Alex Palou was the sole interloper among the established front-runners during last year’s Fast 9 qualifying group at the Indianapolis 500. The then-rookie, driving for one of the smallest teams, hurled the Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda around the Speedway with a fearlessness that was rewarded with seventh on the grid, ahead of Graham Rahal and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.
Contact on Lap 121 ended his race prematurely, but a signal had been sent that he’d have more to offer if a second chance was offered for Indy. That opportunity came from Chip Ganassi, who installed the 24-year-old in his No. 10 Honda to replace the outgoing Felix Rosenqvist, and with a win at the opening race of 2021 and another podium last weekend on the Indy road course, Palou sits second in the championship standings.
If momentum counts for anything, Palou certainly has it, and with a run to eighth on Wednesday during Indy 500 practice, he is starting to feel like more is possible at his new home.
“It was a really good day for the Chip Ganassi Racing team as a whole, having four cars in the top eight,” he said. “It’s really good. It’s still practice, so there’s a long way to go, but you know that it’s still good. Chip, for sure he’s smiling; he wants all [his] drivers in top four but, we’ll try to get that once we get to race.
“This year, obviously, I have more experience, I’m in a big team. I have lots of resources this year, lots of teammates that I can rely on; I can just look at the numbers and what they are doing that I’m not doing. So for sure we want to win all the other races, but obviously this is the most important race of the year for everybody.”
The biggest difference from his first Indy 500 is the caliber of talent and experience at CGR, with 2008 race winner Scott Dixon, 2013 winner Tony Kanaan, and the swift Marcus Ericsson.
“Just improving every single lap and trying to learn from the big guys, from Scott, who is always up there,” he said. “If you look, every run, he’s one of the fastest if not the fastest. So I just tried to learn as much as possible from him. We have Tony around. Marcus was super-fast as well. So yeah, I cannot complain about my teammates, for sure!”
Palou knows it will be hard to sneak up on folks this year at the Speedway.
“Last year was crazy, and it was awesome to be part of Dale Coyne’s small team and being able to go to the Fast 9,” he said. “It was all really good for myself for the team. Nobody expected it, not even me.
“It’s not going to be easy, and only one driver is going to win, obviously. But you have to be there. The last 25 laps… doesn’t matter if you start P1. You need to have your car dialed in for the last 20 laps. So I’m really confident, to be honest. I think we’re going to be able to fight for it.”