Alex Palou returns to the site of this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series doubleheader with strong feelings of nostalgia on his mind.
It was 14 months ago, during a low-key test at Mid-Ohio, that the Spaniard turned his first laps in a Dale Coyne Racing Dallara DW12-Honda, and thanks to the immediate speed that was produced, efforts to reroute the 23-year-old’s career from Japan’s Super Formula and Super GT series to IndyCar were put in motion.
Palou lands at the 2.2-mile road course holding second in Rookie of The Year standings and 16th overall in the championship, five points behind Conor Daly and five points in front of 2019 Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew. His earnest appreciation for all that’s happened during his first year of racing in America – amid all the oddities and adjustments IndyCar has faced in 2020 – is among the more heartfelt storylines to come from the season.
“It’s crazy to think that it’s been over a year now,” he told RACER. “I was getting on that plane from Japan thinking it was a dream, like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s happening! I’m going to test an IndyCar!’ And I not only got to test it; I was inside the team during the race weekend, listening on the radio, and got to see how the Dale Coyne team was working. Then I had to drive the car on Monday, which was amazing.
“And I was like, ‘OK, now at least they know my name. They know who I am, and they know I can be quick. So hopefully, in one or two years, if they need a driver for something, they might call me.’ I flew back to Japan, was super happy, having a dream come true to test an IndyCar. And then, suddenly, here I am racing an IndyCar. It’s crazy.”
The partnership between Coyne and Palou’s Super GT entrant, Kazumichi Goh, resulted in the formation of DCR with Team Goh and the No. 55 Honda as the sister entry to new lead driver Santino Ferrucci in the No. 18 DCR with Vasser Sullivan Honda.
Through the early rounds in 2020 where a few road courses were on the menu, Palou often held the upper hand within the team where he earned Coyne’s one and only podium so far with a third-place finish at the opening Road America race. The shift to five consecutive ovals turned the tide in Ferrucci’s favor, and with five straight road and street courses ahead on the calendar to close the year, the kid who’s visiting almost every circuit for the first time hopes to move forward in the drivers’ standings.
“So Mid-Ohio, I think it’s going to be the turning point for our season, just because you come to 2020 with difficult situations and changes to the calendar as we all know,” he said. “And suddenly, from the first eight or nine races, you have six ovals, which I’ve not been in an oval before this year, and I have no idea how to race on ovals before we do the first race of my career here at Texas.
“It’s crazy to think that we are still in the mix with the rookie battle, and that we’ve been OK on ovals while I’m learning so much about them each time. And I didn’t know them before I came to race on them, but I really like the ovals. I like discovering the new techniques to driving and racing. And now it’s time to go to road courses where I have experience. I’m ready. Mid-Ohio the only track that we are going to go that I’ve been last year, so I think that’s going to help me a lot.”
Palou has one goal to achieve in the final weeks of his first IndyCar season: To earn a return invitation in 2021.
“That’s also why these races that are coming now are so important,” he said. “I don’t have a contract for next year, but it’s all good. I understand it because this season started late and many things are different. In a normal season, this would be super late to get a seat, but nowadays, we’re still on time. Mr. Coyne and Mr. Goh have been very generous to bring me here.
“So hopefully at Mid-Ohio, it’s going to be a great weekend to really put our name up there and see if the team is happy, the sponsors are happy, and we can continue being here in IndyCar. That’s my goal. My dream is to stay in IndyCar, and go win some championships.”