Alex Palou enters this weekend as the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader. But, before we look ahead, we have to look back at the last race on the schedule – the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Palou, fully stamped his name as an Indy Car driver. Not like he wasn’t before, but Indy is a place to where you get noticed. Nothing against what he did as a rookie in the series last year or his season opening win at the Barber Motorsports Park, but the Indy 500 is the Indy 500. It’s the place to where AJ Foyt said made AJ Foyt said made him.
It’s the place to where it led Palou to the ride that he’s in now. Then, he goes out and nearly wins. Palou, finished runner-up.
“It hurts. It hurts a lot,” Palou said after the race. “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. I tried everything. It hurts. But to be honest, it’s good to lose against probably one of the best.”
Palou said then that 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.”
Well, here we are almost two weeks later and Palou is about to strap into his No. 10 Honda on Friday in preparation for this weekend’s doubleheader in Detroit. How does he feel?
“Yeah, I mean, when you’re at home and you see that race and you see everybody that is super upset when they finish second or third, you’re like, Why are you upset about that,” Palou said to me on Wednesday. “Like I was super happy with a third-place finish at the Indy road course, but I was a bit upset with a second finish at the Indy 500, which is more important, and I should be more happy.
“It’s such a big event. It’s so hard to get everything right. You need to have a really good car, really good five pit stops, strategy must be on point, and I had the fastest car, so I felt like I had one opportunity, and you never know if you’re going to have it again next year, in five years or ten or never. That’s why I was — I was not upset, I was just a bit down, but that was only for five minutes and then I realized I was racing for Chip Ganassi Racing at the Indy 500 within seconds. That was a good experience, good battle and good fun.”
As to now that he’s watched Indy, is there anything he’s learned that he’d do differently?
“I think it all came down to traffic, so I think I would just have waited for the last pass a little bit more,” he said. “But at that point we had Rosenqvist in front, and that helped me. I actually pulled, and if Rosenqvist kept himself out, I think we would have had a chance to just go or maybe to fight again, but yeah, he went, and I was alone there, and he got traffic.
“Maybe just wait, but it’s super easy to say it now. Maybe a yellow comes out and you are waiting there second and you are like, why did I wait. So yeah.”
Now though, it’s time to close the book on Indy and look forward. Palou gears up for Belle Isle this weekend and as a great consolation prize, sits as the current points leader. He leads his teammate Scott Dixon by 36 markers heading to Belle Isle.
Palou, said after Indy that even with being the points leader, he’s not worried about that yet.
“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,” he said then.
“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.”
The thing is, Dixon has so much experience at Detroit where for Palou, this will be his first time there this weekend.
“Yeah, it’s going to be challenging for sure,” he said. “I’ve never been to Detroit. It looks — the track looks awesome. Looks really bumpy. But yeah, I think the layout, it’s super nice as a street course. I’m looking forward.
“I think it’s super good for me that there’s a double race just so I can — I know I have a second chance on Sunday. Yeah, having the free practice on Friday, that’s going to help me to slip in and rethink everything that I did for the first qualifying. But yeah, looking forward. The Chip Ganassi Racing team had some good results in ’19 and ’18, so yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”
The main issue is, Palou has one practice session to get it all right. Is that enough?
“Well, if I would have three free practices like they used to have before, I would be happier, I guess, learning a new track on a street course and still trying to get myself to the limit and then get the car to the limit,” he said. “But it is what it is. It’s going to be all right. I think it’s going to be tough the first qualifying because, as Ryan said, it’s so competitive, it’s so close that when you are not at 100 percent and you are not 100 percent confident with the car, you lose one or two tenths and that can give you a P5 or a P15.”
Palou also mentioned to me that he has a grid penalty on top of that which costs him six spots for Saturday’s race.
“We also have a grid penalty, I think, for the first race, so that’s going to make our stuff really hard, but yeah, we’ll try and have some clean and good strategies, and we’ll be up there by the end of the race,” he told me.
As to what the penalty is for?
“Because we had to change our race engine during the 500,” he said.