SALINAS, Calif — Alex Palou was as shocked as all of us when he blitzed the field in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver who’s future with the team is unknown, was doing the best he could to help either Scott Dixon or Marcus Ericsson take home some hardware with them back to Indianapolis.
If Palou could beat the Penske trio, then he’d done his job. He just didn’t expect to beat them this badly.
“Yeah, we knew it was going to be a tough race even before coming here this weekend because we tested here, and we kind of had good sessions, bad sessions during the weekend,” Palou said. “Yesterday we ended up really good in the warmup. Super happy with the car. Today, this morning, sorry.
“And then yeah, with that engine penalty, we just knew it was going to be tougher, at least the first stint, but to be honest, yeah, our car was on rails today. Didn’t struggle with tire deg like we did at Portland and the last couple of races.
“I don’t know, but man, I’m happy that we ended this way.”
Palou qualified 5th but a grid penalty dropped him to 11th. On a track notoriously hard to pass on, gaining 10 spots in a 95 lap race could prove difficult.
However, by Lap 19 he was passing Will Power for the lead. By time every had pit for the final time, the Penske tandem of Josef Newgarden and Power sat 2nd and 3rd respectively. Dixon and Ericsson didn’t need them to win the race and there their teammate Palou unexpectedly, especially to him, out front by a mile.
Palou won by over 30-seconds. A margin so big that if you combine the winning margin for the other 16 races run this season, it wouldn’t even add up to 30 seconds. Did that surprise him?
“Absolutely, yeah, especially with all the issues we had the past races,” he says. “Like Portland we were up there, we were strong but suffered tire deg. We knew there was something wrong on the car. We changed tubs for this last race. Yeah, you never know what was going on, but yeah, for sure, I was surprised.
“To be honest we were strong in the warmup but I didn’t know if we were that strong especially on consecutive laps. Actually before the race and even yesterday, we had an event with NTT and Josef was there and I said that I didn’t have the pace that they had on used tires.
“I don’t know, but everything went super well today. I mean, last weekend in Portland, we finished 12th and everybody was overtaking me. It’s INDYCAR; it’s not like every weekend you have the best car or the worst car, as we could see. Yeah, we’ll see what happens.”
What makes this bittersweet is this was the first race since October 2020 that Palou would go into and not have a shot at a championship. To have a performance with a car like this in a meaningless race for him, well that was cumbersome to him.
“I wish I had that pressure of fighting for the championship and points in my mind,” he said. “I love that. I love that. I felt sad coming to this weekend. I really, when I said that going to Portland we were going to have a chance, I really thought I had a chance, and that didn’t happen.
“I was really sad. I wish that I couldn’t sleep last night because I was thinking about points, but it was not like that this year, so yeah, we’ll try again next year.”