Conceding that the events of the past week have created “a really hot topic,” reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou vowed Friday to give his best effort to helping Chip Ganassi Racing win yet another season championship, and the contract situation he is embroiled in – two teams claiming his rights for 2023 -- might be a benefit in this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place.
“We’re all professionals,” Palou told reporters Friday, three days after CGR and McLaren Racing each announced he will drive for them in 2023. “We want the same thing (at CGR), which is to win. That’s it, period (and) hopefully it’s going to be that way.
“Personally, myself, I don’t think (the contract situation) is going to affect me at all. I have more questions to answer (and) that will be more difficult than normal, but at the end of the day I am a driver; that’s the only thing that I know how to do. This is not going to affect me at all negatively when it comes to performance, maybe even the opposite because all eyes are on me, and I know as soon as I’m out on track everybody is going to look for that No. 10 (car).”
Driving the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Palou posted the 10th-fastest lap in Friday’s 75-minute practice at 1 minute, 1.0522 seconds. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/SiriusXM Honda) led all drivers with a lap of 1:00.6090. The top nine drivers turned laps under 1:01.
Palou, a 25-year-old Spaniard, is fourth in the season standings, 35 points out of the series lead. Palou declined to comment on several questions related to where he will drive next season.
“I understand this is something you guys are super interested in – I would do the same if I was in your position,” he said. “But I have nothing else to add to what I said (Tuesday on Twitter). I’m not going to tell more (than) what I said already.
“We’re here, we’re in Toronto, and we’re fighting for a championship together, and we’re going to try to do the best we can to try to win it.”
Palou said he spoke with crew members on his No. 10 car, and he said they understand they all have a job do for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“We both understand each other,” he said.
Palou, who also said he spoke to Ganassi since the drama began, said he does not know how, or when, this situation will be resolved.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” he said. “I mean, (I’ve) never been in this position, so I have no idea. … I’m not going to tell you, ‘Hey, yeah, we’re going to catch a beer and resolve it.’ I have no idea. But hopefully, it’s going to be that way.”
Palou won three races and the series championship in 2021, his first season with CGR. He has not won a race this season, although he has finished second three times, including the July 3 race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is racing on the 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street circuit in Toronto for the first time in 2019. This will be Palou’s first race of any kind at Exhibition Place.
“Because it’s (a) super short (track), every bit of detail counts, and it’s super bumpy with patches and stuff,” Palou said. “So, it’s a tough course. I think that’s a challenge.”
Pagenaud Off to Another Strong Start
Expect a strong performance from Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) in qualifying. He has started in the top four of his past six NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at Exhibition Place, with a pair of poles (2017 and 2019) and an average starting position of 2.3 from 2014 through 2019.
Pagenaud had the second-fastest lap in Friday’s practice at 1:00.6991, and he was pleased by it.
“It was a really good first practice,” the Frenchman said. “We still have some work to do. I’d like to take the car to another level … we just have to figure out how to improve the rear end, mostly. But overall, really good start to the weekend.
“I love this track, man. The section in front of the pits is, for a driver, (great). You want precision and you have to be on it. It’s so intense. (Miss by a little) and you’re going to hit the wall and crash bad, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Malukas Tells of Harried Indy 500
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard (No. 30 HUB International Honda) leads Dale Coyne Racing with HMD’s David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda) by 14 points in the series Rookie of the Year race heading to the season’s final eight races.
Malukas told the INDYCAR Radio Network of the stress he felt in his first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in May. He had four-time race winner Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) running behind him during part of the race.
“He was behind me for a whole tire stint,” Malukas said. “You have no idea how nervous I was. I could tell he was trying to break me, saying, ‘C’mon kid, make a mistake!’”
Malukas was the highest-finishing “500” rookie in 16th. Castroneves finished seventh.
Lundgaard and Malukas had the fastest laps among the rookies in Friday’s practice, registering 11th and 14th, respectively, on the speed chart.
Fellow rookie Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) had the weekend’s first wall contact, hitting the left front and side against the Turn 1 outside wall about an hour into the 75-minute session. The contact ended their participation in the practice.
Action Heats Up Saturday
Saturday’s schedule begins with the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice of the weekend at 10 a.m. (ET) followed by qualifying for the NTT P1 Award at 2 p.m.
Sunday, a pre-race warmup will be held at 10:55 a.m. with the Honda Indy Toronto airing live beginning at 3 p.m. The green flag is set for 3:30 p.m.
Sunday’s 85-lap race will be shown live exclusively in the U.S. on Peacock Premium, the first streaming-only race in NTT INDYCAR SERIES history. Peacock Premium also is the home to all series practices, qualifying sessions races – live and on-demand – this season. Sign up for the streaming service at https://www.peacocktv.com/sports.
In Canada, the race will air live on Sportsnet 360.
All sessions can be heard on the INDYCAR Radio Network, which includes the INDYCAR Mobile App, network affiliates, SiriusXM 160 and racecontrol.indycar.com.
Odds and Ends
- Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) had a relatively harmless spin in Turn 8, with a slight hit to the right corner of the front wing.
- Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) nudged into the Turn 8 tire barrier after Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) missed the corner and drove through the run-off.
- Expect pit lane to be congested, which is usually the case for NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at the Exhibition Place circuit. There are 25 cars, the most for this configuration of pit lane. Each team has been allotted 35 feet.
- Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires is not staging a race in Toronto this weekend. Its next event is July 23 at Iowa Speedway.
- Louis Foster of Exclusive Autosport continued his strong season, winning the pole for Saturday’s Indy Pro 2000 race, the first part of the doubleheader weekend. He posted a lap of 1:09.4139 to narrowly edge Juncos Hollinger Racing teammates Enaam Ahmed and Reece Gold. The weekend’s first race for the series is at 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday.
- USF2000 points leader Myles Rowe led a 1-2 qualifying effort for Pabst Racing, with teammate Jace Denmark .252 of a second behind Rowe’s lap of 1:12.8169. Rowe leads the series with four race wins this season. The first race of the weekend is Saturday at noon (ET).