LEEDS, Ala. – Last year, NTT IndyCar Series fans got to know Alex Palou when the then-rookie driver from Spain had an impressive season with Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh.
It certainly impressed team owner Chip Ganassi, who hired Palou to replace Felix Rosenqvist in the No. 10 Honda this year.
In the first race of the new NTT IndyCar Series season, Palou got to know victory lane.
The 24-year-old from Sant Antoni de Vilamajor, Spain, led 56 of the 90 laps on his way to winning Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
He defeated a charging Will Power by .4016 seconds. Palou was able to use a consistent driving style to keep Power at bay as the Team Penske driver had nearly half of his 200 seconds of push-to-pass to use in the final 10 laps.
Because Power was able to hit the push-to-pass button, he tightened the gap to 1.230 seconds to the leader as they raced around the picturesque road course.
The battle at the end featured the top four drivers separated by just a few seconds. The top three drivers were running virtually the same speed as Power was told by his Team Penske crew to use as much push-to-pass as he could on the final lap.
Palou was able to fend off the pressure and stay 1.831 seconds ahead of Power’s Chevrolet as the final lap began. He drove to the first checkered flag of his career as he scored his first NTT IndyCar Series victory.
“No way!” Palou shouted on the radio. “Oh my God.”
Palou joined Michael Andretti and the late Dan Wheldon as drivers to win in their first race driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“I think it was possible to win the first race because we had the best car and the best team,” Palou said in victory lane. “Ricky Davis, my engineer, said, let’s win them all. Ricky told me to keep doing what I was doing on the mileage. It was one of those days where everything went well.
“It was an amazing race.”
Ganassi had three of his four drivers finish in the top eight.
“We did some testing during the offseason and he was really quick,” Ganassi said. “At one point, he was quicker than Scott Dixon. Wow, how can you be quicker than Scott Dixon.”
Power put up a great fight with the extra push-to-pass.
“I made one little mistake in turn nine, but with the amount of push-to-pass it could have been pretty good,” Power said. “It blew my mind how much Alex pulled away in that first stint.
“It’s awesome to get a really good start to the season. It’s great. I said to the guys if we have solid races with no mistakes, we will have a great chance to win the championship.”
Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and Palou’s teammate, Scott Dixon, was third in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, 2.9881 seconds behind the winner. Pole winner Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP was fourth. Sebastien Bourdais drove A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 Chevrolet to a fifth-place finish, 10.6967 out of the lead.
Rinus VeeKay, Graham Rahal, Marcus Ericsson, Alexander Rossi and the debuting Romain Grosjean completed the top-10.
Team Penske rookie driver Scott McLaughlin of New Zealand was 14th. Another rookie, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was 19th, three laps down, and was credited with zero on-track passes.
“I’m very happy to have finished,” Johnson said. “There were two scary moments in the race including the crash at the start of the race and the chaos. It was a ton of learning experience throughout the day and I’m happy to Chip has given me a chance to drive his car.
“And a huge congratulations to Alex Palou. To be his age with so much talent and wisdom is great. He did inform me the other day that I’m older than his father. But he was on it today.
“I can’t say too many times how different this racing is and how special the craft is to drive these cars.”
Ganassi said, “He’s got a hill to climb, but he’s going to do it.”
After a clean start to the race, Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden got turned around outside of turn five on the first lap, creating a massive crash that also involved Ryan Hunter-Reay, VeeKay, Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist and Max Chilton.
“I got loose coming over the hill,” Newgarden said. “It was a good start. We were lining in pretty nicely, but I just got loose in the wake. I thought I had the car and then touched the grass and I think once I touched the grass it pitched me sideways. I feel really bad for anyone that got involved in that. Obviously, my mess created a bigger mess. Any of the cars that got involved, I’m real sorry because it was obviously us that tipped it off. It’s a shame. I feel like we had a really good car. We just needed to file-in there at the start. We partially did that but yeah.
“Wudda, shudda, cudda I guess for Hitachi and Chevrolet. But we’ll come back. We’ve just got to bounce back at the next one.”