Note: The INDYCAR Writers’ Roundtable is taking the opportunity of the summer break in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule to analyze the first 10 races of the season and offer discussion and opinions about a variety of topics in the first half of the season. This multipart series will run regularly for the rest of July.
Today’s question: What was the best offseason move leading into the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season?
Curt Cavin: This could be a unanimous selection for the panel. Look, Chip Ganassi has proven to be a savvy selector of young talent – Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya -- but even he has to be surprised by how well Alex Palou has handled the first 10 races of the season (two wins, six podiums and the series leader by 39 points). He even has 56 more points than Dixon, the six-time series champion! Honestly, what about Palou’s 2020 season with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh was an indication of things to come? He finished 16th in the standings with an average finish of 14.7 and led his only lap of the season late in the finale in St. Petersburg. This would be the best offseason move in almost any season over the past decade.
Zach Horrall: Much like our unanimous vote for best moment of 2021, I suspect this moment will be unanimous, too (full disclosure, I wrote this before Paul, and he’s a bit off his rocker): It’s Alex Palou. When this move was announced last fall, I was caught off guard. Palou is a great guy and was a fun addition to our sport last year, but his rookie season just didn’t give me reason to believe he’d be the championship leader a year later. Clearly, none of us were paying attention to Palou in Super Formula in Japan. In the 2019 season, he scored three poles, had two fastest laps and one win at Fuji Speedway, putting him third in the championship standings. Maybe there were signs of greatness last year: a podium in just his third start at Road America, five top-10 starts and the fastest single-lap speed in the Fast Nine Shootout for the Indianapolis 500. I guess that’s why Chip Ganassi has the most successful team this season and I’m behind this keyboard.
Paul Kelly: Yes, Zach, I’m a bit nuts. And I must admit if this category included in-season moves, yesterday’s announcement about the creation of a new INDYCAR video game in 2023 was huge. Video games are the playgrounds and meeting places for young people these days and drive interest in the real thing. Hell, I’m 56 but started playing racing games in 1982 with Pole Position on the Atari 2600 and have never stopped. But when it comes to offseason moves, you cats nailed the bull’s-eye – it must be the hiring of Alex Palou by Chip Ganassi Racing. The Spaniard was competent and fast at times but inconsistent in his rookie season with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, so I thought it might take him at least this season to round into Ganassi form, as we all know Chip likes winners. If anyone told me in early April that Palou would start the season by winning his first start for Ganassi and lead the championship 10 races into the season, I would have told them they were nuts.