IndyCar’s newest winner Palou “in love” with Dixon, Johnson

Barber Motorsports Park winner Alex Palou says he’s in love with his champion teammates, Scott Dixon and Jimmie Johnson, but doubts they reciprocate the feeling when he’s pestering them.

Palou, who held off Will Power and Dixon to score his first IndyCar win in his inaugural race for Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda, said he’s been bugging the six-time and reigning IndyCar champion and NASCAR legend but IndyCar debutant Johnson.

The 24-year-old Spaniard said: “I'm in love with them. Like, I'm in love with them. But I'm sure if you asked them, they are not going to say the same for me, because every time I see them I'm like, ‘Hey, Scott, um, what did you do today? Or, ‘How did you prepare for that race?’ or whatever. ‘How did you do the 2015 race?’

“And I'm the same with Jimmie: ‘How do you keep up winning seven championships? How do you do it?’ So I think every time they see me around they are like, ‘Oh no, this guy again!’ But I'm enjoying it. I try to learn everything from them.

“I'll tell you that I've never been around a champion like them until this year. Seeing how they work, you understand why they are able to win that much.

“I was surprised when I saw Scott that's been doing INDYCAR for, I don't know, 20 years, and has been winning six championships that he was at the [race]shop every time I was there. So I was like, ‘Man, this is not possible.’ Like if I see him every time it means that maybe he's there more. So I started going more and more, and he just works a lot.

“Same goes for Jimmie, same goes for all the team that was pushing me to be here now.”

Asked what he learns from watching Dixon, Palou replied: “I learn that you've got to keep working as hard as possible every day, not only in the races, not only when you are struggling. You've got to go to work.

“Maybe not tonight. Maybe tonight I can have a good fatty dinner because I like fatty dinner after a win. But tomorrow I have to go 8:00 a.m. and work and prepare for St. Pete, because that's what they do, that's how you keep on working, and that's what I'm going to do tomorrow.”

Palou described joining Chip Ganassi Racing, which has taken its drivers to 13 championships over the past quarter century, as “50 percent of my dream.”

He went on: “One of the dreams was to come here to the U.S. and once you are in the U.S. you want to be more and you want to be competitive, and to be competitive I wanted to be part of [Ganassi]. I actually introduced myself to Chip at the Indy 500 because I wanted to be part of that team. I saw the spirit of the team, just because of the years I was following. And yeah, to be part of Chip Ganassi [Racing] is 50 percent of another dream, which is to become a champion.

“But it's just 50 percent. I have to do the job now.”

He continued: “When you are part of a big team and a successful team like Chip Ganassi, they give you all the tools. Like you have everything you need to win, and that's why you see so many successful drivers [there]. So I just have to thank the team for giving me the opportunity and all the sponsors.”

Asked about his championship prospects, Palou agreed it was achievable but was going to stick to the one-race-at-a-time mantra.

“Yeah, it's achievable, that's the end target,” he said, “but that's not what I'm thinking now. I'm thinking about St. Pete, free practice, qualifying, and hopefully gets lots of points and hopefully be on the podium and hopefully win the race.

“This championship is so long that you need to take it one race at a time, and yeah, maybe when it's three races to go we can start talking about what's really the championship or how is it going. But at the moment let's focus on St. Pete, try to do the best result we can there. If we have a car to finish fifth, try to finish fourth, and that's what we're going to try to do all year.”

Switching strategies

Regarding the race itself, Palou, who started third, said that the team switched strategies because eight of the first 11 laps were run under caution, firstly due to a Lap 1 crash triggered by Josef Newgarden, and then a spin and stall by Johnson. That swung the team’s decision that a two-stop strategy would be faster – a point proven by Palou, Power and Dixon finishing 1-2-3 on two-stoppers, and polesitter Pato O’Ward getting mired in the pack while completing his three-stopper.

“The first plan was to do a three-stop,” said Palou who became Ganassi’s first ever winner at Barber Motorsports Park. “I think to do a two-stop you had to go really, really slow just because of fuel mileage, but as we got two yellows, it was clear. Like as soon as the first yellow came I was already thinking on two stops. I was trying to save as much fuel as possible there.

“To be honest, I saw that [early leaders] Alexander Rossi and Pato [second and first respectively] were not saving that much fuel. I was wondering, ‘Are they going to just not even try to do it or do they just know how to do it and not me?’ I was surprised that they didn't go for a two-stop because I think it was fairly easy after the two yellows.

“But hey, I didn't call a two-stop; it was the team. They just told me, ‘Now it's time to push. Do 15 more laps and this is the target for fuel mileage that you have to do. So that's what I did, and it worked.”

Asked by Motorsport.com if he could have matched O’Ward and Rossi for pace, had the race played in the favor of the three-stoppers and he had stuck to that original strategy, Palou replied: “You never know. You never know what could happen, but I think I [would have been] able just because when we started pushing, like when we were racing with them, I was saving fuel already. like I was hitting my numbers and I was just keeping my tires and saving fuel to be able to go for a two-stop.

“I didn't know they were not, so that's why I was like, ‘Man, they are pushing a lot and they have some more pace than me. But it was just that I was fuel saving and they were not.

“I thought Pato was strong, so it would have been something with strategy that we could do to overtake him, and with Rossi I think we could have done something on track to overtake.”

Palou, who scored his first podium in only his third ever IndyCar race, driving for Dale Coyne Racing at Road America, said he was ‘a hundred percent’ confident that this weekend’s performance at Barber was a good omen for Ganassi’s pace in the remaining road course races.

“I think everybody could see from free practice that Chip Ganassi did an amazing job over the winter, especially on qualifying. Like qualifying … they struggled a lot [on road courses] last year, and suddenly first race and you put three cars in the Fast Six!

“I think it's going to be good also when we go back to Indy road course, to Mid-Ohio, to Road America. You never know if you're going to have such a good day as yesterday [in qualifying]. But we'll try and we'll work for that.”

 

Photo by: Art Fleischmann

shares
comments

Related video

Jimmie Johnson escapes “scary moments” to finish on IndyCar debut
Previous article

Jimmie Johnson escapes “scary moments” to finish on IndyCar debut

Next article

Hunter-Reay: Aeroscreen “likely saved my life” in crash

Hunter-Reay: Aeroscreen “likely saved my life” in crash
Load comments
Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021 Prime

Ranking the top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2021

In an enthralling 2021 IndyCar campaign, the series bounced back from its COVID-19 truncated year prior and series sophomore Alex Palou defeated both the established order and his fellow young guns to clinch a maiden title. It capped a remarkable season with plenty of standout performers

IndyCar
Nov 22, 2021
How Marcus Ericsson finally unlocked his potential in IndyCar Prime

How Marcus Ericsson finally unlocked his potential in IndyCar

Marcus Ericsson enjoyed a breakout year in the IndyCar Series in 2021, winning twice and finishing sixth in points with Chip Ganassi Racing. How did he finally unlock the potential that was masked by five years of toil in Formula 1 with Caterham and Sauber/Alfa Romeo?

IndyCar
Nov 16, 2021
Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing win Prime

Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing win

Saturday, Oct. 16th, marks the 10th anniversary Dan Wheldon’s death. David Malsher-Lopez pays tribute, then asks Wheldon’s race engineer from 2011, Todd Malloy, to recall that magical second victory at the Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar
Oct 16, 2021
Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up? Prime

Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up?

Jack Harvey’s move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sparked plenty of debate, but their combined strength could prove golden, says David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Oct 15, 2021
Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting Prime

Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting

Kyle Kirkwood, the record-setting junior formula driver, sealed the Indy Lights championship last weekend. But despite an absurdly strong résumé and scholarship money, his next move is far from clear. By David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Oct 6, 2021
2021 IndyCar title is just the start for Ganassi's newest star Prime

2021 IndyCar title is just the start for Ganassi's newest star

Alex Palou has captured Chip Ganassi Racing's 14th IndyCar drivers' championship, and in truly stellar manner. David Malsher-Lopez explains what made the Palou-Ganassi combo so potent so soon.

IndyCar
Sep 28, 2021
Why Grosjean's oval commitment shows he's serious about IndyCar Prime

Why Grosjean's oval commitment shows he's serious about IndyCar

One of motorsport’s worst-kept secrets now out in the open, and Romain Grosjean has been confirmed as an Andretti Autosport IndyCar driver in 2022. It marks a remarkable turnaround after the abrupt end to his Formula 1 career, and is a firm indication of his commitment to challenge for the IndyCar Series title  

IndyCar
Sep 24, 2021
IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch Prime

IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch

The 2021 IndyCar silly season is one of the silliest of all, but it’s satisfying to see so many talented drivers in play – including Callum Ilott. David Malsher-Lopez reports.

IndyCar
Sep 11, 2021