Alex Palou dominated the latter half of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Sunday (April 18) to collect his first NTT IndyCar Series win, and in his debut weekend for Chip Ganassi Racing for good measure.
Will Power also used pit strategy to an advantage and found himself in second-place with Scott Dixon following in third. Power used lapped traffic and a blistering pace over the last 15 laps to ensure the young Spaniard was under immense pressure, but it proved too little too late. Palou handled the pressure flawlessly, hanging on for his first win by a mere four-tenths of a second. This came despite Power’s pace, which saw the Australian cut 1.4 seconds out of Palou on the last lap alone.
Palou was ecstatic in victory lane.
“We knew we had the best team and we knew we had the best car…it’s amazing to be here,” Palou said. The first-time winner is optimistic for his first season with Ganassi, saying “We started strong and we’ll keep it strong.”
Power revealed after the race that it “blew [his] mind, how fast Alex was.” The Australian also mentioned that fuel concerns left him forced to reserve his use of push-to-pass for only the last two laps. Power also expressed a healthy dose of optimism. “I promise you we will absolutely have a great chance at winning the championship,” the 2014 champion said after the race’s conclusion.
Initially the race appeared to be setting up for a fight between Patricio O’Ward and Palou for the win. However, O’Ward’s three-stop tire strategy fell short to the strategy employed by Palou, who only had to stop twice over the course of 90 laps. O’Ward found himself shuffled toward the back end of the top 10 after pit stops had cycled through to completion, but rallied to collect an impressive fourth-place result.
Sebastien Bourdais held on to round out the top five for AJ Foyt Enterprises. Rinus VeeKay was sixth, followed by Graham Rahal, Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi. Rookie Romain Grosjean finished 10th on debut.
The race started off with a bang as several big names were collected in a violent crash on the first lap. Josef Newgarden spun in the middle of the pack after clipping the grass and it was on from there.
Replay of the incident involving multiple cars on Lap 1 at @BarberMotorPark.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) April 18, 2021
Those involved included VeeKay, Colton Herta, James Hinchcliffe, Felix Rosenqvist, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson and VeeKay avoided serious damage and were able to stay out. Hinchcliffe, Herta, Chilton, and Rosenqvist returned to the track after repairs. Newgarden and Hunter-Reay were forced to retire.
The 2021 rookie class was a non-factor for today’s race. Grosjean easily performed the best of the three, bringing home a 10th-place finish in his NurtecODT-sponsored No. 51. Scott McLaughlin, who ran very well in his series debut last fall in St. Petersburg, struggled Sunday. His full-time debut was mostly spent running in the mid-teens throughout the race in his full-time debut. Ultimately, McLaughlin collected a 14th-place finish to kick off his 2021 campaign with Team Penske.
Of the three drivers composing this year’s unique rookie class, Johnson fared the worst. While the seven-time NASCAR champion avoided major trouble stemming from the lap 1 pileup, he found himself on the back foot for the rest of the race after a spin while chasing VeeKay on lap 10. For the rest of the race, Johnson was off the pace and finished his debut in 19th, three laps down.
Johnson described the day as full of “a ton of learning experiences.”
The series returns to action next Sunday, April 25th, for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg in St Petersburg, Fla. Coverage starts at Noon ET on NBC.