INDIANAPOLIS — Alex Palou has never been to any of these tracks here in the NTT IndyCar Series before. He’s spent his life racing overseas. In fact, he’s never raced on an oval prior to this past June at the Texas Motor Speedway and even that night ended early when he was an innocent bystander in crash with fellow rookie driver Rinus VeeKay. So, this could be a daunting task for not only a rookie driver, but he’s going faster here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than he’s ever gone in his life.
“Amazing place, I love it,” Palou said on Friday morning. “We had really good two first days. I was just trying to get comfortable with the track.
Despite that, he’s quietly been the best rookie among the talented five driver rookie class.
Palou, led all rookies on the speed charts on opening day with a top speed of 223.128 mph in his No. 55 Honda. That was good enough for P8. He backed that up on Thursday with a top lap of 224.971 mph. That was P5.
For a rookie driver in a field as competitive as this one is, he’s not supposed to be this fast this early. He’s a driver to watch as the month progresses on.
“We had such a good first day, I was a bit worried that oh God maybe we had too good of a first day,” Palou said of his early impressions. “Everybody can go down right? Yesterday we went up again. We were even faster. I was even more comfortable in traffic. I’m just looking forward to the real thing so I can know where we are.
“This is my first time getting a big tow and yeah you really feel the speed. We’re still not able in our case or our car to get a run just because we’re playing it safe on downforce levels.
“It’s been a surprise but not a felling that I can’t do.”
Now, the boost levels get turned up on Friday for the Fast Friday sessions. This will by far be the quickest the Spanish driver has ever gone.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward,” said the rookie driver. “Excited for that. I was real excited yesterday before going out on track. It felt quicker than I thought. Tomorrow (Friday) is going to be, the most power we had. It’s going to be a big difference.
“Let’s see how it goes. I don’t know how much speed are we going to gain. Today we saw that people is already doing 225. So, yeah, I think we going to go well over 230s on qualifying, and that’s going to be tricky.”
Palou is excited for a full day on Fast Friday just to prepare the car for qualifying.
“I think that we showed, and the team progressed a lot, when we have track time,” Palou continued. “So, yeah, I think it’s going to be a good day tomorrow as well.”
One thing he doesn’t have to worry about is being bumped. We have 33 cars for 33 spots. Despite that, he still wanted to know what it feels like to have the fear of not making the show.
“Yeah, for sure,” Palou said. “I think that for sure it’s a relief to know that you’re going to do the race. I think that at the end of the day I knew that I had the car capable of doing the show without any problems. It was up to me to make the show.
“So, yeah, anyway knowing that you going to race for sure next week, it’s a relief. I don’t have to be thinking about that. I can go and attack a bit more I think in qualifying. It takes pressure off, for sure.
“But to be honest, I would love to feel that fear of not making the show, having so many people having pressure. I think that’s what drives us. I think that’s what makes this thing so special. Yeah, it’s just a shame that my first experience in Indy 500 is going to be like that, not the full experience.
“But anyway, I’m looking forward. It’s good that we are here. We going to go and try to make a good result at the end of the day.”
Palou says that in Europe you couldn’t really follow Indy Car. The ‘500 though, you can see it. The Spanish driver said F1 was always his dream as a kid but when he got to 10 he felt like he needed to do something to get there. He watched a lot of races with his dad when he was younger of the Indy 500 and it’s a dream to get here to race against drivers that he watched when he was younger like Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon in this race.
He also notes that this is his first time racing against Fernando Alonso too. Sharing the biggest sporting event in the world with such an icon in his home country will surely help him grow in popularity back home too. But, he also notes that Alonso, not him is still getting all of the attention in Spain right now despite him being faster.
“It’s going to help because people are going to be more focused in Spain,” Palou said of having Alonso in this year’s race. “The first day, Fernando I think finished P4, so all the news was Fernando finished P4. I think yesterday we finished P5 and all the news was Fernando.
“If you watch the news in Spain, you’re not going to see anything that I’m ahead of him. Does it help me? I don’t know. It’s good to I think maybe finish ahead of him and show everybody that it’s not only him racing from Spain.”
Palou is a strong rookie so far and if he continues this effort here in Indy Car, he’s going to be a big star. He’s got a ton of talent and it’s being shown this week.