Palou dominates Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix, recap with my 5 takeaways

INDIANAPOLIS — When Alex Palou wins, he really wins in a big way. In his last win in the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season finale at Laguana Seca, he led 67 laps and won by over a half of a minute. On Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Spaniard won by 16.8006-seconds en route to not only his fifth career victory, but first on these hallowed grounds.

“Yeah, every win is special, honestly. We’ve been close here,” Palou told me. “We had little bit of bad luck. I know in ’21 we had a failure when we were going for the fight for the win at the end. It was the first race that everything came perfectly, the strategy, the tires, the speed of the car, myself obviously.

“Super proud. It’s a special place. You can feel that in the car just with the fans that we had already since practice one. There’s something about this place obviously. Even if it’s not the big one, it’s still special.

“So super proud of the first win of the season, first win with the American Legion, as well, and first win at the IMS. Couldn’t be better.”

As a result of his victory, Palou now inherits the points lead heading into the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (May 28). He has five top five finishes in as many starts this season including four straight top fives.

“I’ve always said that we had a good season so far, but we didn’t really have a clean day,” said Palou of his points lead. “Today was the first clean day. The speed was amazing, strategy, pit stops, everything went really smooth.

“Yeah, we’re not going to stop here. We’re going to try and keep the championship lead until the end of the championship, and hopefully get the second one.

“Yeah, thinking about today only, then when it comes to Monday, we’ll start thinking about the big one.”

Palou had the right strategy on the right day by being the only driver in the top seven starters to start the race on the Firestone alternates. He says they made that decision from what they learned during the morning warmup and noticed the fall off on the reds. That allowed them to completely change their approach to the 85 lap race to which they went the Firestone primary tires the rest of the way.

He took over the lead for the final time on Lap 65 and never looked back in doing so.

“Amazing,” Palou said of having a car that good. “I mean, everything goes so well. The car feels how you want it to feel. Even though we had a lot of traffic by lap cars at the end on the last stint, yeah, we didn’t have too much, so we could run our pace.

“I think once you have your day that you’re comfortable with the car, it’s doable to do. Obviously those days don’t come too often here in INDYCAR. It’s so tight. With three, four pit stops, it’s tough to do.

“Yeah, glad that we made it today. A win is the same if you do it by 30 seconds or by 1/10th. Obviously feels better for myself, for the confidence. Yeah, a win is a win.”

Pato O’Ward finished runner-up for the third time in five races this season in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet while Alexander Rossi, Christian Lundgaard and Felix Rosenqvist rounded out the top five.

Alex Palou wins the GMR Grand Prix – INDYCAR Media Site

Palou Has Become Lead Ganassi Driver…

Around this time last year, drama was circulating in the Alex Palou camp. From what it sounds like, Palou wanted a new contract to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing during the 2021-2022 offseason. Palou felt like he was owed it. After all, he had just won the series championship and was operating on essentially a rookie deal.

Chip Ganassi gave Palou a lifeline in 2020. Ganassi knew Palou was interested that August and they were interested in him back. Without the funding or a return to Dale Coyne Racing in 2021, Ganassi made him a lower offer as a base but longer security to prove it.

Palou felt 2021 was a way to prove it. Ganassi felt a contract is a contract. That led Palou to look elsewhere and Zak Brown was either on the receiving end of Palou’s management or the other way around. Palou felt he had an option to get out of his contract with Ganassi and be free for 2023. When Ganassi found out, it was around this time and he was fuming.

That soured the relationship between Palou and Ganassi. After three podiums in four races prior, he had two over the next 12. The battle was going through litigation. The two sides came together and decided that it was best to work out a deal together. Palou would stay but allowed to be F1 test driver for McLaren. It was pretty clear that Palou’s final year with Ganassi would be this one.

Now that the tension was gone, Palou and Ganassi mended fences and he went out and won Laguna Seca. This season, he’s back at it with four top fives in five races including a win.

It’s clear why Ganassi didn’t want to let Palou get away. He’s that good.

Since he joined Ganassi in 2021, he’s won 13% (5-for-38) of his starts. He also has 15 podiums (39%) and 19 top five finishes (50%). By comparison, Scott Dixon has won three times in this span, had 10 podiums.

This has become Palou’s team but it sounds like Palou may not want it. He may be leaving…

Felix Rosenqvist Friday at IMS. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Great “Team” Day For Arrow McLaren Racing

It’s hard enough to get one Top-5 finish for a car in an organization in INDYCAR, let alone putting three. That’s exactly what Arrow McLaren Racing did on Saturday by finishing second, third and fifth respectively. That’s a feat in and of itself.

“Super stoked for the team,” said O’Ward. “We put three cars in the top five. Fricking hard to do in this series with how competitive it is. Just stoked for everybody in the organization, for our 5 crew.”

O’Ward says that it’s not only good as a team, but to also do so at a track that they’ve traditionally struggled at was big. They always qualify well here, they just don’t finish.

Felix Rosenqvist started 6th and 1st respectively here last year but didn’t have a top five to show for it. Pato O’Ward qualified fifth and third but didn’t even have a top 10 to show for it. In fact, he finished fifth from his 2021 pole in the summer race here. What’s baffling is, O’Ward had four top 5 starting spots in his last five starts here, but three of his last four finishes had been 12th or worse. Rosenqvist had one top 5 in 8 tries.

They came out Saturday firing. O’Ward satred fifth and finished runner-up. Rossi came from 10th to finish third. Rosenqvist went from second back to only fifth.

This gives them massive momentum heading to the Indy 500.

“Historically this hasn’t been the best of tracks for us. So this is awesome to see just the massive step forward we’ve taken here in race pace. Super happy to see that,” O’Ward notes.

“Rolling with some great momentum into our Super Bowl.”

Pato O’Ward during the GMR Grand Prix – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

O’Ward Bridesmaid Once More

Pato O’Ward could be dejected. A third runner-up finish in five races this season. Instead, he leaves Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix in a jubilant mood. He’ll take it. 16 podiums in 60 starts and 27 top five finishes leave him with joy. He knows that as long as you keep it close, the wins will eventually come. His teammate Alexander Rossi says he ought to enough the runner-up’s because this series is far to difficult not to. O’Ward agrees.

“Man, I’m flowing. I know my wins will come. I’m chilling,” he says.

“I mean, honestly, if we’re second for the rest of the season, we’re chilling. Yeah, they will fall. Is it going to fall the next one, in two, three, four, five? Who knows. Is it going to fall until next year? You never know.

“I sure know that what we’ve been doing, we’ve been knocking on the door every single weekend. Like, there hasn’t been one weekend where we’re lost, no. There’s been some weekends where we haven’t started off that strong. We make changes and we’re right there.

“I’m just really enjoying it, we just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”

In the season opener on the streets of St. Pete, he had the race won. He took over the lead when Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean crashed each other on Lap 71. Then an electrical malfunction in his engine not of his doing with two laps remaining handed the win to Marcus Ericsson instead. Despite 23 laps led, he left runner-up.

“Frazzled,” said O’Ward of his emotions that day.

A plenum event is the official diagnoses of what transpired to which kept O’Ward out of victory lane in the season opener.

“Well, at that point you can’t really do much besides just kind of — I didn’t have a lot of Push-to-Pass to play with, so I was managing it accordingly, and I think we would have been just fine,” O’Ward said of the bad luck. “We were managing a one-second gap, and I don’t think Marcus was going to get us.

“Yeah, I mean, kind of speaks for itself. Right at the exit, we kind of lost drive and gained it back. We were lucky not to get passed by Scott.

“Yeah, I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s very unfortunate.”

The next race in Texas, he had a fast car, had everyone minus Josef Newgarden lapped. Then came a caution for his teammate Felix Rosenqvist crashing. It let Newgarden and everyone else back in it. Still, O’Ward was timing his passes late in the race to beat Newgarden in a last lap photo finish.

A caution again. Second again. He led 91 laps that day.

“I knew I could have won,” said O’Ward. “It’s just there was really no other way to do it besides timing it. You had to do it the last lap ’cause if not, they were probably going to do it to you.

“Just the timing of the last yellow is what really killed us to be honest. All the other ones, you can’t judge when they fall or didn’t fall. If they did, it would probably be a very different story.”

Being overly aggressive led to a bad 17th place Long Beach result before a rebound to fourth in Barber. Now, a runner-up at Indy again.

O’Ward trails Alex Palou by six points heading to the most important race of the year.

Pato O’Ward on Friday at IMS. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Palou, O’Ward Indy 500 Favorites

The last two Indy 500 runner-up finishers enter this year’s 107th edition 1-2 in points. 2022 Indy 500 runner-up, Pato O’Ward, says that you can’t take too much from his third runner-up finish of the season into the Indianapolis 500. It’s such a different beast that nothing really translates over. Still, he enters second in points too, only 11 out.

2021 Indy 500 runner-up finisher, Alex Palou, comes into the ‘500 on the heels of a win, his first of the season. That also gives him the points lead too.

Now, while they say you can’t take much from the first five races into the sixth (107th Running of the Indianapolis 500), I think you can definitely count on both to be factors in who wins it.

Palou finished second in that 2021 race to Helio Castroneves. That one stung him. So did last year’s to where he led 47 laps and was leading before having to pit near the midway mark but a caution occurring forcing him to have an emergency service. He’d rebound to finish ninth, but it was another win taken away.

Now, he’s back for a fourth overall try and to exorcise some demons and extend his points lead.

O’Ward on the other hand has been phenomenal here on the oval. He qualified 15th and finished sixth in 2020. A year later, he went from 12th to fourth. Last year, from seventh to second. Can he pick up a win in 15 days?

O’Ward has made 16 oval starts with two wins, five runner-up finishes and 12 top four results including 11 top four’s in his last 12 tries.

Christian Lundgaard leads during the GMR Grand Prix – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Lundgaard Sees Silver Lining In Top 5 Finish, While RLL Struggles

Coming into race day, Saturday’s race was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s to lose. All three cars coming from the top 4 Rows including earning the pole. In 12 of the 13 previous races on the 2.439-mile road course, each of those 12 were won via a top 8 starter. In fact, three of the last four GMR Grand Prix’s were won from a driver coming from Row 4 (Graham Rahal).

3 of the 4 races this season were won from the fourth-place starter (Jack Harvey). The other race this season was won from the pole (Christian Lundgaard).

Unfortunately, not only did none of them reach victory lane, none of the three left with any hardware either. The best finisher was Lundgaard in fourth after leading 13 of 85 laps.

Despite saying on Friday that if he didn’t win, that he’d be disappointed, Lundgaard took a more mature approach after scoring his third career top five finish. He said that it was a relief that the race was actually over because the car was just too tough to drive on Saturday.

“Right now I’m satisfied,” he said. “It just wasn’t as quick today. There was a point of this race where I thought we weren’t going to finish at the top 10 with our balance. To end up with a top five is a win right now. And I think we need to look at the perspective of how our great performance wise and the positives to take from this weekend.”

Lundgaard started on the Firestone primary tires, just as the pole winner typically does here. It’s the safe play. With this track typically being a Firestone alternate race, he could go all out the rest of the way. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case for how his car was handling.

“Yeah, I mean, it was strange because that way that the reds were falling off,” he continued. “So I didn’t really understand how we got to balance so so wrong. But again, it’s things we need to learn from now. Of course, that’s not one of the best things and we’re not in the past. So these are the things that we need to learn.

“I don’t think we got it right today. I don’t think that call was the setup of the car was optimal for today’s race conditions and the tires. But again, it’s great points for us. I mean, I would rather be happy, be happy to say now we finished fourth.”

Lundgaard says he gave it a little more than he had to but the balance was the culprit to what not only kept him out of victory lane, but the podium too.

“I think we struggled a lot with balance today the car was from one one run to another run. It was a different balance. So it’s very, very difficult to to just understand the car. There was a point to where I didn’t really think I was gonna make it through just on balance that the car was so difficult to drive, but it’s here we’re in the top five. So that’s the positive nature of the race.”

That’s a different cry from his teammates. Graham Rahal was punted on the opening lap and had to pit for a flat tire. He tried to make it work on the two stop strategy but fuel saving cost him a good finish. He’d wind up 10th.

Jack Harvey spun on his own accord mid race and from that point forward, was relegated to the back. He limped home a disappointing 20th.

Still, the team can hold their head high that they at least have shown flashes of speed this weekend and hope it returns on the oval configuration next week.

GMR Grand Prix Results

INDIANAPOLIS – Results Saturday of the GMR Grand Prix NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Alex Palou, Honda, 85, Running
2. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
3. (10) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (1) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 85, Running
5. (2) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
7. (13) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (7) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 85, Running
9. (14) Colton Herta, Honda, 85, Running
10. (8) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
11. (18) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 85, Running
12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
13. (17) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (6) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 85, Running
15. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 85, Running
16. (16) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 85, Running
17. (15) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 84, Running
18. (24) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 84, Running
19. (21) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 84, Running
20. (4) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
21. (25) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 84, Running
22. (26) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 84, Running
23. (27) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 80, Running
24. (23) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 79, Running
25. (19) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 58, Mechanical
26. (20) David Malukas, Honda, 2, Contact
27. (22) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 115.234 mph
Time of Race: 01:47:56.7003
Margin of victory: 16.8006 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 12 among 8 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Palou, Alex 1 – 17
Lundgaard, Christian 18 – 19
Rosenqvist, Felix 20 – 22
Ericsson, Marcus 23
Rahal, Graham 24 – 30
Lundgaard, Christian 31 – 41
Palou, Alex 42 – 43
Ericsson, Marcus 44
Dixon, Scott 45 – 47
Palou, Alex 48 – 59
O’Ward, Pato 60 – 61
Rossi, Alexander 62 – 64
Palou, Alex 65 – 85

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