By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Alex Palou came into the NTT IndyCar Series as an unknown to many fans in the United States, but after Saturday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America, his already impressive stock value grew tremendously following a third-place finish at one of the many tracks he’s never raced before.
“That was an awesome race for us. It was a tough day today. My first time here at Road America, having free practice, qualifying and the race in the same day is tough,” Palou on his overall day. “It was tough starting 14th, but we were lucky today. We had a really strong car. I could overtake some guys in the first two laps and then we just had really good pace to overtake when we had clean air.”
Things started off rocky during qualifying as Palou had a pit lane violation penalty and start the 55-lap race in the 14th spot. Once the green flag dropped in front a large crowd, the qualifying error turned out to be one of the few blemishes to his Saturday as Palou race can be best described as nearly perfect.
The only thing that got in the Spaniard’s way was two slow pit stops. Notably, when the left tire got in the way of the tire changer on Lap 26, slowing his stop a bit and lost ground to Scott Dixon, who he was ahead of for a period of time. Dixon went on to score his 49th career win and start the year 3-0.
The former Super GT and Super Formula racer didn’t gave up as he drove the wheels out of his No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing w/ Team Goh Honda. This was definitely the case once three full course cautions came out in a short period of time, giving him an ultimate opportunity to make daring moves, especially towards Ryan Hunter-Reay.
His DCR teammate Santino Ferrucci had a more stronger car, but after being blocked by Dalton Kellett on pit road, it cost him a shot of his first career INDYCAR podium. With Ferrucci out of the picture, Palou took baton for DCR to assure the two-car stable will get that coveted podium result.
With the final spot of the podium on the line, Palou wowed the crowd by going to the top side and with little room of real estate, he cleared the former INDYCAR champion in Turn 1 with 11 laps to go. Hunter-Reay wouldn’t be done without a valiant fight, but the action was halted when the final caution waved for Kellett, who went into the Turn 14 gravel.
Palou was ahead of Hunter-Reay, but Race Control sent him back to fourth because that’s where he was when the caution officially waved. No problem for the 23-year-old as he tried it again with 8 laps to go. Only this time, it was Palou going low to make the move and seamlessly pulled away from Hunter-Reay.
What made it possible to be in a great position to battle with the former champions goes to his crew for nailing their final pit stop and having a really good car.
“The crew was amazing and caught a lot of guys. We were P4 on the last stop and I thought we had really a good car,” said Palou. “After the last restart, I could just follow Ryan and Will (Power), so I tried overtaking Ryan and we overtook him two times, so it was a nice race for us.”
Those two rolling restarts can be attributed to his Super GT experience and his race team, so Palou is no stranger to the format, but still had to learn new techniques when it comes to restarts in INDYCAR.
“We went through everything because a lot of stuff are new to me, like restarts. Even if I did with a GT, but it’s not the same running with a more gentleman class than running against Will Power and Scott Dixon,” said Palou.
When it was all set and done, Palou was pretty comfortable with his car during those restarts.
“I had a really good car on the last corner, so that’s why I could go really close. I think I was also able to put temperature on the front tires. Both restarts were really good,” Palou added.
The rookie was gaining ground on Will Power, but just ran out of laps and used up his push-to-passes, preventing him to amount a true charge for a runner-up finish.
Nonetheless, Palou wound up with a superb finish and was 10 spots ahead of Rinus VeeKay, who ended up as the second highest finishing rookie.
Palou also has the distinction of being the first rookie to reach the podium this season and the first Spaniard to accomplish this feat since Oriol Servia finished second at Baltimore on September 4, 2011.
There won’t be a lot of rest between now and the next INDYCAR race as Palou and the rest of the 22 drivers will hit the 4.014-mile circuit for another 55 laps Sunday with the second leg of the doubleheader commencing at Noon EST on NBC.
A very confident and energetic Palou feels his car is capable for another top-10 in Elkhart Lake, hoping to improve on his starting position to put himself in a better spot to back up his solid result.
“It’s my first podium in INDYCAR and having it on the third race of the year is awesome. It gives me a lot of confidence, but the thing that gives me more confidence is that we got all 55 laps tomorrow,” said Palou. “I just know how the track and car is going to feel to improve on qualifying. Top-six will be our target and awesome for us. Then we’ll have a normal race from there.”