PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Chip Ganassi stopped Alex Palou before Sunday's race at Portland International Raceway and encouraged his driver to use the race to close out the IndyCar championship.
Palou told the boss he planned to do it with a walk-off win.
And he delivered.
Palou is now a two-time IndyCar champion with Ganassi following a dominant run Sunday that gave him his series-leading fifth win of the season.
“He likes to win, he told me that. He told me before the race, I said ‘Let’s go wrap this up today,’ he looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to wrap it up with a win,'” Ganassi said. "I said ‘OK, great.’ He called his shot today.”
Ganassi then at last addressed Palou's future with the team, which has been uncertain and at times contentious the last 14 months.
“Alex Palou is going to be in our car, I can tell you that, for sure," Ganassi said.
That wasn't so clear even last month, with Palou scheduled to join Arrow McLaren Racing in 2024 as an IndyCar driver. He already spent this year as McLaren's test and reserve driver in Formula One, but has had an apparent change of heart regarding his future.
“I am going to enjoy it as much as possible, the win from today, the championship," Palou said in declining to discuss the contractual fight between driver, McLaren and Ganassi.
McLaren has filed a lawsuit in the United Kingdom seeking at least $20 million in damages and to recoup money already advanced to Palou. McLaren claims it gave Palou an advance on his 2024 salary and covered his legal fees last year during mediation in Palou's attempt to join McLaren this year.
The settlement reached last September kept Palou in a Ganassi car in IndyCar for this season but allowed him to do F1 work with McLaren on non-conflicting weekends.
This third season with Ganassi for Palou — and fourth in IndyCar since the 26-year-old from Barcelona moved to the United States after a short stint racing in Japan — turned out to be the best of his career.
Palou locked up the title with one weekend remaining in the 17-race schedule, marking the first time in IndyCar the championship has been settled before the finale since the late Dan Wheldon won in 2005. Sebastien Bourdais in 2007 won the Champ Car title with one race remaining before the two series unified.
“I never thought I’d be an IndyCar champion and to be a two-time IndyCar champion just feels amazing, like a dream,” Palou said. “It was an amazing weekend. We just raced how we've been doing all season.”
Palou this year led IndyCar in nearly every measurable statistic: wins, poles, podiums, top-five finishes, top-10 finishes, races led and laps completed. In fact, Palou finished all but two laps all season and could have had a sixth victory but was spun on pit road during the Indianapolis 500 and had to drive his way back to a fourth-place finish in a race he seemed poised to win.
His lowest finish all season was eighth, twice.
“It's been an amazing season, we've just had the best cars everywhere, we've been able to maximize our results,” Palou said. “We wanted to win the championship and have it settled so now we can relax.”
Palou started the race with a comfortable points lead over Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, the only driver mathematically eligible to challenge the Spaniard for the title. But it didn't matter what Dixon did in the race because if Palou podiumed, the championship would be over.
He did far more than podium at Portland.
Palou led 69 of the 110 laps to score a decisive victory over runner-up Felix Rosenqvist, who finished 5.4353 seconds back. Dixon, the six-time IndyCar champion, finished third for the third consecutive time at Portland. Palou and Dixon have locked down first and second in the IndyCar standings heading into next Sunday's finale in Monterey, California.
“I don't know if we had enough speed for Alex, he was definitely fast,” Dixon said in lauding his teammate. “He kind of does everything right. He's a hell of a competitor, a huge talent.”
It is the second title in three seasons for Palou, who won both titles driving for Ganassi, and the 15th IndyCar title for the team owner and 22nd overall. Of Ganassi's many title winners, Palou joins Dixon (six), Dario Franchitti (two) and Alex Zanardi (two) as drivers with multiple championships.
“He's certainly special,” Ganassi said. “He's part of our team and we couldn't be more happy about that."
Pato O'Ward finished fourth for McLaren and was followed by Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden and Rinus VeeKay was sixth for his best finish of the season. Juri Vips finished 18th in his IndyCar debut.
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing
Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press