Alex Palou knows he had the car to win the Indianapolis 500. Each year on Memorial Day weekend, there’s at least one driver like him with everything they need, barring luck, to achieve victory, and in 2022, it was the Spaniard who was felled by the caution lights being illuminated at the worst possible time.
Moments away from crossing into pit lane to have his depleted fuel tank filled, Palou was leading on lap 68 as he drove in for service from the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda team. He’d end up stopping for an emergency splash of fuel, return when the pits opened for full service, and then served a drive-through penalty for stopping while it was closed. From P1 to P30 on the lap 77 restart, Palou’s chances of winning were cooked, and after the race, he had the look of a man dealing with heavy inner turmoil.
His ever-present smile traded for a hardened thousand-yard stare, Palou was angered by an outcome that wasn’t of his making. Speaking with RACER on Tuesday, the reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion says he’s returned to a happier place.
“I was fine after like an hour,” Palou told RACER. “But obviously, I was not super happy with how it went. You have probably one of the best cars, if not the best car, and when I was leading, the speed of my car was a little bit faster than [teammate] Scott [Dixon] and we were doing everything right. The tough thing was to be upfront and get the fuel mileage and we were achieving that. You are there, entering the pit lane, and suddenly the yellow comes on and instead of like crying or getting angry, I was just laughing because it was like, ‘Come on, man…’ And then we had to stop again for fuel. So it was all a mess.”
After restarting in last place, the speed Palou demonstrated in the beginning of the race remained and he was one of few drivers who could make passes throughout the field. He’d eventually finish ninth.
“I didn’t expect when I was P30 to go to the top 10 without any strategy or anything like that. It was just by pace and overtaking,” he said. “So I was really happy about that because my race car was awesome to drive. I did need some time after the race to myself but after that, I was all right.”
With Palou out of contention, Dixon carried the torch and was on his way to earning his second Indy 500 win when pit lane struck again. This time, it wasn’t bad luck, but rather, an excess of speed and a locked brake that sent the No. 9 Honda sailing through the speed trap above the 60mph limit. Cue the second drive-through penalty of the day for a Ganassi driver who entered the pits in an advantageous position and Dixon would return to pay the penalty on lap 177 of 200. He’d return in P26 and fight his way to an unrepresentative 21st at the checkered flag.
“It must’ve been very close,” a dejected Dixon said of going over the speed limit. “I came into the pits and locked the rears, then kind of locked all four. So, I knew it would be close and I think it was a mile an hour over or something. The car was really good all day. We had really good speed and the team did an amazing job on strategy.”
Knowing he couldn’t get the win for the team, Palou says he felt terrible for Dixon when the New Zealander lost his chance.
“Two of us in two hours had bad things happen, but I felt bad even more for Scott than I did for me,” he added. “He’s the kind of guy that does everything right, and there’s just one tiny mistake that ruins the whole race and I felt really bad. I mean, Scott’s a guy that won six championships and only one Indy 500, and if you look at the stats, there’s no way that you could think that he only won one Indy 500. So they always say that that place doesn’t owe you anything. I think that place owes something to Scott in my opinion, not to me, but to him. This guy, he deserves more Indy wins.”
CGR’s Marcus Ericsson would eventually get the team into victory lane, and for that, Palou is thankful.
“It’s an amazing, great event, but there are too many circumstances that you cannot control,” he said. “I think that’s why you can be the best on one day, but then lose everything on the next one. Maybe Scott and I, we didn’t get everything that we wanted on this day, but our teammate Marcus did, and he did an amazing job all month, so this makes everyone happy in this team. Of course we all want to be the one who does the win, but even if it can’t be you, one of your brothers wins and that makes everything good.”