Palou scores comeback victory in Portland after chaotic start

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Palou scores comeback victory in Portland after chaotic start

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Palou scores comeback victory in Portland after chaotic start

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The Portland Grand Prix lived up to expectations as a raucous start in Turn 1 claimed multiple cars in a big crash and the leaders blew through the chicane, which set the stage for dueling race strategies. Once the 110 laps were done, Alex Palou turned a terrible start from pole into a big win.

The Spaniard’s third victory of the year was produced after two terrible races, where the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s championship lead was surrendered to the streaking Pato O’Ward from Arrow McLaren SP. It looked like more misery was on hand as he and teammate Scott Dixon were demoted to the back after AMSP’s Felix Rosenqvist nudged Dixon entering Turn 1 at the start and forced the CGR driver to go straight — blocking the path for Palou, who went straight as well.

The lap 1 melee ended James Hinchcliffe’s day on the spot; after repairs were made, Helio Castroneves, Romain Grosjean, Will Power, Oliver Askew, and more visited pit lane for a variety of fixes. At the end of the long caution, Palou, Dixon, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, and a few others pitted and switched to three-stop strategies.

That decision would prove to be fateful as those who stuck with two-stop runs — including Graham Rahal who led many laps in the middle of the race — were powerless to stop Palou in the No. 10 entry, Rossi in the No. 27, and Dixon in the No. 9. It was a remarkable back-to-front feat for the trio who started 1-2-3 and finished 1-2-3 for Honda.

“We kept our heads down and knew the race was really long,” Palou said. “I can’t believe it. The strategy was amazing.”

Dixon was philosophical after the early adversity ultimately turned in their favor.

“It’s just one of those situations,” he said. “Tried to make sure nobody filled that hole. I backed out of it and got hit immediately. Huge congrats to Alex and the whole team. Great to have both cars on the podium.”

O’Ward was sitting pretty after the early incident as he led or ran second, but a late switch to a three-stop plan and a lack of grip and chassis balance tanked his chances to earn a quality finish. The No. 5 Chevy trailed home in 14th, which handed the lead in the points standings back to Palou.

Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey added to the Honda dominance in the No. 60 Honda, and behind him in fifth, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden completed an impressive improvement from an 18th-place start as the top Chevy driver on the day. Rosenqvist, who triggered the drama on lap 1, rounded out the top six in the No. 7 AMSP Chevy.

Rahal was a dispirited 10th after looking so strong in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, and in a similar vein, Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan’s Ed Jones was also on the march but like Rahal, had to save fuel to make their two-stop strategies work.

It was a classic Portland race with a handful of cautions, hip-checks and hits in Turn 1, and an unpredictable outcome as those yellows spun the wheel of fate to reward those who were unlucky at the outset of the Portland GP. And in just a few days, the penultimate round in Monterey will be here where Palou, O’Ward, Newgarden, and Dixon will rage once more as the 2021 championship winds down.

RESULTS

AS IT HAPPENED 

Pole-sitter Alex Palou and teammate Scott Dixon sailed through the Turn 1 chicane as Felix Rosenqvist hit Dixon from behind and unsettled his car, which led he and Palou and Rosenqvist to motor through the chicane as others came together while trying to take the corner as it was intended.

Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Romain Grosjean, and Oliver Askew were left sitting stationary as the field streaked away and the first caution period commenced just seconds after the green flag waved. The melee left championship leader Pato O’Ward in the lead as they circulated under yellow with Graham Rahal directly behind. Other drivers facing adversity with damage included James Hinchcliffe, whose car was sent back to the paddock for repairs.

With the long yellow to clear cars and sort those who remained, a number of drivers pitted for fuel and tires as Palou, Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Colton Herta stopped and fell to the bottom half of the running order.

Once the field was reordered, O’Ward got a healthy jump on Rahal on the lap 12 restart. Behind them, Ed Jones was in third, Marcus Ericsson was in fourth, and Sebastien Bourdais was fifth. Dixon took 17th off of Palou on the next lap as Palou had Rossi in pursuit in 19th.

O’Ward maintained a gap of 0.5s to 0.7s over Rahal as the race reached lap 17. Jones was 2.6s behind as the leaders drew away. Pit stops started to happen just past lap 20. By lap 25, O’Ward’s lead had gown to 1.0s over Rahal with Jones 3.8s back and Ericsson down 4.5s to the leader.

Pitting at the end of lap 29, O’Ward sat for a few moments longer than optimal and returned in 15th as Rahal stayed out and tried to put in some storming laps before making his first stops with a hope of leapfrogging O’Ward.

Rahal was in at the end of lap 35 to join O’Ward on Firestone’s primary tires and had a fast stop that got him out a few seconds ahead of O’Ward. Most of the drivers committed to a three-stop strategy had pitted by lap 38, with only Jack Harvey and Takuma Sato remaining as they ran 1-2 ahead of the two-stop group of Josef Newgarden, Dixon, Palou, and Rossi.

Newgarden was in on lap 40 and cast doubt as to whether he was still interested in a three-stop plan. By lap 41, Dixon, Palou, and Rossi ran 1-2-3. Dixon stopped on lap 44 and was followed by Rossi and Herta.

Dixon came out ahead of Newgarden but was passed in a daring move entering Turn 11 as Palou pitted and emerged in front of the two. Up front, Rahal held 2.6s over O’Ward and 3.2s over Scott McLaughlin. Palou was in P10, with Newgarden 1.4s back in 11th and Dixon 2.5s arrears in 12th as the battle among pit strategies raged on.

By lap 50, Rahal charged out to 3.6s over O’Ward as the leader appeared to be much happier on his Firestone primaries. Running 17th, Callum Ilott’s car came to a stop on lap 51, which led to a caution as Dalton Kellett also ground to a halt. A flurry of drivers, including O’Ward in second, pitted before the caution was displayed; Rahal stayed out and maintained the lead with Jones, Jack Harvey. Palou, Newgarden, and Dixon in tow. O’Ward settled into 12th.

The lap 58 restart saw Rahal get a good jump on Jones, and behind them, Dixon got a run on Newgarden into Turn 1, but Rossi dove down the inside and passed the pair to claim fifth.

By lap 74, Rahal, on fumes, was 1.7s clear of Jones, 2.9s up on Harvey, and 3.6 clear of Palou. He pitted at the end of the lap and stayed on Firestones primaries. Jones followed, taking alternate tires. Harvey inherited the lead and pitted on lap 77 along with Newgarden.

The extra laps helped as Harvey overtook Rahal and Newgarden passed Jones. Rossi was in on lap 79 as the different strategies started to play out as final stops were made and came out in front of Harvey. Palou was in on the next lap and emerged well clear of Rossi. Newgarden took down Rahal and started chasing Harvey. Dixon was last among the big contenders to pit, stopping on lap 81.

Palou retained the lead among his group, and while Dixon returned behind him, Rossi flew by exiting the Turn 1 chicane to hold seventh behind Palou. O’Ward pitted from third at the end of lap 84. Once he was going, he cycled down to 16th.

Another caution flew on lap 87 as teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power clashed with Pagenaud — on cold tires — diving down the inside of Power, which led to contact and the Frenchman spinning and stalling on entry to the back straight.

The lap 90 restart saw Palou charge away but contact at Turn 1 left Askew sitting stalled for the second time on Sunday afternoon after he was nudged by Bourdais. It prompted another caution and another restart where Palou got another jump on Rossi on lap 93. O’Ward was down in 13th.

By lap 95, Palou’s lead was 1.5s over Rossi, 2.4 over Dixon, 3.5 over Harvey, 4.3s over Newgarden, and 5.0s over Rosenqvist.

Lap 105 had Palou in a comfortable place with 1.3s over Rossi as he went on to win his third race of the year.

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