Palou rules at Indy GP, takes points lead

Alex Palou scored his first points win of the NTT IndyCar Series season at the Sonsio Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The Chip Ganassi Racing Honda driver converted pole to victory after seeing off strong opposition from Will Power and Christian Lundgaard.

Palou, who also won the non-championship event at The Thermal Club, led 39 of the 85 laps, to beat Power by 6.6s, and move to the top of the points table by 10 points over the Penske-Chevrolet driver.

Lundgaard drove a strong race, missing out to Power only in a pit stop exchange, and able to remain ahead of Dixon to claim third.


Story of the race
The top 10 on the grid saw five drivers starting on Firestone’s softer red compound, and five on the harder primaries. Alex Palou on pole, Josef Newgarden in fourth, Alexander Rossi (seventh), Marcus Armstrong (eighth) and Graham Rahal (ninth) had gone for reds, while Christian Lundgaard and Will Power — second and third respectively — had chosen blacks, as had Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon (fifth and sixth) and Felix Rosenqvist (10th).

At the green, Lundgaard chopped across behind Palou to cut off Power on the inside, but then got a good draft from Palou so that he was able to flick to the outside of the polesitter at Turn 1, which put him on the inside for Turn 2, and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver claimed the lead.

Power hung on to third, inside Newgarden who had Dixon on the outside. Newgarden chose caution over valor, and backed out to settle for fifth. Behind them, O’Ward moved ran sixth ahead of Armstrong, Rossi, Rahal and the fast-starting Ed Carpenter Racing of Rinus VeeKay who was running fresh reds. Further back, there was chaos as Rosenqvist and VeeKay inadvertently squeezed Scott McLaughlin’s Penske, slowing all three of them and causing a stack up that sent many to the grass run off to avoid contact.

The big winners were Jack Harvey, who drove his Dale Coyne Racing from 17th to 12th, while Linus Lundqvist, despite his Ganassi car running primaries, was up from 19th to 13th. Further back, Santino Ferrucci ushered his regular foe Romain Grosjean off the track, while Marcus Ericsson sent his Andretti Global teammate Colton Herta into a runoff.

Palou seemed content to run in Lundgaard’s slipstream, while Power, Dixon and Newgarden ran in lockstep behind.However on lap 8, the McLarens started to fall, Armstrong passing O’Ward for sixth, while on lap 10, Rahal usurped Rossi for eighth, and a lap later took O’Ward, too.

Rosenqvist, who had tumbled down the order, pitted on Lap 10, and Herta was in two laps later. Despite his strong progress, Lundqvist pitted on lap 13.

Of the front-runners, O’Ward was in on lap 16 for another set of reds, this time a brand-new set, and Power elected to do the same next time by, replacing his primaries. That triggered Lundgaard, Palou, Dixon, to follow suit, leaving Armstrong out front for one lap, before he pitted.

Power had just set his best two laps on reds, and while Lundgaard and Palou emerged in front, the Ganassi driver was on blacks and only just in front. Along the back straight, Power hit the push to pass and outbraked Palou. Lundgaard would be a tougher nut, since he was on the alternates.

As the leaders cycled back to the front, Lundgaard led Power by two seconds, both on reds, with Palou 1.3s further back on primaries but 3.8 ahead of Dixon (alternates). Newgarden was six seconds further in arrears on primaries and struggling to hold off the similarly-tired Armstrong. Fifth changed hands on lap 25.

Then came O’Ward, and while he started reeling in Newgarden, he also had Rahal and Rossi closing in on him. Rahal snagged seventh on lap 28, and the RLL driver took Newgarden at Turn 1, two laps later. O’Ward and Rossi also zapped Newgarden at Turn 1 on successive laps, and then it was Lundqvist and Pietro Fittipaldi’s turn to push the two-time champ outside the top 10.

Meanwhile, on lap 33, Rossi moved past O’Ward who was coming under pressure from the very impressive Lundqvist, who went past on lap 35. Newgarden gave up his struggle on primaries on lap 36 and pitted for used reds. Lundqvist stopped on 37.

Just before their second stops, Lundgaard saw his 1.3s lead over Power halved as he got stuck in the dirty air of Kyle Kirkwood and Rosenqvist who were at the back of the pack. Dave Faustino called Power to the pits to see if he could get the undercut on Lundgaard who stopped next time by. The plan might have worked, but Power’s out-lap saw him stuck behind Ericsson which stymied his chances of getting Lundgaard who chose primaries. Yet both of them would fall victim to Palou, who stopped a lap later and emerged in front and on reds.

The Palou-led pack cycled to the head of the field on lap 45, the reigning champ holding a 1.9s lead over Lundgaard who was 2.5s ahead of Power, who had a similar margin over Dixon. Armstrong was 10sec back but well ahead of Rossi, Rahal and Lundqvist. Herta, slightly off-sequence, was ninth, ahead of his old Indy Lights teammate O’Ward.

There was a position of stasis among the front-runners for most of the rest of the stint, the top four covered by just six seconds, until Lundgaard found himself stuck behind Agustin Canapino’s Juncos Hollinger Racing machine, allowing Palou to escape a little, and Power to lower his deficit to Lundgaard under one second. By the time they got around the JHR machine, Palou was also forcing the pace ahead of his pit stop, pulling out a five-second leader.

Herta stopped on lap 61 of the 85, with the four leaders all pulling in on lap 62, eager not to be jumped by the Andretti driver. Penske’s No. 12 crew jumped Power out ahead of Lundgaard, who also now had Dixon’s No. 9 filling his mirrors. However, Palou, Lundgaard and Dixon were on fresh reds, Power was on used.

Luca Ghiotto, in only his second IndyCar race, then caused the first caution of the day when he spun and stalled his Dale Coyne Racing-Honda. That allowed McLaughlin, who had been running between 12th and 14th for most of the day, and had just pitted to jump up to sixth. Sadly, Lundqvist would drop down the field and lose a lap to gearbox issues.

At the restart, Palou defended the inside line at Turn 1 and then ran long to push Power out wide on the exit, leaving Power vulnerable to Lundgaard and Dixon. Armstrong held off McLaughlin, while Herta won a torrid one-lap battle with his old teammate Rossi to claim seventh. Rahal and Rosenqvist ran ninth and 10th, ahead of Kirkwood and Grosjean.

With 10 laps to go, it was clear Power on older tires had nothing for Palou, falling 2.5s back but was initially able to eke out a 1.8s margin over Lundgaard who had a similar lead on Dixon. With seven laps to go, the RLL car started chipping away at the Penske driver’s advantage, and dropping Dixon who was under pressure from his young compatriot and teammate Armstrong.

However, the order remained static to the checkered flag, Palou winning by 6.6s and Power keeping out of range of Lundgaard. Dixon held off teammate Armstrong who seemed docile in pursuit of his teammate, while McLaughlin made it a Kiwi 4-5-6. Herta was seventh after a strong recovery from the opening lap shenanigans, but has dropped from the points lead to fourth.


Story originally appeared on Racer