 14th title since 1996!
Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network. A 30-minute warmup starts at noon (ET), live on Peacock Premium.
Colton Herta goes back-to-back at Laguna Seca
MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta won Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey giving him back-to-back victories two decades after his father accomplished the same feat. Herta beat Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou by 1.9747-seconds to pick up his second victory of 2021 and fifth of his career.
“Alex, really the whole race, was right there,” said Herta. “Then Grosjean at the end pressured Alex, therefore pressured me. To go two-for-two so far (at Laguna Seca) is great. We were fast all weekend, and I’m glad we could pull it off in the race.”
Palou continued his march towards his first series title with a second place after last week’s win at Portland, which gives Palou and the No. 10 NTT DATA team a 35-point lead ahead of second place Pato O’Ward.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have the pace that Colton had,” explained Palou. “I think in reds and blacks he had a bit more. As soon as I tried to catch him, which we tried, I would just cook my tires. Yeah, I couldn’t go as fast as him without losing my tires.”
Palou, O’Ward and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden are the only drivers eligible to win the Astor Challenge Cup at the season finale. Newgarden is third in the standings, 48 points back.
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson were eliminated from contention at this race after finishing 13th and sixth, respectively.
“All weekend we didn’t have it,” O’Ward said. “I truly feel like we used every single ounce of energy and pace that this car had. We pulled off a near-miracle in qualifying to start in the first three rows. In the race, honestly, that was as much as I had.
“All we can do at Long Beach is win, and then let everything else fall. I’ve got faith in myself. I know I’m pretty handy around a street course, so let’s see what we can pull off next week.”
Herta’s victory clinched the Manufacturers Championship for the fourth consecutive season.