‘We were lucky to have a really big pace advantage’ – Palou

Alex Palou gave major props to the Chip Ganassi Racing team for giving him the best car in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, but admits he felt his pit strategy was “risky” and that he should have done a better job in the first stint.

Palou, who took pole position using two sets of red tires in the Firestone Fast Six, lost his advantage at Turn 2, lap 1, when Kyle Kirkwood’s Andretti Autosport Honda passed him for the lead around the outside. Palou then spent the remainder of that first stint trailing Kirkwood.

Although he stayed out a lap longer than Kirkwood and delivered a strong enough in-lap to jump ahead of the Andretti driver, he came out behind Alexander Rossi, who had also stopped a lap earlier and delivered his fastest lap of the race. Having changed to a second set of primaries, he was also vulnerable to Kirkwood and his teammate Colton Herta, who were both on the softer alternates, and sure enough, they passed him through the Turn 2 and 3 sequence next time by.


To get him back to the front, the team left him out front when the first caution fell on lap 36, whereas his primary threats all pitted for a second time. Although Palou worked hard when the green flag flew, he hadn’t quite pulled a big enough lead on his fuel-saving rivals to retain the lead when he made his second stop on lap 55. However, he passed Rossi’s Arrow McLaren on lap 62, and Herta on lap 64.

Thereafter, he was troubled only by the threat of Herta on restarts.

“I did a mistake, played it too nice, lost the lead,” said the two-time and defending series champion of the start. “At the beginning of the race, I wasn’t really executing. The car was really fast but I couldn’t overtake Kyle. That kind of put us in a bad position. Yeah, I was not really happy with myself at the beginning. The team had to do a really risky strategy, too risky in my opinion.

“It worked out so I’m really happy. Sometimes you need a little bit of luck. It was not luck. Honestly, we just stayed out. We were obviously putting ourselves in danger if there was a yellow. We’re just losing all the gap we’re doing against Colton at the time.”

Palou said that although he has faith in his strategist Barry Wanser, he did question whether they had made the right move of staying out when others pitted.

“I understand what he did,” said Palou, for whom this was an 11th IndyCar victory. “Obviously it’s not the preferred strategy. I doubted a little bit at the beginning. At the same time I knew they know a lot more the numbers. They had trust in me on going fast.

“I have a lot of faith. As a driver, you always doubt everything. Just in case it goes wrong, I can say, ‘I knew it!’ When I saw everybody coming in, ‘Are we sure this is a good one?’ If it didn’t go well, I could say, I told you. If it went well, I could say, Yeah, you did a good job!”

“I knew it was risky just in case we did, like, five laps, pull a gap. I know we were going to pull a gap. Imagine we have eight seconds ahead, then there’s a caution, we’re done. We have to make an extra pit stop to everybody. We’re going to be in the back of the queue. We’re not going to have any way to overtake 10, 15 cars. That’s why it was a bit risky…

“I think as a driver you cannot really doubt all the time what they are doing, especially with the past I’ve had with Barry and everybody calling the strategies. They’ve been calling 99.9%. Every time it’s been amazing.”

Asked how he had been able to track Kirkwood so closely in the first stint without having his tires degrade in the dirty air, Palou explained: “I think it was just because we were lucky to have a really big pace advantage this time. Normally it’s bad to be so close, but in my opinion, we were running super slow and I was not even pushing too much on the tires.

“There’s other races where, yeah, you need to leave a gap of 1.5 seconds, to leave your tires to breathe, your downforce to work. But yeah, my car was superior here, and I could stay close. It wasn’t good for the tires. At the end I was struggling, as well. But he was struggling a little bit more.”

“I was surprised that he was not pushing at the beginning. He was, like, kind of saving a bit of fuel, even before the tire deg was an issue. I knew that the best thing for us was to go as fast as possible. That’s why I was trying to overtake him, which I didn’t make happen.”

Story originally appeared on Racer