The Rolex 24 At Daytona is a magnet for drivers from other disciplines. For some its convenience, or a chance to stay sharp with a race in the middle of the off-season. For Alex Palou, the reigning champion of the NTT IndyCar Series, it was a must-do.
“The atmosphere is good, the track is really historic and for motorsport, I think it’s important,” said Palou as he prepared to race his first 24-hour sports car endurance race as part of the No. 01 Cadillac Racing entry. “I used to see this race as a kid on TV, so it’s pretty special to drive around here. And the car has been good, so I’m excited to go and race it.
“I like to race whatever, and so I would race every weekend if could. This is one of those events that you want to race and you want to win. I knew that there was the second car, so it was a great opportunity to join the team.”
The Spaniard joins fellow IndyCar champ and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon in supplementing the full-time pairing of Renger van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais. While he would have like to have had more track time at the Roar — a difficult task with four drivers — he has acclimated quickly.
“They [the IndyCar and Cadillac DPi] are different and similar at the same time in terms of speed and the way it feels around the corners. You’re not going from a Formula 4 car to an Indy car, so they’re quite similar. But then the way they drive, it’s really, really different. Here you have power steering, the car is a bit longer and it feels a bit less reactive, and it doesn’t move as much as an Indy car. An Indy car, you have to drive it really aggressively, on the edge, and as soon as you get the DPi on the edge, it doesn’t really want to go there. So it’s a bit more calm, but it’s more challenging in other ways.”
Traffic is one of the chief differences. Palou may lap some competitors in an IndyCar race, but he’s not lapping several a lap, every lap, at radically different closing speeds. That, and driving at night in a car with headlights, are going to be new experiences for him.
“It doesn’t help me having 61 cars on track, but it’s easy when it’s practice. Everybody’s more relaxed; you don’t care if you lose half a second. Nobody’s trying to block you. So I think it’s quite easy now and it’s actually fun. I know when it comes to the race and you’re battling with someone else and you lose that extra tenth, you’re going to get frustrated. But it’s 24 hours …. I think it makes it exciting and this is maybe a track where it’s quite good for traffic and you can manage it.”
While Palou is the new guy when it comes to sports car racing — notwithstanding a season in Super GT in Japan — there is no shortage of information available to him. The knowledge well is deep, with his co-drivers having eight overall or class victories at the Rolex 24 between them. So what piece of advice has stuck with him the most?
“They all say that it’s a 24-hour race, but it’s only a 30-minute race at the end. The 23 hours before you just need to make sure the car is good, that you put it where you want to be and try to push as much as possible at the end!”