By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. – Alex Palou capped off a marvelous weekend at Portland International Raceway with his third career NTT IndyCar Series victory. Not only he won from the pole, he regained the championship lead with just two rounds remaining.
On top of leading 29 of 110 laps, Palou was able to utilize what he’s learned from testing at the 1.964-mile road course weeks ago. Simply being gaining track experience as other teams, such as Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who finished second, wasn’t able to do.
“It made our life easier. Especially only having one practice with the schedules we have nowadays with COVID, it’s pretty hard for a guy that doesn’t know a track to learn it in one practice,” said Palou.
“That test gave us the pole and the win I would say today. At some point we were on blacks, the last 10 (laps) we were on blacks and everybody was on reds, and we were still a tiny bit faster than Rossi. Yeah, we were really strong, and that’s because of the test we did for sure.”
RESULTS: 2021 Grand Prix of Portland
The road to victory in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland didn’t start easy. As always, Lap 1, Turn 1 was the burden of several competitors. Those who had it tough were James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, Romain Grosjean, Will Power and Oliver Askew.
Unlike the last two races at Portland, it wasn’t as disastrous where cars were total and multiple drivers forced to retire. In this scenario, Hinchcliffe was the only one unable to finish the race.
There was some consequences of the chaos. The trio of Palou, Rossi, and Scott Dixon all missed the Shelton Chicane. To avoid crashing, they went past the racing lane which all were sent back on the restart.
Specifically for Palou, he was positioned in 16th but the pressure of being there didn’t faze him. In his eyes, it actually put him in position to win the race. Main reason was the No. 10 PNC Bank Honda being right where they needed to be in terms of fuel.
“They were taking a long time to penalize us. It was counting laps, and I was like, ‘okay, this is a good thing,’ Palou commented. “I know we can make the fuel mileage to make it in two only stops. At that moment, I said, ‘Even if we were P5, I knew they were going to penalize us. But I knew that we had another option.’
“We knew we had a really fast car. Even if we were on the same strategy as everybody, maybe we were not able to win, but I think today we were able to be in the top five, top six without a different strategy.”
Such strategies varied and it primarily benefitted Pato O’Ward and Graham Rahal, who took command of the first half of the 110-lap race. However, neither were able to be in the fight when it mattered most as the duo led a combined 64 laps.
Rahal finished in 10th while O’Ward mired back in 14th, losing the championship lead.
That didn’t meant Palou’s strategy was perfect. The final caution for contact between Sebastien Bourdais and Oliver Askew set everyone up on his game plan.
“That made us restart on blacks while everybody was on reds didn’t really help us,” said Palou. “But anyway, we made it.”
Palou now leads the championship trail by 25 points over O’Ward as three other drivers are still in contention for the Astor Cup. The other three being Josef Newgarden (-34 behind), third-place finisher Dixon (-49) and Marcus Ericsson (-75).
“We are in the fight. But I think until Long Beach we are not going to know really who’s what,” Palou on the title battle. “I think that many people today after the first lap thought that Pato was going to win and that we were going to lose 40 points, and it was the opposite.
“That’s why INDYCAR is INDYCAR. Which is really good. I think that makes the racing super exciting and the championship super exciting until the end.”
Live coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca begins Sunday, September 19 at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC. Colton Herta is the defending race winner.