BELLE ISLE, Mich — Alex Palou had low expectations entering this weekend’s doubleheader on the streets of Belle Isle. See, he was one of seven drivers entered this weekend to have never raced on the 2.35-mile circuit. But, as the NTT IndyCar Series points leader, he knew that he had to manage his weekend and temper expectations.
Palou, struggled early on. He qualified 21st but due to a grid penalty, he would start last. The Spaniard never was able to do much as he brought his No. 10 Honda home in 15th.
He went from 36 points up over Scott Dixon and 37 on Pato O’Ward to 15 points up over O’Ward in a day. After Day 2, O’Ward made up 16 more points and passes Palou for the top spot in the standings. But, Palou is still only one point out.
Yes, he lost 37 points but the silver lining is that he’s still right there. His championship is still very much in tact.
“Why is it bad news then?” Palou said when told he lost the points lead on Sunday but only by one point. “We’re still there. I mean, at the end you have to look until now who has been the best, and that’s Pato for sure and then it’s us.
“We’ve been doing a lot. We’ve been working really hard to get me up to speed. I think the team has been giving me a race car to win every weekend, which that’s awesome coming into a new weekend and knowing that you’re going to be able to fight for the wins, that’s amazing. It’s just all about me working with myself, and yeah, as I said, it’s amazing what the 10 car did from yesterday to today, and we’re going to keep on growing and keep on trying to win.”
With being at the midway mark of the season and him already having a win and sitting second in points, is this were he envisioned where he’d be in his first year at Ganassi?
“Yeah, I obviously wanted to see myself P1, but P2 and only one point off P1, it’s really good,” Palou told me. “Learning new tracks this year, doing new races that are crazy like Detroit and the Indy 500, getting to experience the full race and battling with experienced guys, so it’s been awesome. It’s been a lot of learning, but finally we’re going to Road America. I’ve been there. We’ve been really competitive there, so I cannot wait. Mid-Ohio and those places that I’ve been there, I’m really looking forward because that’s where I think we can have a plus.”
Palou, was still remarkably better on Sunday. He qualified fourth and finished third. What did he learn in the span of a day?
“Yeah, I think overall we just had a better performance everywhere,” he said. “We had a better performance in one, two laps as we saw in qualifying, and also during the race I was able to go really fast, get the tires to work and fight with the guys.
“Yeah, I think we just improved overall. I think it’s a really tough track to come here and just have one hour of practice. I was not super comfortable with the car yesterday, but Julian, my engineer, and all the groups of engineers that I have in the 10 car gave me the right car today to be able to have the confidence and push forward today.”
Palou, was running third, over 10 seconds back before the caution for his teammate Jimmie Johnson on Lap 54. Was that his shot to potentially win or did he have anything for Newgarden or Herta up front on the next restart?
“To be honest, on pure pace I think Colton was probably the strongest,” he told me. “Yeah, I don’t think I had — I think Josef was like 10 seconds in front of me, so I don’t think I could have got to Josef. Maybe yeah because he was on used reds, so maybe he got — by the end of the race he could have got a really big deg, but that didn’t happen.
“Yeah, I was happy. I was just happy to be able to fight. When Pato came by, I was like, wow, what is he doing, does he have tire warmers or something because he was the only one able to do that. I think we have to figure out what that team is doing and try and do ourselves that for the next couple of races.
“But yeah, that was a fun battle, and I think we did the most we could. Maybe Josef if I had three, four more laps, but we didn’t have it. So P3 is a really good result.”
Palou has five top four finishes in eight races run this season and coming up on some good tracks for him. In Road America, he was third and seventh respectively in the doubleheader weekend there last year. Then its to Mid-Ohio to where he qualified well but was caught up in an opening lap crash in Race 2 last September. Then, we go to an inaugural race in Nashville followed by another trip to the Indianapolis road course to where he was third last month.
“Yeah, it’s always good to go to Road America already being good on points,” he said. “Yeah, I cannot wait to go to Road America. I’ve been waiting for Road America since I left Road America last year. It’s probably my favorite track. We got the first podium there. I love that track, and also Mid-Ohio. So the two races that we have now are going to be awesome for the 10 car, and hopefully we can get a double win.”