In just one season, Alex Palou went from a relatively unknown driver to an NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, and a special relationship with his Chip Ganassi Racing team helped catapult him to stardom.
With the help of the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing team, Palou leaped from a 16th-place finish in the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings as a rookie with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh to first in 2021. It’s the largest year-over-year gain by a series champion since Palou’s teammate Scott Dixon won the 2003 INDYCAR SERIES title after finishing 13th in the standings the prior year.
Only one other time since Dixon’s leap has a driver won the championship the season after finishing outside the top 10 in the standings: Simon Pagenaud won the 2016 NTT INDYCAR SERIES title after finishing 11th in 2015.
Coincidentally, the chief mechanic that helped lead Palou to his first title in just his second year in the series is the same one that parlayed an average 2002 season with PacWest and Ganassi into the first of six championships for Dixon in 2003 – Ricky Davis.
From the first day these two worked together over the offseason, Palou and Davis hit it off. Palou said Davis created an environment that allowed him to flourish.
“Ricky is amazing,” Palou said. “I don’t know, but since the first day, he was just really happy to see me. He was really welcoming me to the team, to the family. He made me feel a part of the family, to be honest, since day one.”
Davis has worked as a crew chief for Chip Ganassi Racing for more than 25 years and knows how to win a championship – he scored three titles with Dixon in 2003, 2008 and 2013. For a driver like Palou, who idolizes his legendary teammate, pairing him with Davis was a match made in heaven.
Davis said he welcomed the 24-year-old Palou with open arms because of the incredible first impression Palou left on the entire Ganassi team. From the beginning, Palou went out of his way to meet crew members and ask very detailed questions about how he can improve pit stops and minor on-track details.
That made Davis realize Palou had the potential to be special.
“I could just see the look in his eye and this persona that he brought with him,” Davis said. “He was like a kid on Christmas. He was so happy and so appreciative and asked so many questions and wanted to know so much stuff.
“I don’t know, there was just something. The look in his eye just told me that this guy is not only a great person. It was just like: ‘Wow. This kid means it. He wants it.’”
Davis’ instincts were correct. Palou won the season-opening race at Barber Motorsports Park for his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES win. As the season went on, the Palou-Davis duo were fast and consistent, winning three races, scoring eight podiums and ending the season with an average finish of 7.3.
Those numbers are nearly identical to what Dixon produced when he won his first championship with Davis in 2003. Dixon had three wins, eight podiums and a slightly better average finish of 7.1.
For a driver who has admitted to following Dixon’s every move, the statistics bode well for the future. His competitors also have taken notice.
“He definitely has been very complete all year,” said Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the championship to Palou. “He seems to be very Dixon-esque in a lot of ways. Scott has been sort of the measure over the last couple decades of how you be a champion. Alex seems to embody that pretty well.”
Much like he did with Dixon, Davis hopes this is just beginning of a long road full of race wins and championships for the team and Palou. After Davis won his third title with Dixon in 2013, he was tapped to take that success from the No. 9 car and apply it to the rest of the organization. Some success came, such as a win with Felix Rosenqvist in 2020.
It appears Davis has struck gold with Palou. But Davis admits he doubted he would ever reach Dixon-like success again with a driver.
“I don’t know if I can really explain what this championship means,” Davis said. “After we moved away from Dixon and brought on the other cars and I was involved with all of that and trying to bring that along, which we were gaining momentum with some of the guys we had, I didn’t think it would ever happen again.”
It happened again for Davis. Now, the entire INDYCAR paddock is on alert of the dynamic duo that is Alex Palou and Ricky Davis.