Welcome to IndyCar, Alex Palou. The Spanish kid who came to IndyCar from racing seriously fast opener-wheelers in Japan wasn’t intimidated on his introduction to ovals at Texas, had a rather silent follow-up weekend at Indy, and found his groove at Road America with a stellar third on Saturday. Qualifying third on Sunday, he overcame major balance problems to finish directly behind teammate Santino Ferrucci. As a whole, it was among Dale Coyne Racing’s finer days in recent years as Palou’s finishes of P3/P7 and Ferrucci’s pair of sixths came at the expense of bigger teams and more experienced drivers.
Staying with Santino, Ferrucci’s drive on Saturday was among the first of its kind for the Connecticut native outside of IndyCar’s ovals. Hailed for his ballsy oval performances as a rookie, the life-long road racer didn’t make as big of an impression at the type of tracks he grew up on; with the strong effort in qualifying, which carried over into the Round 1 race, we got to see the first glimpse of Ferrucci the all-rounder. It continued on Sunday, which has the DCR with Vasser Sullivan driver holding 10th in the standings.
Another quick Palou note: He’s leading the rookie standings and holds 12th in the championship.
The closing laps of Round 2 featured Felix Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward battling like mad, and behind the scenes, we had another featured competition between driver coaches as Rosenqvist’s man, four-time champion Dario Franchitti, advised remotely from London. O’Ward had IndyCar front-runner Robert Wickens lending his insights from pit lane.
Marcus Ericsson! Wedged between Josef Newgarden and Will Power in the points on speed and merit!
It feels like Power’s season has been a rolling disaster, but that second-place result on Saturday has proven to be extraordinarily valuable. Sunday’s opening lap might be the toughest of his career with two points of contact made with rivals and a third with trackside signage, and despite the ensuing penalty for avoidable contact and 11th-place finish, he still holds seventh in the standings. Even more remarkable, Power’s only 18 points out of third. A decent doubleheader in Iowa could change everything for the Team Penske veteran.
‘Rodeo Rinus’ VeeKay went full Malcolm McLaren with his ‘round the outside’ pass on Simon Pagenaud at the carousel to start the first race. It’s the kind of thing reserved almost exclusively for youth and bravery. Sadly, it might have been the lone highlight of the event for his Ed Carpenter Racing team. From the high of VeeKay’ fifth-place finish at Indy, the Dutchman qualified P16/P15, and finished P13/P14. The targeting system for teammate Conor Daly’s car by the ACME cartoon anvil was spot-on as the Hoosier’s P19/P20 starts were met with the aforementioned crash in Race 1 and the starting line silliness in Race 2 that left him with P21/P18 finishes. Luckily, they’re moving onto Iowa, where ECR always performs.
A.J. Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett did a good job of leaving the front-runners to conduct their business when they came upon the No. 14 Chevy at Road America. To his credit, the Canadian rookie has finished his first three races while demonstrating remarkable consistency with results of 21st, 20th, and 20th.
Dale Coyne Racing is finding its sweet spot. Image by Cantrell/Motorsport Images
The weekend was looking like a write-off for the Foyt team until Charlie Kimball and race engineer Mike Pawlowski found a useful setup for Sunday’s qualifying. Starting 13th, Kimball took the No. 4 Chevy to a high of fifth during the final pit stop exchange and finished 10th, less than five seconds behind Penske’s Newgarden.
Until Rosenqvist’s win on Sunday, most of the focus on bad starts to the season had been placed on Alexander Rossi, which made it easy to ignore the Ganassi driver’s terrible start. Having documented his crash while running second at Texas, and the myriad problems on and off the track at Indy, the Swedish sophomore was hit with Honda motor problems in Round 1. Entering Round 2, Rosenqvist was 18th in points, with finishes of 20th, 15th, and 18th. For the sake of comparison, he had four total finishes of 15th or worse throughout the entire 17-race 2019 season. And with his win on Sunday, he jumped 10 championship spots to eighth.
We had the crazy collision of the Golden Bowling Ball and the Cartoon Anvil in a single corner on Sunday as Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay came together. RHR thought Power shouldn’t have been there on his outside, Power was trying to follow Scott Dixon, who used the outside lane to get past RHR, and as the No. 28 Honda crept left to close the express lane, tires met and he was pitched into the barriers. The ensuing contact with Rahal, followed by understeering off the road to close lap 1, left Power as the person his fellow drivers wanted to vote off of IndyCar Island by the end of the episode.
Fourth in points to start the year in Texas, Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach is down to 13th after a pair of 16th-place results in Wisconsin. He’s another driver who needs to stop the slide in Iowa. Add AMSP’s Oliver Askew to the list, whose rookie campaign has diverged from O’Ward’s steady rise. The Floridian is 19th in points, two markers ahead of Jack Harvey, and eight in front of the misery-laden Marco Andretti, who sits 21st and last in the standings among full-timers.
Scott Dixon’s string of three consecutive race wins matches a three-race run in 2013 when he won at Pocono and took both Toronto doubleheader rounds. He did it for first time back in 2007, making this his third three-win streak (that’s a lot of three, I know). He joins Ganassi alumni Juan Pablo Montoya, who has a pair of three-race win streaks, but unlike Dixon, there wasn’t a big gap between the feats; JPM took three-in-a-row on two occasions during his title-winning 1999 CART IndyCar Series season. Both Dixie and JPM trail Ganassi legend Alex Zanardi in this department: The pineapple took three on the trot in 1997, then went four-in-a-row in 1998. Both years, Zanardi won the championship. In fact, whenever Chip’s IndyCar drivers have won three or more consecutive races in a year, they’ve won the title, with one exception: 2007, when Dixon finished behind his future teammate Dario Franchitti…
There wasn’t much time to catch a breath from the start of Saturday’s opening practice session to the final lap of Sunday’s race. If you watch IndyCar for equal parts action and drama, the Road America doubleheader delivered in every way imaginable.