It isn’t sexy, and it won’t make a lot of headlines until the season is over, but for those who are following along with Alex Palou’s NTT IndyCar Season so far, the Spaniard is killing his rivals with consistency.
After four races — two on street courses, one on a superspeedway and the last on a natural-terrain road course – the reigning IndyCar champion has yet to win, but that’s not a total surprise after Team Penske and Arrow McLaren SP have helped Chevy to go undefeated since the season opened in February.
The praiseworthy twist for Palou and his No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda crew comes from their efforts to mitigate the Chevy steamroller by maximizing their points haul at every race, and thanks to those efforts, Palou enters the month of May as the leader in the Drivers’ championship.
Opening his year with a second-place finish at St. Petersburg, Palou was slightly adrift with a seventh at Texas, but rebounded with a third at Long Beach and another second last weekend in Alabama. He’s the only driver in the series to score three podiums from the first four rounds, and while his points lead over Penske’s St. Pete winner Scott McLaughlin is a rather slim 144-141, Palou finds himself in a remarkable groove as another natural road course and the Indianapolis 500 come into view.
A fighting second at last year’s Indy 500, Palou has become a threat at every type of track on the IndyCar calendar and, based on his work product so far in 2022, represents Honda’s best chance to find victory lane.
CGR managing director Mike Hull, who’s seen the likes of Alex Zanardi, Dario Franchitti, and Scott Dixon use the same points-first formula to amass 11 combined titles with the team, says it’s time to put some respect on the Spaniard’s name for his ability — at just 25 years of age — to drive with a championship-minded maturity that belies his youth.
“He can do that because he drives in a culture that supports his talent, and that might almost sound like an ego statement, but it isn’t meant to be one,” Hull told RACER. “It’s more that he has the comfort level of knowing that he has lots of resource that’s helping him with the ability that he has, so that he can be patient while he runs at the front.
“Some young drivers are very impatient with being able to drive at the front because they probably act or feel like they may never get another chance to lead a race, so they take more risks than the situation warrants. They make immature decisions, place themselves in risky situations that don’t always work in their favor, but Alex has maturity in those scenarios because he has resource.”
Asked to elaborate – since Palou demonstrated the same consistency as a newcomer to CGR in 2021 – Hull says the three-time race winner and defending champion’s inherent tendency to choose points over low-percentage passes is a perfect fit for the perennial title contenders.
“What that actually means is the fact that he can work really, really hard to maintain consistency because he knows the next week, he can come back with the same opportunity to win or place on the podium,” Hull said. “And it’s gonna be there for him. To me, that’s the reality of it.
“There’s going to be another opportunity for him next week; it’s not going to go away, and he knows that. That’s what creates the momentum that you need with consistency like he routinely demonstrates. Consistency creates momentum when you have resource. And that resource is very, very deep for him.”
Hull also points to those surrounding Palou within CGR who infuse the 25-year-old with confidence to work towards being the best driver across an entire season than individual rounds.
“He has great teammates in the other cars who’ve all contributed to him in the same way he contributes to them, but more than that, he has good people working on his car,” Hull said. “He has good people in the building that are helping him. He has great partners that are helping him. And that’s all there at his disposal. And they support him on a good day and they support him when it’s not the best day.
“He is very, very patient with speed. That’s hard to do for many young drivers who tend to think that speed is the only currency of value. It’s not. You can over-drive the tires, over-drive the car to make speed when it isn’t there naturally, but only for so long before it catches you out and bites you. That approach isn’t Alex’s approach. I think that that has a lot to do with his ability to be as consistent as he’s been.”