Portland IndyCar: Palou recovers from Turn 1 chaos to win

Alex Palou scored his third victory of the season to reclaim the lead in the 2021 IndyCar championship, on a day when prime title rival Pato O’Ward could finish only 14th.

Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s polesitter Alex Palou made a strong start, while his teammate Scott Dixon outsprinted Andretti Autosport-Honda’s Alexander Rossi, and moved to the inside of Palou. However, under braking he got a slight tap from Felix Rosenqvist’s Arrow McLaren SP that sent Dixon slithering through the run-off, obliging teammate Palou to do the same because he couldn’t turn in, while Rosenqvist himself blew through the chicane. Rossi avoided being hit and sauntered through.

Further back there was more chaos. Oliver Askew spun and stalled on track, while Romain Grosjean appeared to miss his braking point and he went out immediately as a result of damage. Also eliminated were James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves, the latter a result of Callum Ilott slithering up the inside line, falling off the inside curb and knocking into the Meyer Shank Racing car and shoving it into Will Power, whose Penske spun and stalled but was restarted. Power brought the #12 in for a new front wing under caution, and then pitted again several times under caution for fuel top-ups.

The restart would see those who failed to make the chicane shuffled backward by Race Control so the majority of the front runners elected to pit. That would see Pato O’Ward in the #5 Arrow McLaren SP car leading Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Ed Jones of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, Marcus Ericsson (Ganassi), Sebastien Bourdais (AJ Foyt Racing), Scott McLaughlin (Penske), Max Chilton (Carlin), Simon Pagenaud (Penske up from 23rd!), Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing, and Jack Harvey.

The race resumed at the end of Lap 11, and all drivers behaved themselves, but at the start of Lap 12 into Turn 1 Dixon outbraked teammate Palou for 17th, and next time by another teammate, Jimmie Johnson – already passed by Josef Newgarden – waved the #9 by into 16th.

JJ did the same when he spotted Palou in his mirrors, and soon the seven-time NASCAR champ also fell behind Herta and Rosenqvist. Up front, O’Ward was only 0.6sec ahead of Rahal who had 1.6sec over Jones who was being pressured by Ericsson.

One man who had benefited from Turn 1 chaos and had also pulled off some excellent moves into Turn 1 was the 27th-place starter Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had moved his Andretti Autosport car up to 12th by Lap 17, behind Takuma Sato. The RLL driver, like Hunter-Reay, had been forced to start from the back as a result of an early engine change during practice.

VeeKay was the first of the drivers who didn’t make an early stop to duck out of the line up front and grab a set of alternate tires on Lap 19, Pagenaud did the same two laps later, McLaughlin a lap after that, and then Hunter-Reay.

Those trying to make it on just two more stops after stopping under caution – led by Dixon, Palou and Rossi – ran 121th through 14th, behind IndyCar debutant for Juncos Hollinger-Chevy, Callum Ilott and Josef Newgarden (Penske).

Up front, O’Ward had a 0.8 sec margin over Rahal by Lap 29 when he pitted. Jones had fallen 2.6sec adrift of Rahal, while remaining ahead of Ericsson and Bourdais. O’Ward would emerge from the pits in 15th, while behind him Bourdais, who had also pitted, came out 19th. Ilott also pitted at this point.

Rahal finally pitted off his reds to grab blacks on Lap 34, while holding a lead of more than 4sec over Jones. He emerged comfortably ahead of former leader O’Ward who said he was struggling on his primary tires.

Ericsson pitted on Lap 35 leaving Jones up front for a lap before he too pulled in, and emerged just ahead of Ericsson but now in 16th and 17th. Newgarden and Rahal were the last drivers to make their first stops, on Laps 39 and 40 respectively, leaving Dixon, Palou, Rossi, Conor Daly, Herta, Rosenqvist, Power, Askew as the top eight. Behind them were the erstwhile leaders, Rahal ahead of O’Ward, with McLaughlin and Pagenaud ahead of Jones, Ericsson and Harvey.

Daly pitted on Lap 42, Dixon, Rossi and Herta on Lap 43, Palou, Rosenqvist and Power on Lap 44. Meanwhile at the end of the back straight, Newgarden outbraked Dixon to grab 11th, but crucially – in championship terms – now both were behind the slightly later-stopping Palou.

So on Lap 46 of the 110, Rahal led O’Ward by 2.5sec, McLaughlin and Pagenaud ran third and fourth right behind the struggling AMSP car, and Jones and Ericsson completed the top six.

Then suddenly both Ilott and Kellett ground to a halt – the former in Turn 7, the latter at Turn 1 – and Race Control held off bringing out the caution flags, allowing O’Ward, Pagenaud, McLaughlin, Ericsson and Bourdais to make stops before the pits were closed.

On the Lap 58 restart, Newgarden seemed to struggle to get going, and Dixon immediately passed him, while Rossi muscled past him at Turn 1. However, Dixon then suffered an issue not captured by the cameras and Rossi and Newgarden passed the six-time champ, demoting him to seventh. Further back, O’Ward lost places to both Power and McLaughlin.

So now the order was Rahal, Jones, Harvey, Palou, Rossi, Newgarden, Dixon, Sato, Herta and Rosenqvist. On Lap 61, O’Ward lost another spot, falling to 15th behind Pagenaud.

With cars trying to make the end on just one more stop, no one was escaping and by Lap 67 there were still just a 14 seconds covering the 22 cars on the lead lap. Ilott’s team had repaired his car, and he rejoined 20 laps down as debutant driver and returning team turned the race into a test session.

Rahal ran 39 laps and had a 1.8sec lead when he made his second stop for more primary Firestones. Behind him, Jones also stopped but took on alternate Firestones.

Harvey thus moved to the front but only for a lap before he pitted, followed down pitroad by Newgarden and Sato. Remarkably, Harvey’s in lap had been 1sec faster than Rahal’s and the Meyer Shank driver emerged ahead, and on red tires. He got them up to temperature and held off the RLL machine.

Rossi was next to stop and he took on reds and emerged just ahead of Harvey, while Palou stopped next time by and came out in front of Rossi. Dixon went one lap longer, rejoined the track ahead of Rossi, but the Andretti Autosport driver got by through the Turn 2/3, leaving Dixon to defend from Harvey, which he did successfully. Further back, Newgarden was now Harvey’s nearest pursuer, because Penske’s championship contender had also passed the now struggling Rahal.

O’Ward pitted on Lap 83 to take on a set of reds. Three laps later

Pagenaud, who’d been tracking his teammate McLaughlin who led his first laps in an IndyCar, and pitted with him, suffered a long pitstop, and when he emerged on cold tires he was mugged by Sato. Power, too, tried to pass him around the outside of Turn 7, but Pagenaud hit the rear of his teammate, pushing him wide, and spinning himself into a stall, bringing out a yellow. He was sent to the back of the field but was already there.

The restart saw Palou escape from Rossi, Dixon and Harvey, while Newgarden held off Rosenqvist for fifth and Herta zapped McLaughlin for eighth and moved onto the tail of Ericsson. Unfortunately Askew spun at the chicane and stalled, bringing out the fourth yellow.

The Lap 93 restart saw Palou escape again, and Dixon initially looked a threat to Rossi’s second place. Further back in the pack, O’Ward had a sideways moment onto the back straight, and Power dragged past and then held off the AMSP driver and edged away.

Rossi dropped Dixon and closed in on Palou in the final 15 laps, while Dixon stretched his margin over Harvey, who in turn was facing no threat from Newgarden. Indeed, Penske’s lead driver was having to work hard to stay ahead of the Swedes, Rosenqvist and Ericsson.

Then on Lap 101, Rossi dropped his right side tires off the track exiting Turn 6, understeering in Palou’s dirty air, and dropped to 1.5sec behind – a gap the Andretti driver couldn’t fully recover on tired red Firestones. Palou’s blacks looked perfectly healthy, and he held on by 1.289sec to claim his third win of the season.

Rossi claimed his first podium of the year, three seconds ahead of Dixon, while Harvey, Newgarden and Rosenqvist finished line astern to complete the top six.

Palou now leads O’Ward by 25 points, with Newgarden a further nine points adrift, and Dixon now 49 points from the lead.

P

Name

Laps

Diff

Pits

Led

ST

FSpeed

Engine

Team

1

Alex Palou

110

LAP 110

3

29

1

117.190

Honda

Chip Ganassi Racing

2

Alexander Rossi

110

1.2895

3

 

2

117.134

Honda

Andretti Autosport

3

Scott Dixon

110

4.4406

3

4

3

117.290

Honda

Chip Ganassi Racing

4

Jack Harvey

110

8.2208

2

5

20

116.583

Honda

Meyer Shank Racing

5

Josef Newgarden

110

8.9566

2

 

18

116.509

Chevy

Team Penske

6

Felix Rosenqvist

110

9.3231

3

 

4

116.564

Chevy

Arrow McLaren SP

7

Marcus Ericsson

110

10.3425

3

1

10

116.244

Honda

Chip Ganassi Racing

8

Colton Herta

110

12.2628

3

 

6

116.454

Honda

Andretti Autosport

9

Scott McLaughlin

110

13.9438

3

5

15

117.733

Chevy

Team Penske

10

Graham Rahal

110

17.5449

2

36

5

116.660

Honda

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

11

Ed Jones

110

18.1590

2

2

8

116.136

Honda

Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan

12

Takuma Sato

110

18.7513

2

 

26

115.821

Honda

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

13

Will Power

110

19.8312

7

 

14

116.764

Chevy

Team Penske

14

Pato O'Ward

110

20.8494

3

28

7

116.678

Chevy

Arrow McLaren SP

15

Ryan Hunter-Reay

110

25.5636

3

 

27

117.199

Honda

Andretti Autosport

16

Conor Daly

110

27.3972

3

 

16

116.799

Chevy

Ed Carpenter Racing

17

Rinus VeeKay

110

31.9461

3

 

25

117.822

Chevy

Ed Carpenter Racing

18

Sebastien Bourdais

110

32.4259

3

 

12

116.732

Chevy

AJ Foyt Enterprises

19

Max Chilton

110

33.2897

3

 

11

116.768

Chevy

Carlin

20

Jimmie Johnson

110

33.7026

4

 

22

116.497

Honda

Chip Ganassi Racing

21

Simon Pagenaud

109

1 LAPS

3

 

23

117.199

Chevy

Team Penske

22

Romain Grosjean

95

15 LAPS

5

 

21

118.954

Honda

Dale Coyne Racing w/RWR

23

Helio Castroneves

91

19 LAPS

4

 

17

117.952

Honda

Meyer Shank Racing

24

Oliver Askew

89

Contact

3

 

9

115.764

Honda

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

25

Callum Ilott

77

Mechanical

3

 

19

116.870

Chevy

Juncos Hollinger Racing

26

Dalton Kellett

50

Mechanical

1

 

24

116.362

Chevy

AJ Foyt Enterprises

27

James Hinchcliffe

1

Contact

1

 

13

1.791

Honda

Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport

 

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