Palou: "To finish 11th in IndyCar is not that easy nowadays"

Alex Palou insists his first NTT IndyCar Series championship is by no means locked in, despite having to finish only 11th in the finale at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Sunday to seal the title.

Palou: "To finish 11th in IndyCar is not that easy nowadays"

With three wins and five other podium finishes – including runner-up last weekend at Laguna Seca – Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s series sophomore arrives at the finale with a 35-point margin over his nearest opposition, Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet’s Pato O’Ward.

Even if O’Ward wins the race, and gains the bonus point for pole, the bonus point for leading a lap and the two bonus points for leading the most laps, the pair will end the season on the same points tally. Then, with three wins apiece, the tie-break would be decided on number of runner-up finishes – two for Palou, one for O’Ward.

Asked if he kept the faith that he could win the title despite three late-season races afflicted by bad luck – engine-change grid penalty at Nashville, engine failure in the second race on the Indy road course, and being crashed out at Gateway by Rinus VeeKay – he replied: “I think we did the work that I wanted to do before being here at Long Beach.

“I knew that we had an opportunity at Portland [victory] and Laguna [second place] because we tested there because they were road courses, and I'm more of a road course driver. But yeah, we did the work. We need to finish it out.

“It's not going to be easy. It's 27 drivers. You said I only need to finish 11th, but to finish 11th in IndyCar is not that easy nowadays. We'll do our best. We're not going to focus on that 11th place because I saw so many races, including last weekend, where somebody that is outside of top 10 on the last stint can finish in the top 3 [Romain Grosjean].

“We just need to do the best we can. Hopefully we can fight for the win. I strongly believe that we are really good on the races with strategies, pitstops, fuel and tire management. Hopefully we can get a win there.

“Did I think that we would be P1 with 35 points lead after those three weekends? Probably not!”

Palou joined Ganassi after a rookie season at Dale Coyne Racing, in which he landed his first podium finish in only his third race. Reflecting on his second year in the series, he said he had “enjoyed it a lot since the first time I met all the guys at Chip Ganassi Racing. Yeah, it's been a great ride, like eight podiums…

“I think we had some success, some bad moments, but yeah, looking forward to this weekend. New track, new championship fight, but I think it's going to be a good one.”

Palou believed that part of the reason he shone at Portland – first IndyCar pole position followed by third race win – was because the team had tested at the 1.964-mile course beforehand. Long Beach, being a street course, was a different matter, he said.

“Coming here there's no way to test,” he said. “I did lots of simulator [work] at home before going to the HPD simulator, and then I saw many onboard cameras and talked to Dario and all the guys at the team to just get as much ‘experience’ as we can. Because yeah, we're going to have two practices –  which seems like a lot this year! – but it's not much compared to what they used to have in IndyCar…

“I think it's going to be about getting up to speed and having enough confidence during Practice 1 and Practice 2. But yeah, I was happy with the performance we did at Detroit. I think Detroit it's a bit more difficult than what you get here, more corners and a lot more bumpy, and we did a good job there, so should be good here.

On the subject of his pre-race weekend track walk at Long Beach, Palou observed: “I learned that it's pretty similar to the simulator. I have to say the simulators nowadays, they are really close, so yeah, I could see some curves, bumps, walls.

“But it's not that you learn a lot during the track walks. You normally check for the curbs if they change or not, what can you use, what can you not, the big bumps, and obviously it changes a lot from year to year. But I had nothing to compare it to. I was just comparing to the simulator and the onboards we had from '19.

“The good stuff is that all the walls are in the same place, at least the big ones, and the curbs, too. Yeah, I think we should be prepared.”

Palou has often talked about the driving tips he has gained from being teamed with Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson, the advice he received from Jimmie Johnson regarding the mental approach necessary for a championship battle and guidance in both matters from CGR’s driver advisor Dario Franchitti.

Asked what instructions he’d received from team owner Chip Ganassi – a former Indy car driver who has seen his team earn 13 Indy car driver titles in the past – Palou replied: “He always tells me to do the obvious things right.

“I think there's no better thing that he can tell me or tell the drivers. That's what we have to do, and that's what we're going to do on Sunday.”

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

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