Alex Palou rebounded from a disappointing stretch of recent results by winning the NTT P1 Award for the Grand Prix of Portland on Saturday at Portland International Raceway.
Palou earned his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole with a top lap of 58.7701 seconds in the No. 10 PNC Bank Honda, putting the finishing touches on a dominant Saturday under sunny skies and 70-degree temperatures in the Pacific Northwest. He led the second qualifying session, was second quickest in his first qualifying group and led morning practice.
“I’m super happy with my first pole in INDYCAR,” Palou said. “We’re starting on the best position tomorrow, and we know we have a really fast car. I cannot wait for tomorrow’s race.”
The 110-lap race on the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course starts at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday, live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Spaniard Palou will earn one point for the pole, valuable as he entered this event 10 points behind championship leader Pato O’Ward. Palou started on pole for the Genesys 300 in early May at Texas Motor Speedway, but qualifying for that event was canceled due to weather delays, with the starting lineup set by entrant points.
The strong performance at Portland was a powerful rebound from Palou’s two worst finishes of the season in the last two races, 27th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a mechanical problem and 20th at World Wide Technology Raceway after being taken out in a crash.
“This motivates us, but we were already fully motivated,” Palou said. “We all know that the last two race weekends we had, it was out of our control. So, we’re fully laser-focused on these three races we have to get that championship home, and we’ll try to get that.”
Alexander Rossi will join Palou on the front row after qualifying second at 58.8573 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda, tying his best starting position of the season.
The second row consists of title contender and six-time series champion Scott Dixon in third with a best lap of 58.8673 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda and Felix Rosenqvist fourth at 58.9505 in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Graham Rahal qualified a season-best fifth at 59.0067 in the No. 15 Total Quartz Honda. Colton Herta rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 59.2796, as his gamble of being the only driver in the Fast Six to use Firestone primary “black” tires instead of alternate “red” tires didn’t pay off.
The pole position was even more valuable for Palou than the bonus point. Dixon was the only other one of the five drivers in contention for the 2021 championship to advance to the Firestone Fast Six. That could give Palou some breathing room on the PIR circuit, where passing opportunities aren’t plentiful, and the tight Turn 1 chicane is a flashpoint for potential collisions at the start and on restarts for cars in a thicket of traffic.
Championship leader O’Ward qualified seventh in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet after being eliminated by teammate Rosenqvist by .0103 of a second on the last lap of the second qualifying session. Marcus Ericsson, 60 points behind O’Ward in fifth, qualified 10th in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden, 22 points behind O’Ward in third, will start 18th in the 27-car field in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
Newgarden’s qualifying troubles were a symptom of larger woes for Team Penske. All four Penske drivers – Newgarden, 2019 Portland winner Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and rookie Scott McLaughlin – were eliminated in the first round of road or street course qualifying for the first time this season.
British driver Callum Ilott qualified 19th for his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet. Alfa Romeo Formula One test driver Ilott was the second-quickest of the four series rookies in the field, behind only McLaughlin, who qualified 15th in the No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.
Dixon led final practice with a lap of 59.4111. Newgarden rebounded to second at 59.6296 in the 30-minute session.