Alex Palou is ready for his shot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway history.
As if winning an Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge isn’t significant enough, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader can become just the third driver to sweep the Month of May at this iconic facility if he wins “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 28.
Only Will Power (2018) and Simon Pagenaud (2019) have won the GMR Grand Prix and the “500” in the same year.
Palou gave himself a chance to score Indy’s rare double by winning Saturday’s 85-lap road course race, and he did it in dominating fashion. The 16.8006-second victory in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 10 The American Legion Honda was reminiscent of the 30.3812-second drive to Victory Lane he delivered at last year’s season-ending race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Saturday, Palou led 52 laps and drove away from Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) in the final segment. The win was the Spaniard’s fifth overall in the series.
Palou, the 2021 series champion, also now has the points lead by six over O’Ward, and he looks ready to continue the success he’s had so far this month. Oval practice begins Tuesday.
Palou Seeking First Oval Win
To say Palou has the experience to earn his place on the Borg-Warner Trophy is an understatement.
The fourth-year driver finished second to Meyer Shank Racing’s Helio Castroneves in 2021 and qualified second to CGR teammate Scott Dixon last year before leading 47 laps in the race. Dixon and Palou appeared to have the two strongest cars in the race, although each suffered a penalty that derailed their chances to reach victory lane. Palou finished ninth, Dixon 21st.
All five of Palou’s INDYCAR SERIES victories have come on road courses. He won three in his first season with Chip Ganassi’s team, in 2021 (at Barber Motorsports Park, Road America and Portland International Raceway). Then, he added the win last year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Palou started Saturday’s race from the third position but jumped No. 2 starter Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) during the opening sprint to Turn 1, and he slipped past pole sitter Christian Lundgaard (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) before the end of the first lap.
Palou’s early advantage came due to starting on Firestone’s alternate (red) tires as Lundgaard’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing machine began on the primary (black) tires. Tire strategy played a big role in the 10th annual May road race at IMS, but Palou had the pace throughout.
On Lap 8, Palou recorded the fastest lap of the race at 1 minute, 11.2912 seconds.
Speaking of O’Ward …
There is no denying this fact now: Arrow McLaren is challenging for team supremacy.
The team led by Zak Brown put all three of its drivers in the top five of Saturday’s race, with O’Ward and Alexander Rossi (No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) scoring podium finishes in second and third, respectively. Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) ended fifth.
“Fricking hard to do in this series with how competitive it is,” O’Ward said.
O’Ward called the improvement in race pace a “massive step forward” and noted that the team is “rolling with some great momentum into our Super Bowl.”
Remember, O’Ward finished second in last year’s “500,” and Rosenqvist was fourth. Rossi, the race winner in 2016, was fifth in his last Indy effort with Andretti Autosport. Plus, the team is running a one-off entry for 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who finished third in the “500” last year with Chip Ganassi Racing. This will be Kanaan’s final INDYCAR SERIES start.
“Like Pato said, to get three cars in the top five is near-on impossible these days,” said Rossi, who netted his first podium finish with the team. “Arrow McLaren has done a phenomenal job all year. You can’t talk about how challenging it is to add a car in the offseason. They’ve done it with relative apparent ease.”
Rossi said “the pieces are coming together.” Indy is a good time for that to happen.
Lundgaard, RLL on the Rise
The moustache that Lundgaard said he would wear until he won his first INDYCAR SERIES race seemed on the verge of getting the razor Saturday.
Lundgaard spent the first two-thirds of the GMR Grand Prix in a ferocious battle with Palou, and at various points in the race it seemed a toss-up on which would go to Victory Lane.
Lundgaard faded after the final pit stop because he said the rear tires on that set of primary tires were fading, leading to a bad oversteer. On the previous sequence, the car had been loose on the alternate compound tires, and the change confused him.
“I didn’t understand how we got the balance so wrong,” he said.
Still, Lundgaard and the team set the tone for becoming the comeback team of 2023. After struggling as a group through the season’s first four races, they qualified all three cars in the top eight for the first time since 2005 and finished the race with two cars in the top 10.
Lundgaard came home fourth in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda, Graham Rahal 10th in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda. Jack Harvey might have contended for such a finish had he not damaged a front tire under heavy braking approaching Turn 1 on the Lap 6 restart in his No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda.
Dixon Reaches Another Milestone
Continuity can be so beneficial for a sports team, and part of the success behind six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon has been sticking with Chip Ganassi Racing – and vice versa – all these years.
Dixon and his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda didn’t get much attention Saturday, but it was another solid day in pursuit of tying A.J. Foyt’s all-time record for series championships. Dixon finished sixth and is 47 points out of the series lead in seventh place.
Dixon competed in his 350th series race with the same team, extending a series record. Helio Castroneves ranks second in that category with 310 starts with Team Penske.
The rest of the top five: A.J. Foyt (262 starts with his team), Marco Andretti (250 with Andretti Autosport) and Power, who made his 226th start with Team Penske on Saturday.
Dixon, Andretti and Power will extend their associations with their respective teams when “500” practice begins Tuesday.
Oval Action Heats Up
Gates for Tuesday’s practice will open at 8 a.m., with veterans practicing from 9:15-11:15 a.m.
There will be a rookie orientation/refresher session from 1-3 p.m. – RC Enerson of Abel Motorsports is the only scheduled participant in that session – followed by a practice for all competitors from 3-6 p.m.
Peacock will cover all the action. The INDYCAR Radio Network will be on the air for the final three hours.
Practice continues all week, with PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21.