Chip Ganassi has a slogan he references a lot on his social media. “I like winners,” he notes. He isn’t shy about putting himself around great talent and Alex Palou’s rise to stardom further states his case.
Palou, a second year driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, came from virtually no where to become the seventh youngest series champion in the history of the sport.
“It’s as big as it gets. Just to see this young man come along, it’s been a few dry years in the 10 car,” Ganassi said after Palou gave him his 14th INDYCAR championship on Sunday in Long Beach. “I go back to think of Dario and Dan Wheldon in the 10, all the successes they had.”
Ganassi, is thrilled to have a companion to fight for championships with Scott Dixon. See, since Dario Franchitti retired at the end of the 2013 season, he’s struggled to find any balance to this team.
Dixon, had won three championships and 17 races in the seven year span between 2014 and 2020. He also scored 45 podiums in that time frame.
By comparison, the No. 10 car had 115 starts between three drivers in that same time frame. They had two wins, 17 podiums, 30 top fives and 64 top 10’s. The points finishes?
7th, 8th, 7th, 10th, 13th, 6th and 11th respectively.
3rd, 1st, 6th, 3rd, 1st, 3rd and 1st respectively himself. He was no worse than sixth with the 10 car being 6th or worst in all seven years.
That’s a stark comparison from what it was when it was Dixon and Dan Wheldon as teammates between 2006 and 2008 and then Dixon and Dario Franchitti from 2009 through 2013.
The 10 car in that span had 19 wins, 52 podiums, 75 top fives and 97 top 10’s in 133 races. The points finishes were second, fourth, fourth, first, first, first, seventh and 10th respectively.
Now, Palou comes in, wins in his first start with team as well as taking home the championship as well on the heels of three wins, eight podiums, 10 top fives and 12 top 10’s in 16 starts.
“Unfortunately for one reason or another, we haven’t found that right combination for a few years,” Ganassi said of the 10 car. “You have to work just as hard. Sometimes you’re probably working harder than the guys on the 10 car and the 8 and the 48. They have to work harder sometimes than the champion.
“Like last year with Dixon… I’m really, really happy for the team. Championships are won by a lot of hard work, by a lot of people making a lot of sacrifices that aren’t obvious to the naked eye or get lost and they never get the press or the coverage of the late nights over the winter in Indianapolis, cold and dark and blowing snow. Guys are in there toiling away on their computers or on their cars, making them just a little better, getting ready for the start of the season or getting ready for the Indianapolis 500. That’s where the championships are won.
“There’s a whole slew of people back in Indianapolis that I’m sure right now have a big smile on their face. They’re in our race shop, family members that aren’t able to be here with their spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends. It’s a pleasure to represent those people. So that’s what makes this championship special.”
This really is the best the 10 car has been since Franchitti was in it. Franchitti, is now in a advisory and coaching role with the team and sees first hand on how well Palou is doing.
“It’s great to see the 10 car having success again. It’s a lot of the same crew when we won our last championship in 2011, our last 500 in 2012. It’s nice to see them having that success again, the smile on their face.
“It was a tough time. A lot of the guys, whether Tony or Felix, it was tough to go up against Scott. Again, I know how difficult it is going up against Scott.
“I think Alex has done a tremendous job this year with that. Nice to see all the cars getting results.
“I think he’s worked so hard, him, the whole 10 car team. They’ve just really worked hard from the first race. One of our first conversations, Alex and I, Listen now, you’re now in a team that in the pit stops and the strategy, they’re going to help you to win races so you don’t have to worry about driving 105%. If you get in position to win a race, et cetera, et cetera. He shows up in Barber and wins. I’m like, Hmm, okay, he got that message loud and clear straightaway. He’s a fast learner.
“We thought he was good when we signed him. He’s even better than that. He’s a hard worker. Behind that very nice, polite exterior, he’s just tough as anything, man. His recovery in Indy after the crash, the way he came back from that, he’s impressive.
“We, me, all of us at Chip Ganassi Racing, are delighted he’s driving the No. 10 car.
“As Chip calls it: You’re either a Sunday driver or your not. I think with Alex we have a Sunday driver.”
As far as when they knew they had a “Sunday driver” in Palou?
“It’s pretty interesting. I think the first test was done in Birmingham,” Ganassi said. “We went down there. All four cars were there. He ended up quickest. We were like, geeze. But we were trying a lot of things. You never really know at a test on a particular day, time of the day, tires, whatever. You always find some rationalization for why a guy was fast or wasn’t fast.
“We kind of just took it with a grain the salt I would think. Then of course we show up for the race, he was fastest in practice. We said, Okay, great, that’s nice, but we have qualifying, a race, plenty of talent around the paddock. Then he was, of course, fastest in qualifying, then won the race.
“He had Will Power and Dixon breathing down his neck the whole day. He showed there that he could stand the pressure. He could win. He didn’t put a wheel wrong all day.
“You sort of build on that. You go from there. But, yeah, early on in the season, you just don’t know if a young guy like that has staying power all season or does he get tired in June or July or something.
“I’ve always said that driving INDYCARS, the actual driving part is not hard, the travel is not too hard, the testing is not bad, the sponsorship work around our team is not hard. For some reason when you put it all together, it’s hard.
“He was able to put all that together and still have more in his tank.”
That’s good news for this team moving forward.
Now he’s a champion driving for a team that he’s always wanted to be a part of. He said back before the season even started that he just wanted to be in a position to be part of a winning team, a historical team, and to be in the No. 10 is just amazing to him. He cites that the car has so much history behind it, so many like races and championships. It’s amazing to be a part of us.
“I thought that it was 50 percent of my dream,” he said. “One of the dreams was to come here to the U.S. once you are in the U.S. you want to be more and you want to be competitive, and to be competitive I wanted to be part of Chip.
“I actually introduced myself to Chip at the Indy 500 because I wanted to be part of that team. I saw the spirit of the team, just because of the years I was following. And yeah, to be part of Chip Ganassi is 50 percent of another dream, which is to become a champion.
“But it’s just 50 percent. I have to do the job now.”
The job he did. The pressure was on but he says that he never felt it. He says it’s actually quite the opposite.
“That pressure has been with me since I was six years old and I started racing in go-karts. That pressure of winning, you have it every year. It’s not changing now. I feel less pressure now. I have the car to do it. I have the people to do it. It’s not the pressure of doing something crazy.
“The guy I’m going to race with, Scott Dixon, he won four races last year. They are giving me the resources to do it, so it’s up to me.
“The pressure of winning, that’s racing, and you have to win to be able to race another year. That’s been always with me, and it doesn’t change this year. If so, it makes it a bit easier just because it’s the first time in my life that I am in a big team.
“I think it’s the opportunity that you search since you start on karting,” said the Spaniard. “But then when you move up, that’s the dream. That’s the biggest dream. It’s amazing to have the opportunity this early.
“I think having a rookie year, that’s going to help a lot personally, mainly because I don’t have to worry like the basic things about how is the weekend schedule, like what do we have to do during a weekend, what’s the new tracks I have to be. I’m still going to have some new tracks to learn, but there’s going to be less than in 2020 for sure.
“I just think I’m a bit more prepared for sure. I have a better car. I have better data because now I have three teammates. Last year I had only one, so I have more information. One of them is a six-time INDYCAR champion, the other is a seven-time NASCAR champion, and then there’s Marcus and Tony, as well, depending on the race.”