In his first drive with Chip Ganassi Racing, Spaniard Alex Palou was able to fend off a hard-charging Will Power to win his first-ever IndyCar victory at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday afternoon.
Palou completed the race using a two-stop strategy and had one of the best cars throughout the 90 lap event. He made his final pit stop on Lap 61 (29 to go) and came out ahead of Power by just 2.3 seconds. Through the remaining 10 laps, Power tried closing in with the push to pass and was getting close as lap traffic was holding up Palou. However, Palou closed the deal and scored his first checkered flag in his 15th IndyCar start.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Palou said. “It was an amazing weekend. It was a really exciting race, really exciting qualifying. So yeah, I don’t know what to say to be honest. Like I’m super, super proud of the team. The team did an amazing job, as you could see on qualifying. We had three cars in the Fast Six, which it’s amazing. It was my first Fast Six, and today they just gave me the best car. I just had to do the obvious things right, as Chip likes to say, and we kept it simple. We went for a two-stop, we were able to manage our fuel mileage and our tires, so I’m just super, super happy.”
While Palou and Power had their own battle just past halfway on lap 45, there was another battle for the lead that ensued during the early portions of the race. Pole sitter Pato O’Ward and second-place starter Alexander Rossi were class of the field in the early going. While O’Ward and Rossi were maintaining the top two spots, there was a caution on Lap 1. The No. 2 of Josef Newgarden got loose off Turn 4 and touched the grass slightly, which made his Chevy spin in front of the field. Multiple drivers were collected including the No. 7 of Felix Rosenqvist, the No. 26 of Colton Herta, the No. 59 of Max Chilton, the No. 28 of Ryan Hunter-Reay and the No. 21 of Rinus VeeKay.
After the early pile-up, the race restarted on Lap 7 but was briefly brought under yellow again with new IndyCar comer and rookie, Jimmie Johnson, spinning in Turn 13. Johnson didn’t hit anything and was able to keep the No. 48 machine going. On Lap 18, the first round of green-flag pit stops occurred. Race leader O’Ward and second place Rossi pitted at the same time. O’Ward’s team was fast enough that the crew kept him out in front of Rossi. While O’Ward and Rossi made their pit stops, Palou swiped the lead on Lap 22 and battled with Power. Palou didn’t make his stop until Lap 31 while Power stayed out for a few laps and pitted on Lap 33.
Strategy would be the story of the race as the race went on a long green-flag run toward the end of the finish. There was a close moment on Lap 45 between leader O’Ward and the No. 14 of Sebastien Bourdais. Bourdais almost made contact with O’Ward and barely sent O’Ward off the track in Turn 5. But, O’Ward was still able to hang on to the car without further incident.
At the halfway mark on Lap 45, Palou regained the lead and held Power to an 8.4-second advantage. Before the final round of pit stops, Power erased the lead to 4.7715 seconds. Power stayed out one lap later than Palou before making his last stop on Lap 62. With the stops complete on Lap 68, Palou led by 2.3 seconds. With a win in sight, Palou had to keep pushing as second place Power had more push to pass in the 104 seconds left in the remaining laps. And as for Palou, the Chip Ganassi driver had to worry about traffic ruining his momentum.
On the white flag lap, Power closed the gap to 1.1160 seconds. The Aussie kept using his push to pass, but not to his full advantage as Power was slightly worried about fuel. In the end, Palou won in his first start with Ganassi and gave Ganassi their 114th NTT IndyCar Series victory. Power had to settle for the 76th podium of his career by finishing 0.4016 seconds behind race-winner Palou.
“Yeah, obviously went from a three stopper to a two stopper with all those yellows at the beginning, which I didn’t mind,” Power said about his runner-up finish. “I know we’re very good at getting fuel and lap time, but Alex pulled away extremely fast. I was surprised. I actually thought he was on a three stopper. But I think he had a very good middle stint saving fuel, and we came out close to him. I still had to save a bit of fuel at the end there, so in the last few laps I could use Push-to-Pass. Made a little mistake which made the gap not possible to close. Very happy with the day, though. Really, really just wanted a solid start to the season, and that’s what we got here so far.”
There were two cautions for eight laps and 10 lead changes among five different leaders. Palou led three times for 56 laps en route to victory.
Official Results following the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park:
- Alex Palou, led 56 laps
- Will Power, led four laps
- Scott Dixon
- Pato O’Ward, led 25 laps
- Sebastien Bourdais, led four laps
- Rinus VeeKay, led one lap
- Graham Rahal
- Marcus Ericsson
- Alexander Rossi
- Romain Grosjean
- Jack Harvey
- Simon Pagenaud
- Takuma Sato
- Scott McLaughlin
- Ed Jones
- Conor Daly
- James Hinchcliffe, 1 lap down
- Dalton Kellett, 1 lap down
- Jimmie Johnson, 3 laps down
- Max Chilton, 4 laps down
- Felix Rosenqvist, OUT, Contact
- Colton Herta, OUT, Contact
- Josef Newgarden, OUT, Contact
- Ryan Hunter-Reay, OUT, Contact