Palou masterclass nets second IndyCar championship with Portland win

Alex Palou won his second IndyCar title in three years after a brilliant drive to victory in Portland that saw him able to cope with everything thrown at him by his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, and hold off the Arrow McLaren Chevrolet of Felix Rosenqvist to the checkered flag.

Rosenqvist was forced to make his final stop earlier than intended when he had to grab the opportunity under a late caution period. It allowed him to jump ahead of Scott Dixon, but then he had to nurse his softer compound rubber for a long final stint — a task to which he was equal.

Pato O’Ward made it a fine day for Arrow McLaren, holding off a storming drive from Josef Newgarden and Rinus VeeKay.

From the pole, Rahal gunned his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda from Turn 12 and easily held the lead down to Turn 1 over the Penske Chevrolet of Scott McLaughlin, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s points leader Alex Palou beat Colton Herta’s Andretti Autosport Honda into Turn 1 to claim third, with Scott Dixon in fifth.


O’Ward defended well from Will Power, who then found himself severe pressure from the Arrow McLaren Chevrolets of Alexander Rossi and Rosenqvist, the former on red tires. This pressure told on Power at the start of the third lap, when he spun off trying to fend off Rossi on his outside at Turn 4; he required a bump start, dropped to the back of the field and went a lap down. Another Penske to suffer was Newgarden who fell to 17th after going through the Turn 1 runoff, along with Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti) on the opening lap.

Romain Grosjean’s wretched second half of the season continued, sustaining damage as the pack funneled through the twists on the opening lap, and having to go to the paddock for suspension repairs.

For the restart, Rahal led McLaughlin (both on Firestone alternates) with Palou third on the harder compound primaries, Herta on alternates, Dixon and O’Ward on primaries, Rossi on reds, Rosenqvist on primaries. Marcus Ericsson, meanwhile, got past VeeKay to claim ninth.

Rahal edged away from McLaughlin into a 1.5s lead by lap 13, at which time Palou had stretched his gap over Herta to a similar margin, and the Andretti car had Dixon and the three Arrow McLarens jammed up behind him, suggesting his reds were starting to fall off. Rosenqvist’s hard tires were also starting to pay off, and he passed Rossi for seventh on lap 16.

Herta, Rossi and Ericsson gave up on the alternates and pitted for primaries on lap 18, as did Ericsson. Herta jumped Rossi in this sequence but he was brought in again to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding on pitlane.

McLaughlin pitted from second on lap 21 while sitting 2s behind Rahal, and that prompted the leader in next time by. He easily maintained track position, and although McLaughlin gained on him with his warmed tires, the Penske driver wasn’t quite close enough by the time they got back around to the pit straight to pull off a pass.

Palou, meanwhile, was making hay up front now with a clear track, extending his lead over Dixon to 4s by lap 28. Less than a second behind Dixon was O’Ward and Rosenqvist, who pitted at the end of lap 29 – Rosenqvist for more primaries, O’Ward for a set of reds. It was the No. 6 crew who got its driver out first, Rosenqvist thus vaulting O’Ward.

Palou pitted at the end of lap 31 and emerged in third on Firestone alternates, 9s ahead of the Rahal vs. McLaughlin battle. Kirkwood, who had been told to cede two positions for a blocking maneuver on VeeKay, was now running off-strategy, but had nonetheless done well to recover from his lap 1 off.

Speaking of opening lap disasters, Newgarden was well worth watching at this stage, since he had set Palou-matching times toward the end of his first stint and emerged from pitlane only just behind McLaughlin. Once his reds were up to temperature, he went hard, and passed McLaughlin for seventh and zoomed in on Rahal.

Up front, Palou took advantage of his reds to pull a 5.8s margin over Dixon by lap 36, but there it stalled and the six-time champ on primaries started chipping away at his deficit, getting it down to 3.5s on lap 41. Rosenqvist was running 2s behind Dixon but 2s ahead of O’Ward, and once Kirkwood pitted, next up was the fight between Rahal, Newgarden and McLaughlin. Close behind them were Ericsson, VeeKay and Rossi.

By lap 47, Dixon was firmly in Palou’s mirrors, the gap under 1s, and it was time for the points leader to duck in and get off his reds, leaving Dixon up front. Palou emerged from the pits right in front of Helio Castroneves and made at least two moves to defend his track position from the Meyer Shank Racing driver.

The following lap, Newgarden pitted to shed his reds, and a lap after that, O’Ward, Rahal and McLaughlin stopped too. The latter two emerged behind Kirkwood and Newgarden, but while on cold tires, they also got zapped by Ericsson and VeeKay, while Rossi also got around McLaughlin. Two laps later, Ericsson was undone by an aggressive VeeKay maneuver which sent the 2022 Indy 500 champion off the track at Turn 7, allowing Rahal back past. Ericsson’s recovery held up Rossi enough for McLaughlin to re-pass the McLaren down the front straight. Just a little further ahead, Newgarden got around the fuel-saving Kirkwood.

Rosenqvist pitted from second at the end of lap 58 and lost only one position to Palou who had got away with a warning for his swerve in front of Castroneves. Dixon thus stopped and took on a set of reds, emerging just in front of Rosenqvist whose warm blacks weren’t enough to create an opportunity to tackle Dixon on cold but getting warmer reds.

Those reds weren’t enough to get Dixon any closer to Palou, and by lap 67 in this 110-lap race, he was the wrong side of 10s away. Five seconds behind Rosenqvist was O’Ward who had a 6s margin over Newgarden. Some 3.5s behind the lead Penske was VeeKay, Marcus Armstrong’s Ganassi car, Rahal, Ericsson and Kirkwood.

With 36 laps to go, Palou found himself losing time to Dixon as he got bottled up behind IndyCar debutant Juri Vips, and his advantage dropped to 6.5s. There it stayed, as Dixon and Rosenqvist were temporarily held up by Kirkwood who had emerged from the pits full of fuel but still desperate to hit his fuel numbers.

Palou made his final scheduled stop at the end of lap 79 and, while he had to cede track position to Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing on exiting, he emerged ahead of Rahal who had yet to stop. It wasn’t all smooth for Ganassi in this round of stops, however, as Armstrong was sent on his way with his right rear not properly attached, costing him his potential best IndyCar finish.

Dixon and O’Ward stopped next time by, leaving Rosenqvist at the head of the field, but he was called to pitlane when Agustin Canapino spun and stalled at Turn 11 after losing it under braking for Turn 10. Race Control held off the yellow until Rosenqvist could pit, and while he came out in front of Dixon, unfortunately this early final stop meant the McLaren driver would have to run a very long final stint on reds.

For the lap 81 restart, Palou led Rosenqvist and stayed way out of attack zone, but there were three backmarkers between Rosenqvist and Dixon. One of those was Armstrong, who of course let Dixon go but then protected his tail from O’Ward for a few corners.

Two laps later, Rossi was heavily defending from Herta while trying to get past Ericsson on the back straight, but he snagged the Swede’s left-rear wheel and broke his front wing, which sent him across the grass into Turn 10 and limping to pitlane.

With a dozen laps to go, Palou’s lead had increased to 2.5s, while Rosenqvist’s priority was trying to match Dixon’s lap times while keeping his alternates alive. He was able to nurse the more fragile rubber long enough to score second, his best result since he joined Arrow McLaren, just before his probable departure from the squad.

O’Ward held off Newgarden and VeeKay to the checkered flag, while Ericsson scooped seventh after resisting Herta, who spun in pursuit and dropped to 13th at the checkers.

David Malukas climbed from 24th on the grid to claim eighth ahead of McLaughlin and Kirkwood.


Story originally appeared on Racer