It’s worth overstating the other major point: O’Ward, Newgarden, and Dixon are all chasing those 54 points in Monterey, let’s not forget that Rossi, Colton Herta, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Rinus VeeKay, Romain Grosjean and a handful of others could just as easily grab the win and 50 or more points to spoil their respective days. Palou would love to win as well, but if he can’t, he’ll be rooting for a driver from outside the top four to stand on the top step of the podium and minimize what his chasers can earn.
Minus adversity in California, sure, Palou’s looking strong to become our next champion. But come on — this is IndyCar 2021, where nothing goes to plan. I can’t fathom what the standings will look like by the end of the weekend.
About that Turn 1 rule
It’s a quick turnaround between Portland and Laguna, so let’s dive right in.
If a driver is hit from behind and rendered unable to make Portland’s Turn 1 chicane, should they lose their track position when the field is reordered under caution? That was the question being asked by some who were affected by IndyCar’s lack of imagination on Sunday.
Portland’s Turn 1 Festival Chicane it’s such a well-known problem on starts and restarts, officials wrote a specific doctrine to police the inevitable kerblammos. If you successfully made it through the chicane and crossed over the two embedded timing loops, your position was preserved in the event of a caution. But if you bypassed the chicane, failed to drive over the timing loops and went straight(ish) for whatever reason, you were moved to the back of the field, behind those who weren’t caught up in the melee.
The black and white policy was meant to govern those who might gain an advantage by plowing through the chicane — often as the result of contact — and was duly applied to a few drivers who weren’t impressed with the outcome. As Turn 1, lap 1 showed us, this isn’t a binary thing. Felix Rosenqvist lightly hit Dixon in the left-rear tire, which unsettled the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s car and caused him to lock the brakes and slide past the turn-in point for the corner. Rosenqvist also tagged Palou’s left rear, which had the same effect.
Without the double hits to the CGR drivers, both appeared to be on their way to successfully slowing, turning, and navigating the chicane as intended. Add in the rearward contacts from Rosenqvist, and the CGR drivers failed to complete the corner. Behind them, others crashed, spun, and had separate incidents that only added to the restart order complications.
What’s weird here is how IndyCar will go way over the top to protect drivers from being blocked in qualifying, where track position is prized like it’s the most valuable commodity on earth. In the event of a driver causing the tiniest delay on someone’s lap, race stewards seemingly can’t wait to hammer the offender with a penalty that ruins their qualifying session. Hinder another driver by 0.05s in a corner and boom, because of your transgression, say goodbye to your two fastest laps and welcome to a midfield starting position.
But when we get into the race, and drivers like Palou and Dixon aren’t just hindered — they’re hit from behind — the officials abandon their overprotective nature, stop caring about whether someone was unfairly robbed of whatever track position they were in, and lump the innocent drivers in with the offenders by dispatching them to the rear of the field.
Defend the innocent in qualifying, but punish them in the race? It’s a bizarre disconnect.
Palou is certainly an interesting case study in how, even if he hadn’t been hit and locked his brakes, Dixon was blocking his ability to turn into the chicane thanks to his former teammate’s love tap. In the end, everything corrected itself by the checkered flag, but since we’re going back to Portland next year, maybe the series needs to think hard on whether Turn 1 deserves more than a black and white approach to officiating.