INDIANAPOLIS — AJ Foyt will always say, “Indianapolis made me.” Well, Alex Palou may look back one day and say the same. This is the place to where Chip Ganassi Racing took note of him last August. Palou, a rookie in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2020, shined here. He was fast all month and qualified his Dale Coyne Racing entry in seventh. Unfortunately, he crashed on Lap 121 and finished 28th.
But, his performance stood out among the Ganassi camp. When Felix Rosenqvist told them that he’d join Arrow McLaren SP for 2021, they had his replacement already in mind – Palou. It was all because of Indianapolis.
Well, Palou paid them back with a season opening win in Barber. He nearly won them just their third Indy 500 since 2009 on Sunday too.
Palou, finished just .4928-seconds behind Helio Castroneves in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 for a runner-up in the biggest race in the world. Palou, inherited the lead when Takuma Sato hit pit lane on Lap 193. Castroneves, passed him one lap later for the top spot, then two laps later, Palou got him back.
Castroneves was coming. Palou, was doing everything in his power to hold him off. But, with lapped traffic ahead, Castroneves timed it right and got by Palou with two laps-to-go. Despite having what he felt like a faster car, Palou couldn’t do anything with it.
“To be honest, I think when I say we had the fastest car, I mean because as soon as Helio was passing me, I was able to get him back before turn three or even in turn one,” he said. “I was able just to manage when I wanted to pass him.
“But the thing is that after three, four laps, he was behind me, he was able to pass me and I couldn’t really do anything because it was overtaking me all the car.
“When he passed me, I was like, Oh, maybe that’s going to be bad for me just because we were reaching the traffic. As soon as you’re on traffic, you’re not P2 any more, you’re like P8. When you are P8 on a pack, it was not easy to pass today.
“So, yeah, I still tried, fight for it, turn three, turn four. It was not enough. For sure the traffic made the things a bit more difficult today. That’s part of racing. At some other areas, some other parts of the race the traffic was helping me. This time Helio was a bit luckier at the end. Yeah, he deserve it.”
After Castroneves passed him, he had a tow from Ryan Hunter-Reay around the 2.5-mile track. But, Hunter-Reay had a few cars in front of him too. Remember, the drivers all said that the top three or four cars could pass with ease. But, fifth on back, well it was difficult.
Palou, was too far back in the track to make a move count on Castroneves and he had to settle for second.
“It hurts. It hurts a lot,” Palou continued. “I didn’t expect that a second place would hurt that much until I crossed the finish line. But I’m super proud, super happy. I think the No. 10 NTT Data car was super fast. I had the best car for sure.
“I was really confident. It was a close battle until the end. The good thing is that the two cars were Honda powered. That’s good. Congrats to Helio and Honda.
“Yeah, I tried everything. It hurts. But to be honest, it’s good to lose against probably one of the best. Well, it’s one of the best, probably the best. Yeah, it’s Helio.
“I don’t know why, but he had three, and why he wanted four? He could have gave me one (smiling). I just wanted one. But it’s okay. We’ll come back next year, for sure.”
Palou said this disappointment is the beauty of racing.
“When it hurts, it’s good because you know there’s something better. When you win, it’s like the most satisfying thing.
“When you lose, for me, c’mon, we finished second in my second Indy 500. How can I be sad? I just hurts a little bit. Because I wanted that win more than anything, but Helio wanted it as well. I think all the 33 drivers wanted the same.
“I’m happy. I’m living the dream, man. I’m able to drive the fastest car for the best team around Indianapolis and and fight for it. Everything was good today.”
A silver lining here is Palou took over the points lead as he is ahead of his teammate Scott Dixon by 36 markers heading to Belle Isle in two weeks. Despite that, he said that he’s not focused on that at the moment.
“I’m not thinking about that too much. I think when you start thinking about the championship, if you’re not executing on track, there’s no point. If you are executing on track, it makes no point either.
“We just try to make session by session as we’ve been doing. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing everywhere, I think we’ll be able to fight until the end for this championship.
“For sure it’s good to get a little bit of gap now after the 500. I think we’ve been able to get a lot of points in our, let’s say, weaker places like Texas and here. Super proud about that. Cannot wait to go to my area, let’s say. I’m more comfortable there.
“Yeah, super happy. We’ll keep on fighting.”