By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. – A key ingredient that’s alluded Alex Palou is having strong qualifying speed that’ll earn him the NTT P1 Pole Award.
That all changed Saturday afternoon at Portland International Speedway as the Spaniard clocked in at 58.7701 seconds, 0.0872 seconds quicker than Alexander Rossi.
After dealing with grid spot penalties and race day heartbreaks, Palou is thrilled of having positive momentum. More so that he’s entering Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland second in points, now nine markers behind Pato O’Ward with three rounds remaining.
“We were always super competitive and really fast being in the Fast Six, but we never got to the first row and we never got to the pole,” said Palou. “We needed that just to tick that box, to get one more point and to start up front tomorrow.
“It’s going to be busy tomorrow down to Turn 1, so it’s good to start up front, and we know we have a good car on the race. The No. 10 PNC Bank Honda was fast today, and it’s going to be fast tomorrow again.”
The last time the NTT IndyCar Series competed at Portland, Palou wasn’t on the 2019 grid. It didn’t meant he wasn’t studying the circuit, especially with tire deg being a significant theme.
“I was watching all the data on the races that we have, and it was really high deg. We still don’t know because this morning was just 75 minutes and we run like three sets of tires, almost everybody,” Palou responded.
“We don’t really know how big the deg is going to be. I expect that it’s going to be quite high, just because the pace and the used reds and the used blacks, they go away quite a lot, but that’s going to make the race more exciting with more opportunities on strategies and on car control and car setup and pit stops and everything.”
O’Ward failed to make the Firestone Fast Six as he’ll roll off seventh.
It doesn’t matter to Palou whether he’s starting there or up front, he’ll give it his all. Additionally, the Chip Ganassi Racing racer doesn’t really care to hear from his title rivals.
“I know if we win the last remaining three races, we’re going to be a champion. That’s the goal,” said Palou.
“I’m not going to change if Pato is either P13 or P2. That’s not going to change much. We are always trying to push 100 percent, and I think everybody here in INDYCAR is doing the same. Yeah, I’m not going to really ask about it.”
Rounding out the Fast Six were Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal and Colton Herta.
Prior to qualifying, two drivers were reprimanded for unapproved engine changes. Those being Ed Carpenter (Gateway) and Takuma Sato (Portland), who’ll each lose six grid spots.
There will be one more practice session scheduled at 6:15 p.m. ET (live on Peacock). As for the big race itself, live coverage of the 110-lap race begins Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC. Will Power is the defending race winner.