Palou capitalizes late for third IndyCar victory of 2023 at Road America

After spending a majority of the event trailing dominant pole-sitter Colton Herta, Alex Palou executed a late pit strategy to his advantage and emerge ahead of Herta and the competition before cruising to a late victory in the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday, June 18.

The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion from Sant Antoni de Vilamajor, Spain, led three times for 10 of 55-scheduled laps in an event where he started in third place and spent the bulk of the event battling within the top five amid mixed pit strategies and full-contact racing. The key moment for Palou occurred with 15 laps remaining when Herta pitted under green for fresh black tires. Instead of pitting with Herta, Palou opted to wait during the proceeding lap to pit for fresh tires. By the time he returned to the track, he was methodically gaining ground on Herta, who was in fuel conservation mode. Then with seven laps remaining, Palou executed his winning pass on Herta entering Turn 1. From there, the Spaniard was able to pull away from the field and proceed to claim his third IndyCar Series victory of the 2023 campaign.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, June 17, Colton Herta notched his first IndyCar pole of the season and the 10th of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 144.223 mph in one minute, 40.1945 seconds. Joining Herta on the front row was Pato O’Ward, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 143.979 mph in one minute, 40.3643 seconds.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced amid a fanned-out restart, Herta rocketed ahead with the lead entering the first turn as Alex Palou made an early move on Pato O’Ward for second. Then in Turn 1, early trouble struck for Kyle Kirkwood after he ran into the rear of O’Ward and spun in Turn 1, which sent O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet briefly off the course while Kirkwood’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda was stalled backwards.

With the event remaining under green flag conditions, the field continued to bump and jostle for positions throughout the 14-turn circuit. At the front of the pack, Herta was leading ahead of the new runner-up competitor Alex Palou followed by teammate Marcus Armstrong, Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi while O’Ward was back in seventh behind Christian Lundgaard. As the field was making its approach back to the start/finish line, the first caution of the event flew for Kirkwood, who was still stalled in Turn 1 as the on-track safety workers came to his assistance before he was eventually able to re-fire his car and drive away.

During the event’s first caution period, a majority of the field running within the bottom half of the pack that included Kirkwood, Felix Rosenqvist, Romain Grosjean, Scott Dixon and Will Power made a pit stop while the rest led by Herta remained on the track.

When the race restarted under green on the third lap, Herta maintained the lead ahead of Palou and Armstrong, with Armstrong making an early attempt in battling teammate Palou for second, but the latter prevailed in retaining the spot as Newgarden was in fourth. Behind, Lundgaard was in fifth while Rossi settled in sixth in front of teammate O’Ward, who would be assessed a penalty and forced to yield two spots for blocking during the start of the event. Amid more bumps and jostling for spots in the middle of the pack, the field led by Herta managed to navigate its way through the 14-turn circuit under green for the following lap.

Through the first five scheduled laps, Herta was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Palou while Armstrong trailed in third place by more than a second. Meanwhile, Newgarden, who forced Lundgaard off the course in Turn 5 during the previous lap, retained fourth ahead of Rossi while Lundgaard slipped back to sixth. Behind, Devlin DeFrancesco was in seventh followed by Santino Ferrucci, O’Ward and Marcus Ericsson while Scott McLaughlin, Callum Ilott, Rinus VeeKay, Felix Rosenqvist and Graham Rahal rounded out the top 15.

At the Lap 10 mark, Herta extended his advantage to more than eight-tenths of a second over Palou while third-place Armstrong trailed by more than a second in his No. 11 Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara-Honda. Newgarden and Rossi continued to run in the top five while Lundgaard, O’Ward, DeFrancesco, Ericsson and McLaughlin, who made a bold overtake on Ferrucci through the frontstretch, were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Rosenqvist, who received a bump from Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara-Chevrolet in Turn 3 two laps earlier, had plummeted to last place in 27th after battling for a top-15 spot and while trying to carve his way back to the front on his fresh tires while pitting during the first caution period.

Two laps later, a host of competitors led by the race leader Herta pitted under green while Rosenqvist cycled into the lead. Shortly after, however, the event’s second caution flew when Grosjean, who snapped sideways and spun his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda off the course in Turn 3 on Lap 11, had stalled his car on the gravel trap and needed the on-track safety crew to tow his car back onto the course and re-fired. Amid the pit stops, more trouble struck for Kirkwood, who stalled his car while trying to enter his pit box, but had to take evasive action to avoid being hit by Rinus VeeKay, who was exiting his pit stall. In addition, Armstrong was assessed a one-spot penalty for an unsafe release after he nearly hit Simon Pagenaud, who was trying to enter his pit stall at the same time when Armstrong was exiting his pit stall. VeeKay would also be assessed the same penalty as Armstrong for nearly colliding into Kirkwood.

Just as the event was ready to restart under green on Lap 15, the caution quickly returned when Jack Harvey, who was running in the middle of the pack went off the course and dead straight towards the tire barriers in Turn 14.

When the event restarted under green on Lap 19, Herta maintained the lead ahead of Palou and Newgarden while Armstrong was intimidating Rossi for fourth place. With the field behind bumping and jostling for spots, including some going off the course, Herta maintained his advantage over Palou and Newgarden while Armstrong trailed in fourth by more than two seconds.

Then four laps later, Palou, who came under pressure from Newgarden, slipped and went off the course in Turn 5. This allowed Newgarden to move his No. 2 Team Penske Dallara-Chevrolet into second place as Rossi, Armstrong and O’Ward joined the battle. Meanwhile, Herta stabilized his advantage to more than a second while Newgarden maintained second place over Palou. Behind and during the following lap, Rossi and Armstrong continued to fight fiercely for fourth as O’Ward tried to close in. Then in Turn 5, O’Ward gained a strong run on Armstrong in Turn 5 and survived a side-by-side battle on Armstrong for a top-five spot in Turn 6 as O’Ward overtook Armstrong while Lundgaard tried to challenge Armstrong for sixth.

Then during the event’s third caution period on Lap 25 for David Malukas, who pulled his car off the course in Turn 8 and became the first retiree of the event, a majority of the field led by Herta pitted while Armstrong remained on the circuit to inherit the lead. With the event surpassing its halfway mark under the caution period, Herta now found himself strapped behind Palou and Newgarden, both of whom managed to exit pit road ahead of Herta, while Armstrong was the leader.

With the race restarting under green on Lap 28, Armstrong maintained the lead ahead of Will Power, both of whom were off sequence amid pit strategy, while Newgarden was overtaken by Herta and O’Ward entering the first turn. As the field continued to fan out and jostle for late spots, Power, who was running in second and trying to fend off Grosjean, who was a lap down, briefly touched the gravel and went off the course in Turn 6 as Grosjean overtook him. Behind him, Palou maintained third ahead of Herta and a hard-charging O’Ward while Newgarden fell to sixth.

During the following lap, Herta overtook Palou for third place in Turn 6 as O’Ward closed in on Palou for a top-five spot. As the battles behind continue to ignite, Armstrong maintained the lead ahead of Power, who was trailing by more than two seconds and trying to navigate around the lapped competitor of Grosjean.

Then with 24 laps remaining, Armstrong surrendered the lead to pit as Power cycled into the lead. Herta, Palou, O’Ward and Newgarden each moved up spots within the top five while Dixon, Rossi, Rosenqvist, McLaughlin and Ericsson were in the top 10. Herta would then manage to reassume the lead two laps later as Power pitted.

With 20 laps remaining, Herta was leading by six-tenths of a second over Palou while third-place O’Ward trailed by more than a second. Newgarden and Dixon were scored in the top five while Rossi, Ericsson, Rosenqvist, McLaughlin and Lundgaard were in the top 10. Behind, Rahal was in 11th ahead of Kyle Kirkwood while VeeKay, Pagenaud, Ilott, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Benjamin Pedersen, Devlin DeFrancesco and Agustin Canapino were in the top 20.

Then with 15 laps remaining, Herta surrendered the lead to pit under green. Lundgaard, Rahal, Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay would also pit while Palou inherited the lead. Palou would then pit during the following lap under green as he was pursued by O’Ward, Newgarden, Dixon, Ericsson, Rossi, McLaughlin, Kirkwood, VeeKay, Castroneves, Ilott, Pedersen, Canapino and Ferrucci. Amid the pit stops, Herta managed to overtake all of them on the track, but he found himself mired by Will Power as Power returned to the lead.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Power, who last pitted on Lap 33 and has yet to make another pit stop amid a differing pit strategy, was leading by more than 10 seconds over Herta while Palou, Newgarden and O’Ward trailed under 15 seconds.

Then a lap later, Power pitted under green. This enabled Herta, who was trying to conserve fuel to finish, to reassume the lead, but he was only three-tenths of a second ahead over Palou, who was trying to close in while third-place Newgarden trailed by nearly three seconds. Palou would then trail the race leader Herta by four-tenths of a second during the following lap as Palou continued to put pressure on Herta for the lead.

Then with seven laps remaining, Palou, who was within a tenth of a second trailing Herta, overtook Herta’s No. 26 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda with a bold move to the outside lane entering Turn 1 as he assumed the lead in his No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara-Honda. As Palou tried to pull away with the lead, Herta maintained second in spite of being under fuel conservation mode as Newgarden closed in for the runner-up spot.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Palou was leading by more than two seconds over Newgarden, who overtook Herta for the runner-up spot. O’Ward would then overtake Herta for the final podium spot along with Dixon as Herta continued to run under a cautious pace on the track while trying to save fuel for the finish.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Palou remained as the leader by more than five seconds over Newgarden and more than seven seconds over O’Ward. With close competition lurking behind him, Palou, who wrecked a day ago during the event’s practice session but rallied with a repaired car, was able to cycle his way around the 14-turn circuit smoothly for a final time as he returned to the finish line and claimed his third checkered flag of the 2023 season.

With the victory, Palou notched his seventh career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series and his second at Road America after winning his first in 2021. He also collected his third victory of the season and in recent weeks following his recent victories at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May and at the Streets of Detroit two weeks earlier. Palou also recorded the fourth IndyCar victory of the season for Chip Ganassi Racing and the fifth for Honda.

The victory also extended Palou’s hot streak of this season, where he has finished no lower than eighth through the first eight-scheduled events.

“It’s been an amazing weekend, honestly,” Palou said on USA Network. “We started with a lot of speed. Big mistake by my part in practice too, but it was amazing. [The team] had only an hour and a half to rebuild all the car. We went back on track and it was even better than practice too. Super happy. They gave me the pit stop that gave us the win as well, so [I] cannot thank them enough. It was an amazing day for the No. 10 American Legion Ganassi car and we’re gonna keep on going. We’re gonna try to keep it rolling. We have an amazing team behind.”

“[Herta] was really quick on the first couple of laps on the blacks [tires],” Palou added. “I thought I was not gonna catch him, but anyway, I knew while our tires were a bit slower on getting up to temperature, we kept on pushing, kept on putting some pressure and we finally made it happen.”

Newgarden, this year’s Indianapolis 500 champion who won at Road America a year ago, finished in second place as he trailed Palou by more than four seconds while O’Ward, who is still pursuing his first victory of the season, fended off a late charge from Dixon to round out the podium in third place and claim his fourth podium result of the season.

Dixon came home fourth after starting 23rd while Herta concluded his dominant run in a disappointing fifth place after leading a race-high 33 laps.

“It was unclear to me like how the race was gonna play out at that point,” Herta said. “It was hard to say what was gonna happen with fuel numbers. I knew it was about 15 laps to go and that’s usually pretty reasonable fuel number. It ended up being quite a bit more. It’s frustrating. We had the best car. We were cruising the whole time. Like I had so much more in it and we just never really got to show it because we were always saving fuel, trying to go that lap later. That’s a killer. We still got a fifth out of it, which is nice. Not what we want, though, so for that reason, it’s pretty frustrating.”

Ericsson, Lundgaard, McLaughlin, Kirkwood and Rossi finished in the top 10.

There were nine lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 10 laps. In total, 23 of 27 starters finished on the lead lap.

Following the eighth event of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season, Alex Palou continues to lead the championship standings by 74 points over Marcus Ericsson, 81 over Josef Newgarden, 98 over both Pato O’Ward and Scott Dixon and 125 over Scott McLaughlin.

Results.

1. Alex Palou, 10 laps led

2. Josef Newgarden

3. Pato O’Ward

4. Scott Dixon

5. Colton Herta, 33 laps led

6. Marcus Ericsson

7. Christian Lundgaard

8. Scott McLaughlin

9. Kyle Kirkwood

10. Alexander Rossi

11. Graham Rahal

12. Rinus VeeKay

13. Will Power, seven laps led

14. Simon Pagenaud

15. Helio Castroneves

16. Santino Ferrucci

17. Ryan Hunter-Reay

18. Callum Ilott

19. Agustin Canapino

20. Felix Rosenqvist

21. Benjamin Pedersen

22. Sting Ray Robb

23. Devlin DeFrancesco

24. Marcus Armstrong, one lap down, five laps led

25. Romain Grosjean, one lap down

26. Jack Harvey, one lap down

27. David Malukas – OUT, Off Course

The next event on the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. The event is slated to occur on July 2 at 1:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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