Palou: Everything went wrong in 2022; ‘This year is the opposite’

#10: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
#10: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Alex Palou, IndyCar’s dominant points leader, says he’s trying to take advantage of the fact that fortune is smiling on him this year, in a complete reversal of his 2022 season.

The 2021 champion suffered a torrid season in title defense, even aside from the contract shenanigans between himself, Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow Mclaren. Not until the season finale did he clinch a victory – an utterly dominant display at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Yet this year he has accrued four wins, and has seen the cards fall his way strategy-wise on other occasions, too, resulting in an 84-point lead in the title race, with just four rounds to go.

The latest kiss from Lady Luck came in Nashville’s Music City Grand Prix. The race ran largely green, and given his early first stop under caution, it seemed inevitable that he would have to make a third stop. He fell almost 20s behind the lead battle between Kyle Kirkwood and Scott McLaughlin while desperately trying to save enough fuel to stay ahead of two-stopping Josef Newgarden – his closest rival on the points table.

Strategist Barry Wanser had just told Palou to forget fuel saving with 10 laps to go — that he’d have to pit as there were no cautions coming — when out came the race’s second yellow for a shunt for debutant Linus Lundqvist. Immediately the fuel situation eased; on the restart, there was another yellow, then red flag required to retrieve three crashed backmarkers.

A smiling Palou admitted that he’d never had a year such as this, adding: “I’ll try and [take] advantage of that because I know it’s not often. Last year we didn’t win a race until the last race. I thought that every race we had something wrong going on, on our strategy or race. This year is the opposite. I’ll take it.”

Kirkwood says Nashville win ‘redemption’ from Detroit, Toronto

Disappointed McLaughlin says Nashville restarts were ‘a joke’

Milless attests to Kirkwood’s rapid development with Andretti

The Spanish sensation shouldered the blame for a strategy call that so nearly went asunder.

“Yeah, we made a really aggressive call on that first yellow, like lap 13 or 14. We pitted,” he said. “It was the plan, honestly. We spoke about it. I was pushing for it. It wasn’t the right call today.

“We expected a lot more cautions throughout the race. We learned…we were super, super lucky today. Luck was in our favor because we were not going to make it. Then those yellows came.

“It was a very stressful race. I think I lost like five years of my life just trying to save fuel — a lot of fuel — and praying for a yellow. It finally came, which was…perfect for me.

“It was overall a really good day. Could have been a lot cleaner and a lot easier. We wanted to make it a bit too hard.”

Compared to Toronto, where he admitted to some good strategic fortune, Palou said the situation in Nashville was even more extreme.

“Today we were, like, done,” he said. “We couldn’t really save that much fuel: it was impossible. We were already saving and losing like 2s a lap, or 2.5s. They told me to go.

“We did one full lap of ‘going’ because we wanted to get some lap time, try and pass some cars that were, like, 20th or whatever. Suddenly the yellow came. I was like, ‘Yeah!’ Then another yellow that helped me a lot so I could at least be a bit more aggressive or defensive on the last restart.”

He later commented, “When you are on the side of wanting a yellow, it never comes. When you don’t want a yellow, it comes right away.

“In my vision, it was not coming. Everybody was on fuel saving. I don’t know why. Everybody was taking it easy. Then at the end I guess people started pushing. That’s when the yellow came. I was surprised.”

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