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IndyCar Mid-Ohio

Palou explains first gear fumble that cost Mid-Ohio IndyCar win

Two-time champion and points leader’s race “was fun until it wasn’t” after finishing runner-up to Pato O’Ward despite leading most laps

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Alex Palou faltered on his final pitstop at Mid-Ohio’s IndyCar Series race on Sunday, which proved to be the difference between winning and finishing runner-up.

The opening half of the race had the look of a typical Palou beatdown: start on pole, lead the majority of laps and throttle the field with a sizable victory.

But this one ended up differently for the 27-year-old Spaniard, who led a race-high 53 of 80 laps. He struggled with tire wear during the middle stint and made a self-inflicted mistake on pit road that ultimately led to defeat.

“We had a slow stop, I couldn’t really engage first gear,” he explained. “Maybe I was trying to get it too fast, so probably my fault.”

The No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda of Palou opened up the first race of IndyCar’s hybrid era by marching to a lead of over 6s on front row-mate O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.

While both started on the harder primary compound and switched the softer alternates on their respective stops – O’Ward on lap 27 and Palou on lap 28 – the change favored O’Ward, who began to knock chunks out of Palou’s lead.

It was down to 3.5s by lap 45 and then to within 0.4s just nine laps later on lap 54 when O’Ward pitted again.

Taking the overcut route once more, Palou came into the pits on lap 55 and, like O’Ward switched back to primaries, but struggled when trying to engage the car to accelerate off pit lane. The mistake by Palou was costly as O’Ward steamed past.

Palou, who came in as the defending race winner of the event, applied pressure on O’Ward, who came up on backmarker traffic that included Palou’s rookie team-mate Kyffin Simpson, he couldn’t mount a proper challenge to reclaim the lead and ending up finishing second by 0.4993s.

“It was fun until it wasn't as much for me,” said Palou, who extended his championship lead by 48 points. “I had a great car.

“Had a lot of fun in the race. Ran really good in the first stint on primaries. I think really strong on the primaries, a bit more than we anticipated, and we were a bit worse than we anticipated on the alternates.

“Couldn't really have the pace I wanted. I was trying to baby those tires, and they didn't like me. I had big blisters on the front tires, and the 5 started catching us.

“Then our in-lap was pretty terrible, had traffic, didn't engage first gear as normally because I knew I had a crazy in lap. Didn't work out.

“We tried to get it back on the last stint. We were a bit close, not enough. It was honestly a good day for the No. 10 car. It feels a bit worse when you know that you had the car and everything that you needed to win, but still, it was a good podium day.”

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet, podium

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet, podium

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Palou admitted that if he was able to get close enough to O’Ward that a potential dive-bomb move was on his mind, and nearly happened on the final lap.

“It was tough to pass,” Palou said. “I think that as he also had a ton of overtake, like same as me.

“He was able to use it every single lap. It was tough to get close.

“I got really close on the last lap going into Turn 6. I was going to try – like if he didn't close, I was going to dive in and see what the outcome was.

“But yeah, it wasn't the day. At least we tried.”

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