Alex Palou Delivers Big in Ganassi Debut at Barber

The quest for the Astor Cup began at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday for the likes of Alex Palou. (Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

There’s a new first-time winner in the NTT IndyCar Series and it’s Alex Palou from Spain. The new Chip Ganassi Racing driver was able to make his first stint work to absolute perfection and delivered big.

Palou held off challengers such as pole sitter Pato O’Ward and runner-up finisher Will Power. While the margin over Power was 0.4 seconds after 90 demanding laps, the Spaniard excelled in his team’s debut.

He became the third driver to win in their Ganassi debut, joining Michael Andretti (1994) and Dan Wheldon (2006). Additionally, Alex Palou became the second Spaniard to win an Indy car race, joining Oriol Servia when he won in 2005.

Safe to say, Palou was happy to join an illustrious group of drivers that’s won with Ganassi over the years. Sweeter was winning before other champions such as Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti, who won later on.

“It feels amazing. I think those names you said, they won more than one time, and they won championships,” said Palou. “They are 10 steps ahead of me. It’s just a start. It’s just the beginning. But for sure we couldn’t start better with Chip Ganassi Racing.”

Chip Ganassi certainly found a winner in Alex Palou at Barber Sunday afternoon. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

Tough Nature of Winning

The 24-year-old noted that winning in this sport is tough. Even when he was driving for Dale Coyne Racing last year as a rookie.

“Winning a race in INDYCAR, it’s not easy. You can see in the past, people struggle, and yeah, last year I was struggling a lot to be up front,” Alex Palou noted.

“INDYCAR is so competitive that you don’t know if next week — it’s just next week, like the car is going to be the same, I’m going to be the same, but you don’t know where we’re going to be.

“We’ll try to do our best, but for sure at the moment I’m going to embrace the feeling of being a winner, and I’ll try to do it again.”

Podium Reflections:


Despite coming up short of winning right out of the gate, a runner-up finish was needed for Power. The past four season openers have been rough for the 2014 champion, so the finish was encouraging.

“I know we’re very good at getting fuel and lap time, but Alex pulled away extremely fast. I actually thought he was on a three stopper,” said Power. “But I think he had a very good middle stint saving fuel, and we came out close to him. Had to save a bit of fuel at the end, 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.”


Defending IndyCar champion Scott Dixon crossed the line in third. In his eyes, he had a “blah” afternoon with only Power and O’Ward being his true challenge at race’s end.

“We kind of sat there, tried to make some moments on Will,” said Dixon. “Just couldn’t get close enough to pull it off and the speeds were so similar.

“Congrats to everybody on the podium, and it’s great to be back in Alabama. It was great to be back on the podium for us. Hopefully, we can move up a couple spots come next weekend.”

Grueling Afternoon for Pato

O’Ward had a strong start, but different strategy and driving the wheels off his car did him in. After the race, he had blisters on both arms but finished a rather disappointing fourth. More so, when he felt like he had the car to beat, leading 25 of 90 laps.

His afternoon changed when Palou’s strategy of staying out until Lap 31 proved to be the winning plan. O’Ward pitted on Lap 18 and once the cycle of stops ended, he was no longer the front runner.

Pit strategy became Pato O’Ward’s Achille’s heel, unable to capture his IndyCar triumph Sunday. (Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

For the remainder of the day, it was an uphill battle on what could’ve been a career day. There was even a brief frustrating episode when Sebastien Bourdais pinched him in Turn 5, upsetting the pole sitter. Frustration aside, he’ll have to wait until next Sunday at St. Petersburg to get another crack on capturing that elusive win.

“Track position was everything today. I feel like we executed on what we went for, strategy-wise. Unfortunately, it was the wrong one,” said O’Ward. “I’ve got to give it to these guys. We were the fastest car on track today. We’ve been the fastest car all weekend in terms of qualifying and pace.

“We’re ready for St. Pete,” O’Ward added. “We got good points here. I would have loved to get the win, but we’ve got another shot next weekend and we’re going to be going for it.”

Lap 1 Mayhem

On a day some title favorites delivered, a couple were struck with rotten luck. Those being Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta. On the opening lap of the race, Newgarden’s Penske snapped in Turn 4, resulting him into a spin. Consequently, several other drivers like Herta were collected in the carnage.

Chaos ensued on the opening lap, ruining the days of several competitors. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

In the end, it was Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay who failed to finish right away. Herta and Felix Rosenqvist were able to get their cars back on the circuit, but later called it a day.

Newgarden held himself accountable for the whole accident, knowing he ruined several drivers’ afternoons.

“I got loose coming over the hill. It was a good start. We were lining in pretty nicely, but I just got loose in the wake,” said Newgarden. “I thought I had the car and then touched the grass and I think once I touched the grass it pitched me sideways. 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 really sorry because it was obviously us that tipped it off. It’s a shame.”

Debut Learning Curves

Barely escaping the mayhem was seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. He made slight contact with James Hinchcliffe but kept the car rolling. Johnson’s day turned for the worse on Lap 10 when he spun in Turn 13. His No. 48 Honda stalled, bringing out the second and final full course caution of the day.

Once Johnson got the car rolling, he stayed out of trouble for the rest of the race. Despite finishing two laps down in 19th, Johnson accomplished his goal of finishing his debut.

“I’m very happy to finish,” said Johnson. “There was two scary moments in the race. I bounced off a few cars, but nothing really happened to mine. Very fortunate there.

“Then I spun in traffic following (Rinus VeeKay) over the hill and lost a lap at that point. A ton of learning experiences throughout the day.”

Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean was the highest finishing rookie in 10th. Once again proving that Dale Coyne can have talented racers deliver impressive results, just like Palou a year ago.

The only blemish to his day was his second pit stop when the No. 51 Honda briefly stalled. It cost him some track positions, but a top-10 was the greatest way to start his new motorsports venture.

Grosjean navigating the 2.3-mile road course. (Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

“First top 10 finish, so we can be very happy with that,” said the Frenchman. “We fought at the front for some time, and we did our best. We learned a lot today, and overall, we can be very proud of our weekend.

“The rolling start wasn’t pretty! I got caught a little bit, but I just need to get used to it. It’s not easy,” Grosjean added. “You have to get the right timing, but it was fun.”

Onto Florida

There won’t be any resting time for Alex Palou and the paddock as they head to St. Petersburg next Sunday. Live race coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins at Noon ET on NBC. Newgarden won the last two races at the popular 110-lap event, hoping to turn his campaign around with a three-peat.

Barber Top 10 Results: Palou, Power, Dixon, O’Ward, Bourdais, VeeKay, Rahal, Ericsson, Rossi, and Grosjean'
Luis Torres

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA (occasionally F1 and IMSA stuff as well). Whether it's the Daytona 500 or an ARCA Menards Series West race at Evergreen Speedway, content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going.

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