Christian Lundgaard led most of the opening lap of the Indianapolis Grand Prix, but the polesitter quickly fell prey to Alex Palou who used superior tire strategy and pace to lead 52 of the 85-lap contest and score his first win of the season. And what a win it was as the Spaniard claimed Chip Ganassi Racing’s 125th IndyCar victory and 247th win across all forms of racing.
“We knew we had a fast car since practice,” Palou said. “Perfect day for the No. 10 car.”
Palou also took command of the drivers’ standings after his dominant performance in the No. 10 Honda as he fended off Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward with ease to cross the finish line with a crushing 16.8s advantage over the No. 5 Chevy.
“If we’re second for the rest of the season, we’re chillin’,” said O’Ward, who earned his third runner-up finish of the year. “I know what we’ve been doing is knocking on the door every single weekend.”
Palou opened the first 18 laps of his race on the faster but less durable alternate tires and spent the rest of the afternoon on primaries where he made phenomenal pace without shortening their lifespan. The same couldn’t be said for Lundgaard who opened on primaries, went to alternates on the first two stops, and suffered significantly as they surrendered sooner than desired.
Let him cook 👨🍳.
Chef @AlexPalou was unstoppable today.#INDYCAR // #INDYGP pic.twitter.com/VoJyudmuwy
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 13, 2023
Lundgaard led 13 laps after the first round of pit stops and did all he could to hold onto third but a charging Alexander Rossi knocked him off the podium with 10 laps left to run. Rossi’s first top-three finish for his new team was part of an impressive day for Arrow McLaren which also saw Felix Rosenqvist claim fifth.
Rosenqvist’s performance was a familiar one for many drivers who finished fifth or lower as his front-row start went sideways and a fightback was required to salvage fifth. Ganassi’s Scott Dixon went through a similar routine on his way to placing sixth, and behind him, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was one of a small number of those who leapt forward from midfield starts. Taking seventh after lining up 13th, Newgarden did the best job of salvaging what could have been a bad day and Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who went from 14th to eighth, and teammate Romain Grosjean improved from 18th to 11th.
A single caution emerged at the onset of the race when Dale Coyne Racing rookie Sting Ray Robb clobbered teammate David Malukas, ending both of their days on the spot.
It was a race won and lost by tire choices and supreme tire care displayed by Palou, who performed in front of a hearty crowd that was, according to IMS, the largest since 2017. The real month of May starts on Tuesday with practice for the Indy 500.
AS IT HAPPENED
The opening lap was a busy one as Alex Palou shot past front-row starter Felix Rosenqvist to claim second and by the end of the lap, Palou was motoring past Christian Lundgaard for the lead.
The first caution of the day flew on lap two when Sting Ray Robb speared teammate David Malukas, leaving both cars damaged and stalled. Romain Grosjean and Scott McLaughlin suffered front wing damage, Graham Rahal incurred damage on the previous lap, Benjamin Pedersen failed to take the start with a radio issue that required him to pit, and altogether, lap one and lap two weren’t particularly kind.
The lap six restart featured Palou leading Lundgaard, Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, Rosenqvist, and Pato O’Ward. Lap seven saw Kyle Kirkwood and Will Power clash exiting Turn 1; Power spun after contact and Kirkwood dropped to P17. A locked brake on the restart ruined Harvey’s left-front tire and allowed the trio of Arrow McLaren drivers to sail by, leaving him in P6.
Ruled to be at fault for the Power incident, Kirkwood was instructed to fall behind Power, leaving him in P24. Up front, Palou was putting his faster alternate tires to work, drawing out a 4.4s lead over Lundgaard—on primaries—on lap 11. Lap 14 and Marcus Ericsson, on primaries, takes P8 from Harvey. He’s 16.7s behind teammate Palou.
Lap 16 and Harvey pits for fresh alternates. Lap 18 and Palou’s alternates are tipping over as Lundgaard’s primaries are carving into his lead, now down to 3.2s. Palou pits at the end of lap 18 for primaries. Rossi joins him.
Lap 20 and Lundgaard pits to take alternates. He emerged 2.1s behind Palou and has faster tires to use to his advantage. Stuck behind Kirkwood, Palou’s giving up lots of track position to Lundgaard. He clears him on lap 23 as Rossi and O’Ward emerge from the pits.
Lundgaard overtakes Palou into Turn 7 on lap 24. Mired behind teammate Rahal, Lundgaard’s lead over Palou falls to 1.0s by lap 32; Rahal pits from the lead. Harvey spins on his own, falling to P22 in the process. Lap 33 and Ericsson used his alternates to take P7 from Herta. In clean air, Lundgaard’s lead is up to 1.6s. Lap 36 and Palou’s 2.7s behind.
Lap 40 and it’s time for Lundgaard’s alternates to give up; Palou’s just 0.7s behind on his primaries. Lap 42 and Palou sweeps by into the lead. Lundgaard’s in at the end of the lap. Their tire strategy of primary-alternate-used alternate appears to have backfired.
Palou covers off Lundgaard by stopping for fresh primaries at the end of the lap and emerges directly in front of Lundgaard and then chases down Palou. Palou’s doing big work on his primaries to push and hold the lead on Lundgaard to 1.7s on lap 49. Lap 51 and it’s up to 2.1s.
Palou continues to put in work, gapping Lundgaard by 3.1s by lap 54. O’Ward takes P2 from Lundgaard on lap 57 as his primaries made easy work of the Dane’s tired alternates. O’Ward has 6.4s to find to catch Palou. Lap 59 and the gap is down to 5.7s. O’Ward’s motoring. Lap 60 and Lundgaard pits for new primaries. Palou pits at the end of the lap to take used primaries as well.
Lap 62 and O’Ward pits from the lead to take new alternates. It’s Palou’s used primaries versus O’Ward maximum grip with 23 laps to go.
Lap 65 and Palou’s back to the lead after Rossi stops. O’Ward’s 9.8s behind. Lap 68 and it’s stretched to 11.6s. Lundgaard’s 16.2s back in P3. Rossi’s close behind in P4, 16.4s arrears. Colton Herta’s up to P5 and Rosenqvist is in P6.
Lap 76 and Rossi takes P3 from Lundgaard; Herta’s getting close to demoting him to fourth but stumbles in the run to the checkered flag. Palou destroys the field to win by 16.8s.