Alex Palou wins on IndyCar debut with Chip Ganassi at Barber Motorsports Park

IndyCar fans were treated to a new race winner on Sunday, as Alex Palou stormed to victory at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama season opener. The Spaniard managed to hold off the late-charging Will Power by half a second to take his first career win on his debut for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Photo Courtesy of: Joe Skibinski

The race started in dramatic fashion with Arrow McLaren SP pole winner Patricio O’Ward leading Alexander Rossi, Alex Palou, and Will Power off the line. They didn’t even get to finish a full lap before Josef Newgarden brought out the first full course yellow after colliding with Colton Herta, Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist, Max Chilton, and Rinus VeeKay. The two-time IndyCar champion subsequently retired from the race followed by Herta and Chilton.

After the restart, O’Ward led with an incredibly difficult and tail-happy car until pitting on lap 18 of 90, opting to switch from his fresh set of red tyres for a used set of blacks and committing to a three-stop strategy. The drivers who committed to a two-stop strategy stayed out for 14 laps, during which O’Ward lost time in traffic. Alex Palou was the main benefactor who gained the ned lead from both O’Ward and Rossi.

Palou made his first put stop on lap 31, also choosing to go for used blacks and emerging ahead of Pato O’Ward. However, Palou struggled to get heat into the tyres and was promptly passed by the Mexican in turn five.

After the other two-stoppers including Power, Dixon and Ericsson pitted, O’Ward retook the lead looking far more comfortable on the black compound tyres. On lap 45, O’Ward made his second pit stop, swapping back onto the softer red compounds. This time, it was the Mexican who struggled with tyre temperatures and was passed by both Sebastian Bourdais and Rinus VeeKay.

This left the victory in the hands of those on the two-stop strategy. Marcus Ericsson was the first of those to take their final pit stop on lap 60, choosing to go for another set of blacks.  This worked to the Swede’s advantage who passed O’Ward with ease before the McLaren driver made his final pit stop on lap 6, just four laps after Palou and Dixon.

After all the remaining pit stops this left Alex Palou with a sizeable margin ahead of Will Power, Scott Dixon and Pato O’Ward, separated by just ten seconds. However, with almost all of his push-to-pass still to use. Power set about chasing down Palou for the lead.

On the final lap of the race, Power used almost all of his push-to-pass and made it to within half a second of the leader. But it was one lap too late as Alex Palou crossed the line to take his first career win, holding off two series champions in the process.

Scott Dixon finished in third while Pato O’Ward had to settle for fourth, less than one second away from the podium position.

Bourdais, VeeKay were next, followed by Graham Rahal who passed Marcus Ericsson with a few laps to go. Ericsson only just made the chequered flag before running out of fuel.

Former F1 driver Romain Grosjean was the highest placed rookie. He was one of those who attempted the two-stop strategy and was able to round out the top ten.

Penske’s Scott McLaughlin finished in 14th, while seven-times NASCAR Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson struggled to adapt to his new machinery. He spun after the first few laps which brought out a full course yellow. He eventually finished several laps down from the leaders.

Pato O’Ward secures pole ahead of Alexander Rossi in IndyCar season opener

Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward kicked off his 2021 IndyCar campaign in style – taking pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The Mexican extraordinaire looked extremely quick throughout the day, topping all the sessions he featured in throughout qualifying. He narrowly edged out Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi by nearly seven-hundredths of a second on route to securing his second career pole.

Third fastest and quickest of the Chip Ganassi drivers went to series sophomore Alex Palou in his first qualifying run for Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda, while four-time Barber polesitter Will Power was top Team Penske driver in fourth.

Six-time and reigning champion Scott Dixon, who is seeking his first Barber win, will line up fifth, alongside teammate Marcus Ericsson, making it three Ganassi cars in the first three rows.

Romain Grosjean, who drove with a custom helmet designed by his children, drove superbly to secure seventh on his debut. He will start ahead of two-time series champion Josef Newgarden in eighth and young superstar Colton Herta in ninth with Conor Daly rounding out the top ten.

Courtesy of Chris Owens

The qualifying session was not without its drama. The second group session was first disrupted by James Hinchcliffe understeering off the track into the tire wall at Turn 5, bringing out the red flag. Pato O’Ward himself narrowly saved a huge moment at the top of the crest between Turns 13 and 14 on his way to topping the session.

However, his teammate Felix Rosenqvist was not so lucky. The Swede dropped it at the final turn which brought out the second red flag of the session. Despite crossing the line, the lap-time was deleted.

Other notable mentions include our other two star rookies, Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin and multiple-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson who will start 12th and 22nd respectively.

CLASSIFICATION:

  1. Patricio O’Ward
  2. Alexander Rossi
  3. Alex Palou
  4. Will Power
  5. Scott Dixon
  6. Marcus Ericsson
  7. Romain Grosjean
  8. Josef Newgarden
  9. Colton Herta
  10. Conor Daly
  11. Jack Harvey
  12. Scott McLaughlin
  13. Ed Jones
  14. Rinus VeeKay
  15. Simon Pagenaud
  16. Sebastien Bourdais
  17. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  18. Graham Rahal
  19. Takuma Sato
  20. Max Chilton
  21. Jimmie Johnson
  22. Felix Rosenqvist
  23. Dalton Kelett
  24. James Hinchcliffe

 

Sweet Home Alabama: The Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama Preview

Here we go. This is the 2021 IndyCar Preview from yours truly. A new season is upon us meaning another enthralling few months of exciting and dramatic wheel-to-wheel action from some of the best drivers on the planet.

We kick off with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (which has opened the IndyCar slate in 10 of 11 seasons before becoming the 2020 season finale) was delayed to April 25. It is the first time in IndyCar history that the season has opened on a permanent road course and the first at Alabama since the 2020 iteration was postponed due to COVID-19.

Now, this article was rather difficult to put together as there is so much to cover. So, if you are tuning in to IndyCar for the first time, we will do our best to hit all the important beats. Yes – you are going to have the usual players, meaning Chip Ganassi’s Scott Dixon and Penske’s Josef Newgarden are almost certain to be fighting for another championship. Scott Dixon will be chasing his seventh title in his bid to become the most successful IndyCar driver of all time. Only A.J Foyt sits on seven titles while Mario Andretti sits second on the all time wins record on 52 – only two more than Dixon.

Josef Newgarden will be looking to avenge his previous championship campaign, narrowly missing out on the title after a titanic second half of the season winning three out of the final six races. The American two-time champion ended the 2020 season on a high winning the Firestone St Petersburg Grand Prix and will look to continue that momentum this weekend.

Now, you also must consider his Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power into the equation. Moreover, can Takuma Sato put a full season of top finishes together? He is the defending Indianapolis 500 winner and had one of his best campaigns to date with an impressive stint during the middle third of the season.

Takuma Sato sat on pole and dominated last time IndyCar visited the road course. Could he repeat the feat? Can teammate Graham Rahal mount a challenge? There are so many scenarios that could happen!

Takuma Sato on the top step at Barber 2019. Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

Spaniard Alex Palou is now driving for Chip Ganassi racing. He will be looking to make a statement of intent right from the get-go. Speaking of Ganassi drivers, he will have exquisite company in the form of former F1 driver Marcus Ericsson and a star-studded rookie who we will discuss later. The Arrow McLaren SP team could also return to the top step of the podium with Felix Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward. They finished one-two at Road America last year and will undoubtedly be the dark horses for the championship.

Andretti Autosport will likely return in emphatic style with one of the strongest line-ups on the grid. Alexander Rossi was winless last year as was Ryan Hunter-Reay. However, a myriad of misfortune plagued both of their seasons and should not be underestimated. Moreover, James Hinchliffe has the ability to steal a win or two as does Marco Andretti, last years Indy 500 pole sitter.

However, if there is anyone to watch out for this year it will be Colton Herta who improved on his impressive debut season to finish third in the championship. His incredible qualifying pace and relentless race craft proved to be a successful combination finishing in the top five on seven occasions. Herta has won at Barber in the Indy Lights junior category and will be looking to stamp his mark on the Andretti team.

Other drivers who could steal a win this year are Jack Harvey with Meyer/Shank and Ed Jones at Dale Coyne.  Sebastian Bourdais, in the newly sponsored Rockit A.J.Foyt entry, has shown promise in early testing.  There is no doubt we could see the Foyt team snatch victory.

And who could forget the Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly who races alongside 2020 Rookie of the Year Rinus VeeKay.  After a solid campaign which saw Rinus feature in the final qualifying shootout at the Indianapolis 500, can he take the next step in his sophomore season?

Now, let us get on to the rookies. Never have we seen such a roster of rookies who paradoxically come with pedigree, experience and titles. Formula One refugee Romain Grosjean joins Dayle Coyne Racing looking to cause a stir after a difficult campaign at Haas and a disastrous accident saw him leave the sport with certainly something to prove. His experience on road courses could prove vital this weekend.

Courtesy of Joe Skibinski

Seven-time NASCAR Jimmie Johnson will have one of the biggest uphill battles who joins none other than Chip Ganassi Racing alongside Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou.

The former Australian V-8 Supercar Champion Scott McLaughlin joins Penske but stands a decent chance at putting something together this weekend. Unlike Grosjean and Johnson who are forgoing the ovals, McLaughlin is also looking forward to running the ovals and the Indianapolis 500.  Penske has an eye for drivers. In addition, Rick Mears will no doubt come into play as a huge help to the Australian as an advisor.

Rick Mears and Scott McLaughlin. Courtesy of Chris Jones

In a tweak to race weekend schedule Barber will be a two-day event which will see Saturday feature two practice sessions totalling 90 minutes and a qualifying session. Sunday will include a 30-minute warmup before the race goes green at around 7:40/7:45pm (BST).

There is so much to look forward to this weekend. A highly rated trio of rookies. Seasoned veterans going for glory. Young superstars looking to make a name for themselves. What is there not to love?

You can watch the 2021 IndyCar season opener on SkySportF1 in the UK. Alternatively, you can find live-text updates on ThePitCrewOnline Twitter account during the race.

IndyCar iRacing Challenge returns with a bang

In preparation for the upcoming NTT IndyCar Season, the series is giving fans and participants a pre-season reason to be excited in the upcoming months as it revives the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

As it did when the pandemic began, the series expects to play host to many of the current crop of IndyCar drivers which starts Thursday 18th March. The iRacing Challenge will be streamed live on INDYCAR.com, the series’ Youtube channel and Facebook page while you can also find exclusive content via the drivers personal social media and Twitch accounts.

This three-race series, will kick off March 18th on the (VIRTUAL) Circuit Giles Villeneuve circuit of Montreal, followed a week later at Homestead Miami Speedway. The series will culminate on April 1st on a soon-to-be announced circuit which will be decided by fan-vote.

Drivers expected to take part will be IndyCar rookie and Australian Supercar Champion Scott McLauglhin,as well as his Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden. Joining them is expected to be Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Felix Rosenqvist, Graham Rahal, Ed Carpenter, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly and ex-Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean.

Each driver’s strategists and engineers are invited to participate in the event to help their drivers.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MAY 02: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) (Editors note: This image was computer generated in-game) Scott McLaughlin, driver of the #40 PIRTEK Team Penske Dallara, races during the IndyCar iRacing Challenge First Responder 175 at virtual Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 02, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Romain Grosjean spoke with great excitement about the opportunity to race against his future competitors in the virtual world.

“I love the circuit. It’s one of the best,” he said. “Actually, it could be a circuit that fits the real IndyCar Series. (iRacing) did such a nice job and taking it to the next level. It is tough to go fast. It takes hours of practice, and we get so competitive. You think it’s just a video game, and then we spend eight, nine, 10 hours of practice for a short race. We are competitors, and we want to win. We are going to push it and try as hard as we can. It’s going to be great fun.”

The 2020 iRacing Challenge went down fantastically with motorsport fans around the world, praising it for its star-studded driver line-up, competitiveness, and realism. Scott McLaughlin took last years’ championship following a chaotic and infamous race at the Indianapolis International Speedway. You may remember it involving a certain Lando Norris and Simon Pagenaud.

Each race will begin streaming at 6:30pm (ET) / 10:30pm (GMT) – If you need something to ‘wet the whistle’ before the first IndyCar race at Birmingham, Alabama April 18th – be sure not to miss.