Palou wins Road America in late stunner

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Palou wins Road America in late stunner


Palou wins Road America in late stunner


One of the best races of the NTT IndyCar Series season looked like it was going to finally take Team Penske out of the winless column; but no, not in 2021, where every race has offered some form of drama and unpredictability.

Leading from pole and dominating the day with 32 laps in control at Road America wasn’t enough for Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Penske Chevy — not with a late caution for Ed Jones’ spin and stall due to broken suspension — which sent the race into a two-lap sprint to the finish.

With his gearbox acting up on the uphill blast for the restart, Newgarden was powerless to defend against Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou in the No. 10 Honda who rocketed by into Turn 1 and motored away to a 1.9s victory over Colton Herta in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and 2.9s over Penske’s Will Power in the No. 12 Chevy.

“Yeah man, I don’t know what to say,” Palou offered in response to Newgarden’s grand misfortune that saw the Penske driver fall from first to P21 at the finish. “Super happy and super proud of the Chip Ganassi team. I can’t believe it.”

While Newgarden’s mechanical problems clearly played a part in how the win was settled, it wouldn’t be fair to say Palou had no chance of getting by after frequently running within a second or less of the two-time champion in the closing stages of the 55-lap contest. One thing was clear, though, as without the maladies, Newgarden would have held a stronger opportunity to keep the lead over the eight-mile sprint to the checkered flag.

It marked Palou’s second win of the year, vaulted the Spaniard back into the championship lead, and gave sponsor NTT Data its second consecutive victory at Road America after former CGR driver Felix Rosenqvist got his first IndyCar win last year in the same No. 10 Honda.

Runner-up Herta, who has a history of winning or missing out on the podium, was thankful to prove he’s capable of running up front on days where victories prove elusive.

“It finally happened,” he said. “I’ve been struggling to get on the podium when I’m not winning, so it feels nice to finally get one, or my second one in my career.”

Palou’s teammate Scott Dixon — who shot from a P13 start to P4 at the finish, 3.9s arrears — made up big ground, and behind him, Dale Coyne Racing’s Romain Grosjean was an animal throughout the race on the way to P5. Similar to Dixon, CGR’s Marcus Ericsson overcame a self-initiated spin and stall to recover to P6 as his team left Wisconsin with a tidy P1-4-6.

Outside the top six, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato was nowhere for most of the race, but used a pit strategy gamble to leap from a P20 start to P8, and two spots behind him, the same gamble helped Carlin Racing’s Max Chilton to shoot from P22 to P10; both drivers led laps on Sunday due to the alternate strategy.

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Oliver Askew also led late, and relied on the same gamble to improve from P16 to a P12 finish.

And finally, Kevin Magnussen’s IndyCar debut was cut short by an electrical issue that shut his Arrow McLaren SP Chevy off after 33 laps shortly after surrendering the lead on an alternate strategy and pitting for service.

That’s two weekends in a row where Team Penske could have come away with a three-peat. They held the lead with a few laps remaining with all three—Power with his electronics issue on Saturday at Detroit Round 1, Newgarden with his ageing tires at Detroit Round 2, and Newgarden again with a mechanical problem at Road America—and were left steaming mad or decidedly unimpressed with fate’s cruel hand.

And how about Palou, who’s become CGR’s most successful driver so far in 2021 and its most consistent performer? Mid-Ohio on July 4, and all of the insanity is will likely bring, can’t get here fast enough.



Polesitter Newgarden took charge from the first start through multiple restarts…until the last one. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Lap 1 opened with polesitter Josef Newgarden taking the lead into Turn 1 with a charging Jack Harvey moving into P2 as Colton Herta and Will Power fought over P3. Pato O’Ward improved to P9 and Scott Dixon was up to P11.

Alexander Rossi (P8), Pato O’Ward, and Dixon were the top drivers on the primary firestone tires. By Lap 3, Newgarden held 0.9s on Harvey and 1.6s on Herta. Takuma Sato outbraked himself and knocked Conor Daly out of P18 while damaging his left tire ramp. With Sato struggling, he fell back to P20 as Kevin Magnussen went to P19. Alex Palou demoted Herta from P3 on Lap 5.

An off-course excursion coming up the hill from Canada Corner on Lap 7 meant Magnussen gave P19 back to Sato. Newgarden’s lead over Harvey stretched out to 2.3s as Palou was moving close to P2, just 0.3s behind at the start of Lap 8.

By Lap 10, Newgarden was out to a showy 4.1s over Harvey. Lap 11 saw Power take P4 from Herta who was visibly struggling on worn red-banded Firestones. Romain Grosjean was next, moving Herta back to P6. At the start of Lap 12, Newgarden’s pace extended the lead to 5.5s as Power stopped to trade reds for primaries. Herta, O’Ward, Romain Grosjean, Oliver Askew and more also stopped as Herta beat Grosjean out of the pits. O’Ward swapped primaries for reds.

Harvey pitted on Lap 13 as Newgarden and Palou stayed out; Harvey was delayed waiting to leave as Ryan Hunter-Reay was inbound for his stop. Power got by Harvey, showing the time loss during his visit to the pits.

Newgarden pitted at the end of Lap 13, as did Rossi while Palou stayed out. Palou finally stopped on Lap 15 as O’Ward had yet another huge oversteer moment dealing with Hunter-Reay leaving the pits. Dixon pushed his first stop to Lap 16, trading primaries for reds.

With the first stops done and the field settling into their second stints, Newgarden was 6.9s clear on Lap 17 over Palou, 10.0s over Power, 10.7 over Harvey, and 13.5 over Herta as the race went yellow for the first time as Jimmie Johnson had yet another race day spin and stall.

The Lap 19 restart saw Grosjean take P5 from Herta and O’Ward outbrake himself in Turn 5 and lose P8 to Rossi. The Magnussen Watch had the Dane in P21, 13.9s behind Newgarden at the end of the lap. At the start of Lap 22, Newgarden held 1.2s over Palou and 4.3s over Power. Rossi and Hunter-Reay went after each other, with Rossi claiming P7.

Lap 23 was unkind to Detroit Round 1 winner Marcus Ericsson, who spun on his own onto the grass and stalled at Turn 3, which brought out the second caution of the day. He was P12 at the time.

Pitting at the end of Lap 24, almost the entire field stopped for fresh tires and fuel. Magnussen and Sato stayed out, inheriting P1-P2, as Newgarden was first to exit the pits with Palou behind and Power in third as a bunch of other drivers jostled and rubbed wheels while returning to the track.

The Lap 26 restart had Palou trying to muscle by Newgarden on two occasions but he was unsuccessful as Magnussen pulled a 1.7s lead over Sato. Graham Rahal took P11 from Hunter-Reay and P10 from O’Ward on consecutive laps. Dixon, with their pit strategy in mind, was back where he started in P13.

By Lap 28, Magnussen was 2.3s up on Sato. Lap 30 showed the age of Magnussen’s reds as the lead was down to 0.7s as Grosjean liberated O’Ward from P10. Sato went by into P1 on Lap 31 as Newgarden and Palou were slowed behind Magnussen, who pitted at the end of the lap.

Power lost P3 to Herta and Rossi between Laps 32-33 as Sato pitted. Magnussen pulled off the road at Turn 7 on Lap 35, saying, “Just lost power, I pulled the clutch in and the engine died.” The third caution of the day followed.

Harvey, Askew, Conor Daly and Simon Pagenaud pitted on Lap 37 as they decided to gamble and try and make an exceptionally long run to the checkered flag.

The Lap 38 restart had a top 10 of Newgarden, Palou, Herta, Rossi, Power, Rahal, Grosjean, Dixon, Jones, and O’Ward ready to go. Newgarden got a good jump and Grosjean took P6 from Rahal. Newgarden got down to business and extended a gap of 1.2s over Palou in one lap. Harvey, best of the gamblers, was P18 on Lap 39.

Dixon was first in the top 10 to pit and took reds, stopping on Lap 40 from P8. Newgarden was next to pit on Lap 41 as Power, O’Ward, and Hunter-Reay joined him. Palou and Herta stopped on Lap 42 from P1-P2. The upcoming blend would tell the tale of the race.

Newgarden swept by to reclaim the lead and held 2.0s over Palou. On Lap 43, Rahal outbraked himself into Turn 5 and gave P13 to Grosjean. Up front, the gamblers held the lead with Max Chilton in P1, followed by Sato, Askew, Harvey, and Daly. In P6, Newgarden led those on a normal strategy.

Newgarden’s lead over Palou was down to 0.7s as the race wound down to its last 10 laps. Big pass by Grosjean on Rossi for P10 on Lap 47 in Turn 1.

Chilton and Sato pitted on Lap 49 as Askew stayed out and inherited P1. Lap 52 ended Askew’s time in lead as Ed Jones spun in Canada Corner with a damaged left-rear corner; the timing was unfortunate, but it’s unlikely Askew could have used the caution with four laps to go to save enough fuel to make it to the finish without pitting.

The Lap 54 restart saw Palou fire by Newgarden at the top of the hill to take the lead as Newgarden suffered some form of gearbox issue and fell back to the bottom of the field. This IndyCar season is crazy!

Palou hit the white flag with a 1.6s lead over Herta and 2.8s over Power.

Alex Palou wins his second race of the year!