Alex Palou Chip Ganassi

Alex Palou has held some special trophies over the years of his racing career. But no moment can top the one that happened to the reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dec. 4.

The hands that have lifted the Astor Challenge Cup twice wrapped around a healthy baby girl earlier this month as he and his wife, Esther, welcomed the birth of their first child, Lucia.

“It's been amazing,” Palou says. “Honestly, a big change in life. Something that was fun to experience and honestly couldn't be happier. Mom is healthy, the baby, as well. We're obviously struggling a little bit with sleep, but that's part of the job.

“I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that. It was it was mind-blowing. It was amazing. Very emotional. And it was a different kind of a win, let's say. I don’t know how to describe it. It's very intense, for sure. But it was it was all worth it.”

The intensity didn’t stop at the hospital. Palou experienced what most families do when leaving the hospital for the first time with their first-born – the drive home with a baby in the backseat.

That drive from the hospital to their residence was 20 minutes, yet Palou described it as one of his most stressful drives. That’s right: The same guy who sped around Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May at a four-lap average at 234.217 mph, the fastest pole speed in the 107-year history of this rich event, was tense and nervous driving at normal speeds.

“As soon as I saw a bump, I was like, ‘Oh, no, no, the bump, the bump,” he said.

Palou’s skill behind the wheel got his wife and newborn home with ease. Now, the growing family basks in the ambience of this special moment. But there’s still an eye on the road ahead, including the pursuit of a third NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in four seasons in 2024, this time in the yellow-and-red colors of new primary sponsor DHL.

He enjoyed winning a second title with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2023 far more than the first in 2021. A second championship in any sport is a feat that most dream of, separating athletes and/or teams from others. Getting a first is one thing, but a second is much more challenging.

“Honestly, enjoyed this one a lot more,” Palou said. “I think because I realized in ‘21 that I didn't let’s say enjoy it as much as I could have. And once I won it, I was like, ‘Man, I didn't enjoy the process.’ I was so focused on the result and all that stuff.

“The 2021 is super special because it’s the first INDYCAR championship and it's the first time that you can be called the champion. And until that point, I was never a champion. Yeah, junior series, but that doesn't really count. But from that point, you're called a champion.

“But this year I was just enjoying every single weekend from the beginning. And as we started having good results and wins, it was just like enjoying the moment. And then the championship came, which once we had it in our hands in Portland, it felt better. It felt better because it felt like we were enjoying a lot more during the season.

“I just really liked the way that we were able to enjoy the season overall even before winning because at the end of the day, that's what we like. We like to enjoy. We like to race. We like to win. It was a very good year.”

Palou won five races and produced 10 overall podium finishes, with no result worse than eighth in 2023. While his rivals tried to pinpoint that Palou didn’t have much bad luck last season, not everything was smooth sailing for the Spaniard on track.

He spun in Long Beach. He had a pit road collision in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge that wasn’t his fault. His No. 10 Honda was damaged in an incident during a late-race restart in Toronto. He had his fair share of moments, too.

“Everybody was saying that we never had bad luck,” Palou said. “But then you go to the Indy 500, as you're running top three and you go to the back. You go completely to last, and we still finished fourth. We did everything we did on track, the pit stops and we made it back.

“Then, as well, Toronto. It was a race that we could have had to pit and be in the back and finish 18th or (further), but we finished second and also Nashville, that we tried with one stop less. And we still finished (on the podium).”

While no title is won without some luck, the Ganassi team overcame challenges like champions. And Palou recognized the fickle nature of the sport: Sometimes things just go your way.

“The unfortunate thing and the sad thing about this is that you have some years like that, that everything clicks, but it's not always going to be that way,” he said. “So, I'm glad that we enjoyed it and that we got the most of it from 2023 when everything was perfect. But we know that there will be some seasons that it's the opposite like 2022, (when) nothing was working. Hopefully we can have some more years like we had because leaving it and just thinking back with the team and talking with the mechanics, it was such an amazing year for everybody.”

Now for the next challenge – becoming the first repeat title winner since Dario Franchitti won three straight from 2009-11.