Palou fires back into IndyCar points lead with wild win at Laguna Seca

Alex Palou won the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, beating Colton Herta after a torrid 95 laps of the 2.238-mile WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and has moved into the lead of the championship on a day when former leader Will Power finished seventh.

From pole position, Palou’s Chip Ganassi Racing Honda made a strong start but Andretti Global’s Kyle Kirkwood outbraked him and passed him around the outside into Turn 2 to grab the lead and the inside line for Turn 3. Behind Palou, Felix Rosenqvist retained third place for Meyer Shank Racing, chased by Alexander Rossi’s Arrow McLaren who had scrambled past Colton Herta’s Andretti Global Honda on the outside of Turn 3.

The big loser on the opening lap was Power who got hung out on the dusty outside through Turn 3 and fell into the dirt, dropping from to 25th. By contrast, Ganassi’s Scott Dixon jumped up from 10th to seventh behind Christian Lundgaard’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, and ahead of Scott McLaughlin, despite the Penske No. 3 being the highest-starting car running the Firestone alternates. At the start of the second lap, Marcus Armstrong muscled Romain Grosjean aside at Turn 2 to claim ninth and immediately closed on McLaughlin.


On lap six, Rinus VeeKay spun behind his Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Christian Rasmussen and fell to the back. At this stage, Palou was still chasing Kirkwood hard, 0.8s behind him, and pulling clear of Rosenqvist, Rossi, Herta and Lundgaard. By lap 13, Palou was filling Kirkwood’s mirrors and Rosenqvist was within a second of the Ganassi machine.

Regarding pit stops, Marcus Ericsson was the first to blink, switching from primaries to alternates at the end of lap 17. Power stopped at the end of lap 18, making the same move from blacks to reds. Pato O’Ward, who had been running 12th, pitted next time by and went for fresh reds. McLaughlin changed his reds for more used reds.

By lap 22, Kirkwood was clinging onto the lead by his fingernails and his lap times were down to 1m11.0778s, while Rossi was into pitlane to change primaries for alternates, a move Rosenqvist emulated next time by. Kirkwood, Herta and Lundgaard all pitted next time by but their slower laps on worn tires meant they were beaten by Rossi. Palou’s extra lap on track was enough for him to jump Kirkwood, but not Rossi. Surprisingly, the two-time champion had taken on another set of primaries, and Kirkwood and Herta wasted little time in passing him.

Further back, the charging McLaughlin dived down the inside of Lundgaard at Turn 9, and the RLL car went off into the gravel, collecting an advertising board which folded around his right-front wing.

Rosenqvist was another who had lost time in gravel, up the hill to the Corkscrew, and now ran ninth. Josef Newgarden had lost time when he was served a drive-through penalty for an unsafe pit exit. However, although he dropped to 24th, his time loss was reduced by Luca Ghiotto shunting his Dale Coyne Racing Honda and bringing out the first yellow flag of the race.

Newgarden leapt to 11th when several drivers elected to use the caution to make their second stop, including Rossi, Kirkwood and Herta. Dixon bounced off a curb at pit entry and struck the pit wall with his right front, and McLaughlin tagged the Ganassi car’s left rear. Palou stayed out on his primaries, and O’Ward on alternates moved up to second, but was passed at Turn 2 on the lap 39 restart by Grosjean, who hung round the outside on fresh primaries and made the move stick.

David Malukas ran fourth in his first race of the year for Meyer Shank, followed by Armstrong and Ferrucci. Mid-pack, Herta’s crew had jumped him ahead of Rossi and Kirkwood. The race then went under yellow for two laps as Nolan Siegel spun and needed a bump start.

The lap 42 restart saw Palou stretch away from Grosjean, O’Ward and Malukas, clearly needing two more stops, whereas those who pitted under caution were expected to be able to make it on one.

O’Ward pitted from third at the end of lap 47, and Malukas and Pietro Fittipaldi (RLL) stopped next time by, but Fittipaldi made the same error as Newgarden, running onto the sand on the pit exit and missing the blend line, and pitted.

Palou was now soaring relative to Herta – who led the group on the other strategy – pulling 22s on him before Palou’s lap 54 stop, as Herta tried to make his fuel number. Palou didn’t get quite enough of a gap to retain the lead, but he emerged in third behind Herta and Rossi and just ahead of Kirkwood. Behind them ran McLaughlin, Dixon, Power, Grosjean, Rosenqvist and Lundgaard.

Power on alternates took Dixon on primaries down the inside at the top of the Corkscrew to claim sixth on lap 58, so he could start pursuing his teammate McLaughlin.

Nearer the front, Palou dived down the inside of Rossi at Turn 2 on lap 62 to claim second, and rapidly closed on Herta, while Power passed McLaughlin for fifth a lap later. On lap 64 Palou drafted Herta up the hill out of Turn 6 and was well ahead by the time they reached turn in for the Corkscrew. Herta had no respite, because immediately Rossi was in his mirrors.

Kirkwood and Dixon made their final stops on lap 66, and then Herta, Rossi, Power, McLaughlin, Lundgaard and Rosenqvist pitted. Palou again stayed out longer and turned his fastest lap of the race, but then got stuck behind Rasmussen for half a lap and lost 3s. At the end of lap 70, Ganassi called him to the pits where he took on primaries and emerged ahead of Herta. Grosjean, who had pitted on the same lap as Palou, didn’t have enough temperature in his tires to fend off Rossi at the top of the Corkscrew and potentially lost a podium.

The caution flags flew on lap 75, when Lundgaard went up the inside of Armstrong at Turn 4 who had just emerged from the pits and nuzzled him to the outside. The green Ganassi car spun and stalled.

IndyCar then allowed everyone to pit before throwing the caution, and off-strategy Newgarden was able to pit from the lead and emerge in second, ahead of Herta, Rossi, Grosjean and Power.

At the restart, Palou held onto the lead but there was a double hit for Penske. Newgarden ran off the track at Turn 6, allowing Herta, Rossi and Grosjean ahead, while at Turn 5, McLaughlin made a late dive on Power, bounced him wide but then spun himself as he went back to the throttle. Before he could serve his drivethrough penalty, his car was seen struggling up the hill very slowly and he had to pit. There was then a fourth caution for Jack Harvey’s Dale Coyne Racing Honda expiring on the main straight, even though Harvey backed it off the track into pitlane.

Palou held off Herta on the lap 86 restart, while Rossi and Grosjean were pursued by Newgarden, Kirkwood, Dixon, O’Ward, Power and Ferrucci. The fifth caution didn’t take long in coming – lap 87, in fact. At Turn 5, Kyffin Simpson was nudged by the Juncos Hollinger car of Agustin Canapino and it was enough to deflate the Ganassi car’s left-rear tire and send him into a spin. Broadside across the track, he was struck hard by Graham Rahal, who had earlier dodged a bullet by swerving around Armstrong’s spinning car, but this time was eliminated on the spot.

The caution, and the reduced number of green-flag laps alleviated Herta’s fuel worries. The race restarted with four laps to go, and while fairly subdued, Palou easily pulled clear of Herta, who in turn dropped Rossi. Grosjean came under pressure from Newgarden, while Kirkwood and Dixon followed. Power passed O’Ward on lap 93, and then locked sights on Dixon. However, on the penultimate lap, he was gifted another spot when Newgarden again ran wide at Turn 6, and half-spun, dropping to 19th.

Palou ran out the win by 2s over Herta, with Rossi, Grosjean and Kirkwood completing the top five. Dixon held off Power, O’Ward and Ferrucci, while Ericsson claimed 10th despite two major offs.


Story originally appeared on Racer