Palou: IndyCar Race Control was “not right” re-ordering the pack

Grand Prix of Portland winner Alex Palou says that Race Control’s rearrangement of the car order following Lap 1/Turn 1 melee “didn’t really make sense”.

At the start of the race, polesitter Palou beat fellow front-row starter Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, the latter also being beaten by another Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda, that of Scott Dixon, who had started third.

Dixon moved right to protect the inside line and started drawing alongside Palou, but got a tap from the Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet of Felix Rosenqvist who then blew through the chicane. That nudged Dixon enough to send the #9 fully alongside Palou and miss his own braking point, and go the wrong side of the apex curbs of Turn 2. Palou also couldn’t turn in with his teammate fully alongside and going the same speed, so they both crawled through the chicane on the wrong line and rejoined fourth (Dixon) and sixth (Palou).

Rossi, Colton Herta and Conor Daly had also failed to make the chicane, and so this quintet, along with Rosenqvist, were sent to the back of the field, with Palou leading the bunch in 16th. The drivers had been told in the pre-race meeting that anyone who failed to negotiate the Turn 1/2 sequence would be moved back behind all those who did make it through.

“I didn't see any replays, so I don't really know what happened there,” said Palou. “I know Scott was on the inside. I got hit at some point. Scott was on the inside so I couldn't really go there, so I knew I had to go through the chicane. I made it through the chicane, and I said, OK, I only lost like five positions, which is a lot, but I said, ‘At least I'm not out.’

“And then IndyCar decided that was not penalizing enough, and they put me in the back, which I don't know what they want me to do at that point. Do they prefer me to like completely stop the car and make that corner, making the race unsafe?

“So I'll ask Kyle [Novak, race director]. I think it was not right. It's true that gave us the option of doing the strategy that gave us the win today, but still, I think it didn't really make sense. IndyCar doing IndyCar things.”

Later asked about his mental state when informed of the penalty, Palou insisted he was angry but couldn’t adopt a defeatist attitude, particularly with Barry Wanser calling his strategy.

“I didn't lose my… I don't know how you say!” he said. “But I never say, ‘Oh, I cannot,’ especially with Barry there on the radio and the team. I was just angry, and I wanted to sit down with IndyCar and say, ‘Please can you explain what just happened?’ I wanted to understand. I knew I couldn't get to understand because Barry was like, ‘OK, stop it Alex,’ and I was like, ‘OK, Barry, I'll stop it.’

“I don't think on racing you can ever give up. 110 laps, IndyCar, it was lap 10, and I couldn't give up. If I give up, what can I expect from the guys at the pit stops? We never gave up. They did amazing pitstops once again, and we won the race.”

Palou and the other penalized drivers elected to pit under the caution that had been caused by more Turn 1 further back chaos in the pack, knowing they could make it on just two more stops. and Palou, Rossi and Dixon were able to save enough fuel and move forward and finish in the order in which they started.

“When they were taking a long time to penalize us, it was counting laps,” said Palou, “and I was like, OK, this is a good thing; I know we can make the fuel mileage to make it in two only stops… We knew we had a really fast car. Even if we were on the same strategy as everybody, maybe we were not able to win, but I think today we were able to be in the top five, top six without a different strategy.

“You never know. Like at the end with that [penultimate] yellow, that put a lot of people on the same strategy as us. I said, ‘Oh, man, maybe that's not good for us. And then that last yellow, that made us restart on blacks while everybody was on reds didn't really help us. But anyway, we made it."

Pato O’Ward, his primary title contender, finished a desultory 14th today, allowing Palou to move back to the head of the championship table by 25 points. The Spanish sophomore said whatever the outcome of the race, he was going to be reasonably content so long as he beat his main rivals in the points race.

“I knew I had to be in front of Pato, Dixon and Newgarden to be happy tonight. But I needed to win, so I was fighting really hard with Rossi. He was pushing me a lot, and I knew that those [10] points between P1 and P2 were really valuable, so I was fighting. I was not thinking at all the championship, and I think that gave us the win today, otherwise Rossi would have passed us.”

Palou, who has now won at two tracks he hadn’t raced before (both the Barber and Portland rounds were canceled last year because of the COVID pandemic) said that the team’s recent test at Portland was key to having such a strong car in qualifying and the race.

“For sure that made our life easier,” he said, “especially only having one practice [before qualifying] with the schedules we have nowadays with COVID. It's pretty hard for a guy that doesn't know a track to learn it in one practice.

“Yeah, that test gave us the pole and the win I would say. The last 10 laps we were on blacks and everybody was on reds, and we were still a tiny bit faster than Rossi. Yeah, we were really strong, and that's because of the test we did, for sure.”


Portland IndyCar: Palou recovers from Turn 1 chaos to win

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