Palou riding a career wave: “I don’t want this moment to end”

Palou riding a career wave: "I don't want this moment to end"
Palou riding a career wave: "I don't want this moment to end"

Alex Palou has held a firm line throughout the year where he’s politely declined requests to speak about where and for whom he’ll be driving in 2024.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, as RACER chronicled in June, has been spoiled with options that range from staying with his current team to departing for Arrow McLaren. His managers have also been busy trying to find opportunities for the Spanish phenom in Formula 1, and with his name held high in silly season conversations for two straight years, Palou has come to a firm realization.

“I cannot wait for this to honestly be over,” Palou told RACER. “To be able to say that I have, I don’t know, a 25-year contract with someone, or whatever, means I’m not going to get those questions anymore!”

RACER understands the Ganassi IndyCar ace and McLaren Formula 1 test driver needs to get to September 1 before his expiring contract allows for negotiations and the conclusion of any official deals to take place with other teams.

Barring an unforeseen plot twist, Palou is expected to be confirmed at Arrow McLaren, which has been the subject of speculation dating back to 2022 when lawsuits and legal entanglements between the IndyCar champion and the Ganassi team made for a tense and largely unproductive summer of racing.

Being in the center of a self-made storm knocked Palou off his game, but with the one-year reconciliation achieved with Ganassi to continue in 2023, and all manner of positive interest being received by those who want to acquire his services for the future, he has never been faster or more effective in the cockpit.

“I’m not proud of everything that happened last year and being in the media for bad stuff off of the track,” Palou said. “I just like to be in the media because of winning races, and not because of something else. But it’s not been as bad this year, obviously. I think last year was terrible for everybody mentally and it was tough to deal with. But that just made me a lot stronger this year. Honestly, what’s been happening this year, it’s been actually fun hearing what people think I’m doing [next year].

“There’s been a lot of interest from people wanting to know where we’re going to be next season, and obviously getting silly season talks from other series as well, that’s more than welcome. But I cannot wait for that to be over.”

Palou struggled to block out the noise last year as speculation whirled about his future. The speculation is still there this time around, but his massive points lead suggests it’s no longer a distraction… Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

When it comes to the current season of IndyCar racing, Palou’s dominance has been the major talking point. Armed with the same race engineer in Julian Robertson, the same crew chief in Ricky Davis, and the same race strategist in Barry Wanser, Palou’s surrounded by the identical group who facilitated his 2021 championship victory and did their best to support him through last year’s contractual sagas.

What’s remarkable now is how Palou, with no changes to his No. 10 Honda program, has found a new level within himself that wasn’t previously seen or expected. In his fourth IndyCar season, the runaway championship leader, who’s won 40 percent of the races so far, has become wholly unrecognizable to the driver who won the title as a sophomore.

How has Palou made such foreboding gains in a single offseason? He puts it down to age and going through the wars that limited his potential 12 months ago.​​

“I would say experience, and I would say confidence within myself,” he said. “Hopefully, this version of myself lasts forever, but it’s not easy. And it’s not one thing. I’m not only more confident with the car, but the team is doing a tremendous job as well. And my car is crazy fast, like, I’ve never had a slow car this year. I’ve never been this comfortable in my racing career, because you’re always moving from series to series. But now, it’s my first time that I’ve been doing one series for three to four years, so it’s just making me able to extract everything from myself.

“I learned a lot in 2021 and 2022. And I’m still learning a ton. But I would say also that when you’re in this moment that I am now, where everything goes well, things like this can happen. There’s some other seasons, like last year, where man, it was like there was no way that we could have a clean, good race without crazy stuff happening to us. And no matter how much effort you put in, it’s not your time.

“I would say also mentally, what happened last year was terrible, but I was able to improve from it with mental toughness. That was something that I said, ‘Man, it’s no good what’s happening, but let’s try and learn from this and try and take it into next year,’ and it made me mentally tougher. I can feel that.”

Palou has also reached an important stage in another area of his mental development. He’s by no means the only young driver with prodigious talent in IndyCar, but as many of his contemporaries know — and the elite veterans can attest — the ability to quiet one’s mind and mute distractions is a game-changing breakthrough.

“I don’t really hear noise,” he said. “Anything outside of the track, or outside of my team, it’s not what’s going on in my mind. A lot of things are clicking at the same time. And I’m still improving. I don’t think I’m all the way there. Like, getting 100 percent from an IndyCar, I’m not there. It’s so tough. But I can see that I’m more comfortable to drive closer to the limit than I was last year or two years ago. And now, I’m in my best moment of my career, and I just don’t want this moment to end.”​

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