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Palou says he has better chance to win than Alonso or Sainz

New Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda driver Alex Palou believes he’s more likely to win races than his Spanish compatriots in Formula 1, Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Álex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Sainz has moved from McLaren to Ferrari in the off-season for his seventh year in F1, while two-time World Champion Alonso returns to F1 to join the Alpine team after a two-year-hiatus which included WEC Championship, a second Le Mans victory and a triumph in the Rolex 24 Hours.

However, neither Alpine (formerly Renault) nor Ferrari won a grand prix last year, whereas Chip Ganassi Racing captured five wins and the NTT IndyCar Series championship in 2020, and Palou says he’s expecting to win races and contend for the championship in his sophomore IndyCar season.

Asked by a Spanish reporter, “Who of these three drivers do you think has a bigger chance to win a race this year? Alex Palou… Fernando Alonso… Carlos Sainz?” Palou replied: “Me! I have to say me, right? Yeah, me, no doubts about it.”

Quizzed on whether he will be able to fight for victories even this first year with Chip, he responded, “100 percent, yep.”

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Palou scored podium finish in only his third IndyCar race last year with Dale Coyne Racing, but while frequently qualifying well – and shining in the Indy 500 – he struggled to replicate that form on race days.

Now the former Super Formula ace says that he expects to win – although he doesn’t like the word ‘expect’.

“I don't think that in the sport world we have to have expectations,” said the 23-year-old. “I don't like to have expectations. I like to have targets. I think it's better to have the target to be winning and not to have the expectation to be winning because we are like 25 drivers. Everybody wants to be winning and everybody would expect to be winning.

“The target is to win some races, to fight for the championship. We know we have the resources. We know that we have all the engineers, all the mechanics, the crew chief. We know we have the car. We know we have the sponsors. And we know we have everything to win. Now it's all up to us.

“I think this year there's, like, 12 drivers that are in the same position, with really good cars, some experience and with the hunger to win. It's not going to be easy, but we'll try to make it.

“I think having a rookie year, that's going to help a lot personally, mainly because I don't have to worry like the basic things about how is the weekend schedule, like what do we have to do during a weekend, what's the new tracks I have to [learn]. I'm still going to have some new tracks to learn, but there's going to be less than in 2020.

“I just think I'm a bit more prepared, for sure. I have a better car. I have better data because now I have three teammates. Last year I had only one, so I have more information. One of them is a six-time IndyCar champion [Scott Dixon], the other is a seven-time NASCAR champion [Jimmie Johnson], and then there's Marcus [Ericsson] – and Tony [Kanaan], as well, depending on the race…

“It's difficult to believe that I am in this position with these opportunities. So I cannot thank enough all the Chip Ganassi Racing but especially Chip for the opportunity that they gave me for this year. I think it's the opportunity that you search since you start on karting. But then when you move up, that's the dream. That's the biggest dream. It's amazing to have the opportunity this early.”

Like Johnson, Palou paid tribute to Dixon and the team’s driver adviser, four-time champion Dario Franchitti.

“Man, I try to speak with them all the time. All the time,” smiled Palou. “I try to speak with them on the phone. I say, ‘Man, what are you doing today? What are you eating? What are you drinking?’ just to know what the champions are doing!

“They are amazing. And just by talking with them, on the same breakfast, before going to the track, you learn little things that at the end of the day can make a difference. These guys have been winning for the past 20 years, and they've been winning important races. It's amazing.

“As I said, I think I'm in the best opportunity ever. I'm with a great team, but I'm with a great group of guys, as well, which that makes a difference.”

Despite the heritage of the most successful Indy car team of the last 30 years, Palou said he feels less rather than more pressure.

“That pressure has been with me since I was six years old and I started racing in go-karts,” he explained. “That pressure of winning, you have it every year. It's not changing now. I feel less pressure now. I have the car to do it. I have the people to do it. It's not the pressure of doing something crazy.

“The guy I'm going to race with, Scott Dixon, he won four races last year. They are giving me the resources to do it, so it's up to me.

“The pressure of winning, that's racing, and you have to win to be able to race another year. That's been always with me, and it doesn't change this year. If so, it makes it a bit easier just because it's the first time in my life that I am in a big team.”

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