New hardware. New colors. New dad.
Life has been incredible these days for defending and two-time INDYCAR champion Alex Palou, who is poised for a third Astor Cup in four years.
With no shortage of confidence, Palou is ready to continue his winning ways and accomplish a feat that has not been done by a Chip Ganassi Racing driver since Dario Franchitti – go back-to-back in the championship trail.
“We’ve done it once, so we can do it twice. But it’s going to be tough. It’s always tough to repeat such a special and magical season like what we had with, yeah, five wins. It’s crazy,” said Palou during INDYCAR Content Day. “When I look back to see the races in a row that we got suddenly with starting the month of May, getting the pole at the Indy 500 and then we went to Detroit and Mid-Ohio and Road America, it just felt magical.
“It’s going to be tough to repeat or to be close to that. But we’ve done it once, so yeah, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do it twice.”
Last season, Palou’s championship trail was among the best in history. Completing all but two laps, Palou finished no worse than eighth all season and scored 10 podiums. Half of those resulted in race wins, including the championship-clinching victory at Portland International Raceway.
The 26-year-old Spaniard became the first driver in the Post-Split Era to lock up the championship early and brought Ganassi its 15th championship.
Following the season finale at Laguna Seca, Palou’s positive momentum continued as he acquired one of the sport’s longest-tenured sponsorships in DHL. The move marked the end of the shipping company’s tenure at Andretti Autosport after 13 seasons sponsoring Ryan Hunter-Reay and Romain Grosjean.
The grandest victory for Palou came in December when he and his wife, Esther, became parents, welcoming daughter Lucia to the world.
Indeed, Palou is on top of the world of motorsports and realizes that patience is paramount — not just as a driver, but as a father with a dose of sleeping into his arsenal.
“Patience, sleep whenever you can. Yeah, sleep whenever you can. That’s the best thing,” said Palou. “I didn’t actually put it into practice. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, I’ll sleep whenever I have to.’ I didn’t put it to practice the first couple of weeks, and then I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I need to do it.’
“So as soon as the baby was closing their eyes, I was like, ‘I need to fall asleep for one hour.’ It’s been super fun. It’s a lot of work. But the emotions and the feelings that you get, it’s crazy. It’s beyond everything I’ve felt before. I’m learning a lot, not sleeping much, but it’s been fun.”
Even as a father, Palou does not expect his driving approach to change in large part due to how flexible his INDYCAR schedule is, especially for those who have already been fathers.
“We are actually really lucky that we can spend so much time with the kids. Maybe not with the family, but we can with the kids,” said Palou. “We can travel together. I can be on Monday a full day with her if I want, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and I can travel with her to races if I want or if she wants or depending on how old she is. We travel a lot and we’re busy, but at the same time, we have a lot of free time, as well.
“I don’t think it’s going to change much. I don’t know, but as a driver, I think I’ll just have to take care and work even harder because it’s not about myself alone now. I have to win for myself and for her and for my wife. But it’s not the same as having a daughter. It’s just giving me a different kind of motivation that hopefully pushes me forward like it did for (Scott) Dixon having three kids.”
When he is not driving his No. 10 DHL Honda, Palou’s competitive spirit remains. Even when it comes to diaper changing, there is always competition as proven by Palou facing off against Dixon.
Dixon was able to get the upper hand over the defending champion.
“I tried it too fast and I broke the diaper. He was like, he is as a person as he is on track. He was just doing it and he won,” Palou on losing to Dixon. “I think I’m really good, but then when I told my wife that I think I’m really good, she was like, are you sure that you’re really good?
“I need to take my time, and sometimes everything goes out of control, and she doesn’t let me do it, and that just gets messy. I wouldn’t say I’m the worst, and I’m not the best for sure.”
Despite all the merits, controversy loomed over the Spaniard the past two years because of the messy contract disputes with both Ganassi and McLaren. Some see it overshadowing his 2023 title campaign and perhaps denying him a chance of winning the championship the year before last.
Palou reflected if losing the 2022 title to Will Power had anything to do with the off-track drama. The response was a double-edged sword for the Ganassi driver, acknowledging that those disputes affected him, but the main attribution was not winning until the finale at Laguna Seca.
“I think that didn’t help. Do I think that I didn’t win because of that? I would say that’s — yeah, I cannot know that. I cannot know. Yeah, I hope that’s not the case,” Palou on the contract saga with Ganassi and McLaren. “But it’s tough to know. For sure it didn’t help, but I don’t think that we were (strong) at the beginning of the season.
“We were really consistent, but we were not winning. We only won one race at the end of the season. I think we were missing just a little bit of speed that you need to win a championship.”
Through the storm, Palou’s determination never flinched.
To win a third championship and bring Ganassi his 16th, there are three men Palou feels will make the title defense difficult. Two of them happen to be Kiwi racers, who go by Scott.
Palou explained why his teammate, Scott Dixon, and Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden will make it difficult. Specifically, Palou cited his teammate being the No. 1 target as Dixon’s hunger for a seventh championship continues to loom.
For Palou’s sake, he hopes when he sees Dixon at Daytona International Speedway for the Rolex 24, some of his memory of what clicked for him late last season is at a distance.
“Dixon inside and out and the series in general. I know that he will have the same tools as I will, and he’s always there. He’s always there. Even on the worst days he’s always there,” Palou explained. “It will be tough. I think they found something or he found something towards the end of the season as we saw with the results they got. Hopefully, he forgot about that stuff. I will talk to him about other stuff during Daytona to see if he forgets.
“Newgarden’s always there. He’s the same as Dixon, that even in the bad days, he’s able to get the maximum out of the car. I think he was a bit unlucky during last season, but he’s always a threat. We saw McLaughlin getting super consistent, as well, and I could name all the drivers, but I would stop there.”