When most race fans think of “Kiwis,” they likely think of six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon, a native of New Zealand and sports icon from the island nation.
If they’re thinking of the newest “Kiwi” in the series, it might be Team Penske rookie Scott McLaughlin, another native of New Zealand.
But there are even more “kiwis” in the INDYCAR paddock: Alex Palou’s fanbase.
Palou, a native of Barcelona, Spain, didn’t coin the term himself. It’s a funny story, he insists. It stems from a Twitch stream he hosted over the offseason. While driving on iRacing and preparing for Season 2 of the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, where he won the first race at Montreal, the driver of the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was hungry.
So, he took a bite out of his favorite fruit, a kiwi. Skin and all.
“I started eating one, and everybody was going crazy,” Palou said. “I had about 500 people live, and they were all screaming.”
Don’t be mistaken, like the fans on the stream were – it wasn’t a green kiwi, which has a fuzzy brown skin. Palou eats yellow kiwi, which in contrast has a smooth, hairless skin but is still brown. Not knowing it was a yellow kiwi, the fans on the Twitch stream went crazy at the sight of Palou eating a hairy kiwi skin.
“I love kiwi. It’s a good fruit,” Palou said. “But I eat yellow kiwis, because they don’t have the hair on the outside, and it’s more sweet than the green one. I normally eat them a lot, and I eat them with the skin. For me, it was normal, but for everybody else it was not.”
Palou talked his fans down on the stream once he saw everyone in the comments asking how he was eating through the skin. The funny moment captured by Palou’s most avid race fans became a significant moment in their allegiance to their favorite driver. Now, Palou’s army of fans have deemed themselves “kiwis,” and the 24-year-old loves it.
“The groups online want to call themselves something, and they found a good one,” Palou said. “It’s cool. It’s something fun, instead of saying, ‘Palou fans.’ Like, come on, stop it. But kiwis is something funny that they use, and I use it, as well. Now, all my fans are kiwis.”
After the Indy 500 Open Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway April 8-9, Palou’s “kiwis” can rejoice. After Day 1, he was the sixth fastest driver of the oval veterans’ session with a best lap speed of 219.969 mph. On Friday, he sat in the top 10 for most of the day until the late afternoon pack runs shuffled him down the charts a bit. Still, he ended Day 2 15th fastest with a best lap of 224.134 mph.
Palou said the speed of his black and blue Honda caught him by surprise on the opening laps Thursday but makes him optimistic for May.
“It felt strange the first couple of laps, because the car was going so quick,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, if this should be flat then I’m not going flat.’ It was really good. It’s fun to get back here. This is another story. This is not something similar to Barber or Laguna or anything we’ve been doing. It’s amazing.”
Palou’s time on track last week at IMS was full of the engineering team’s to-do list. But for Palou, being able to test with a group of teammates with the level of success they’ve experienced in their racing careers was an exciting moment for Palou.
“It’s amazing to be a part of the No. 10 and Chip Ganassi Racing,” he said. “I just think it’s going to be really awesome to have a full day of everybody on track. You’re going to see a difference when we run together with the teammates. Like, my teammates now are Scott Dixon, Tony and Marcus, so I’m with a team where we can say, ‘Hey, let’s go out together to practice and race,’ and that’s going to be awesome. It’s not like last year where we were only two cars, and I didn’t have two champions in between me. It’s going to be awesome to practice things with them.”
Palou, who scored one podium finish in his rookie season last year, will take the green flag on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park. Green flag is scheduled for 3 p.m. (ET, LIVE on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network).