The least-well-known driver in the NTT IndyCar Series spent the final laps of the race chasing down and passing 2012 series champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay not once, but twice, to claim third.
Then Alex Palou set off in pursuit of 2014 champion and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power to try and relieve the Team Penske driver of second before setting off in chase of the eventual winner, the five-time IndyCar champion and 2008 Indy victor Scott Dixon.
The Spanish rookie came up 0.654s short at the finish line on Power, but there was no disappointment for the 23-year-old — or his Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh outfit — as IndyCar’s minnows swam with the sharks at Round 1 of a Road America doubleheader on Saturday. A podium finish was heady stuff for a kid who started 14th; used an early pit stop to his advantage as a spate of cautions followed; is learning every IndyCar circuit for the first time; and had only Power and Dixon left to pursue while contesting just his third race.
“To be honest, it was amazing,” Palou told RACER. “Everything I was doing was working. Lap 1, you overtake two or three guys on the start, overtake a few more on the lap, got to ninth, and the car was just getting better and better. In the end, on the restarts, I was like, ‘Oh my god, is Colton going to get me, or can I get by Ryan?’ We got Ryan, and we had more pace than Will; but he had more Push-to-Pass left. I used too much in the beginning, and couldn’t answer.
“I can’t wait to go do this again tomorrow.”
Palou’s rookie campaign has certainly benefitted from a pair of wise and steady hands on the timing stand as Eric Cowdin leads the No. 55’s race engineering efforts. With three decades of experience to download to his driver, the combination is showing immense potential as Palou finds speed and gains confidence with each outing.
“I have a really good team of engineers, and Eric, who is really calm, is very good for me,” Palou added. “In qualifying I was pissed because I made a mistake, and he was keeping me cool and managing me.
“In the race we have really good communication, and the second engineer, Ross Bunnell, who is young, is also really good. I’m very happy.”
If Palou’s podium result in the No. 55 Honda wasn’t enough of a surprise, his teammate, IndyCar sophomore Santino Ferrucci in the No. 18 DCR with Vasser Sullivan Honda, was also in the hunt for a podium until a disastrous final pit stop relegated the American to where he started, in sixth.
“We had a fantastic opening lap moving up from sixth to fourth,” Ferrucci said. “I then made a really tough pass on Ryan Hunter-Reay and got around him for third. From there we moved into second and held our own, didn’t make any mistakes. Coming out of the pits after the last stop we lost a lot of track position when another car turned straight from the fast lane across to his pit box and I was forced to check up. We fought back from there to finish sixth.
“It was a blast to drive!”
The third for Palou and sixth for 22-year-old Ferrucci stands at the team’s second-best all-time results as a two-car operation. DCR’s finest day as a tandem came at another doubleheader where Mike Conway won and teammate Justin Wilson finished third in Round 1 at Detroit.