When Alex Palou crossed the finish line Sunday in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, he did more than just become an NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion. He put himself on an exclusive list of athletes to have won the Astor Challenge Cup.
Palou, from Barcelona, Spain, became just the first driver from that nation to win the championship. He’s also the first to hail from a predominantly Spanish-speaking country since Juan Pablo Montoya won the title in 1999.
Palou said he was unaware of the accomplishment until just a few weeks ago. From there, the 24-year-old driver of the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda kept the thought of being the first champion from Spain in the back of his mind, knowing it would mean a lot to himself, his family and his heritage.
“It’s amazing and it means a lot, just because being the first is not easy,” Palou said. “It means a lot to be the first Spanish one. That’s super cool, right, to be the first one to do something. But I’m also just proud to be a part of the championship-winning drivers here in INDYCAR.”
In that regard, Palou gave the entire motorsports industry quite a bit of history to celebrate. But deeper than that, Palou hopes he gave young Spanish boys and girls something to emulate.
The black granite base of the Astor Challenge Cup forever has a Spanish name engraved on it, and he hopes that can influence future generations.
“I think it’s going to be good for some Spanish young drivers because they never had a champion before to follow,” Palou said. “Hopefully in the future they will see more Spanish drivers here.”
Palou is banking on the idea his success will create a steady flow of future Spanish drivers to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but he isn’t ready to consider that he might be that mentor, hero or influence that helps get them to North America’s premier open-wheel series.
Why? Well, because Palou is just 24, finished only his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season and is extremely humble. Plus, it will take time for him to adjust to his new position as a role model since he is still learning from modern legends, such as Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon.
“I’m looking at so many people now,” he said. “I don’t think I’m at the point where people are looking at me. Maybe someday, in five years or so (smiling).”
Still, the history books will always show that Palou was the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion from Spain, and if an influx of Spanish drivers come to the series one day, it will be Palou who opened the door.