Alex Palou’s Steady Hands Led to a Huge Win at Indianapolis
In a series filled with brash drivers that take big risks and find out the consequences of their actions, Alex Palou is a steady pair of hands. Sure, the likes of Pato O'Ward, Romain Grosjean, and Scott McLaughlin may be better television, but it is Palou's stable, patient style that won the 2021 championship in just his second season in the series. Today, Christian Lundgaard was the latest driver to see what that looks like in a race.
Lundgaard started from pole, but Palou started the race in third as the lead driver on the alternate red tire. Palou put very literal pressure on Lundgaard into turn 1 on the opening lap, but the figurative pressure put on the second-year Danish driver by Chip Ganassi Racing's choice to put Palou on an alternate tire strategy from the onset would prove more significant. Lundgaard and Palou would duel on track over the day's first two stints, and at one point even passed Palou back on track on the softer red tires while Palou was back onto the harder black tire. He failed to build a significant lead, though, and that tire advantage turned quickly.
Lundgaard's lead peaked at three seconds, not enough to hold onto the position before the end of that stint. By the time Palou's tires equalized just 19 laps into the stint, Lundgaard was in immediate trouble. Palou grabbed the lead just before the halfway mark of the day and never looked back.
Palou went on to lead 52 laps, winning by 16 seconds. Lundgaard, running the final stint on scuffed reds, was suddenly forced to defend rather than attack. He would finish fourth, 23 seconds behind the leader. The steady hand won handily, and the young driver with the biggest flashes of speed all weekend came away with a strong day that could have been much, much bigger.
Pato O'Ward, who finished second, leaves the race with the championship lead. Minds in the garage now turn to the Indianapolis 500, with practice starting this week before qualifying next weekend and the race two weeks from tomorrow. Over the past few years, double points in that race have meant that it was the biggest day in the championship picture in addition to being the biggest single event in American open wheel racing. That rule has since changed, so teams can focus on all-or-nothing strategies to win rather than settle for a strong points finish.
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