Monday, May 23, 2022

Palou Begins IndyCar Title Defense with Runner-Up Finish at St. Petersburg

Alex Palou finishes second in the 2022 edition of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Alex Palou came one position short replicating the magic of last year’s season-opening win. Image courtesy of Chris Owens / Penske Entertainment

Alex Palou hounded and stalked Scott McLaughlin throughout the final run in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

In fact, Palou, the reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion, could have passed as McLaughlin’s shadow. Despite being within reach of the leader, though, he was left settling for as runner-up while watching McLaughlin become the newest winner in the series.

“It was close. It was really, really close, but I don’t think we had the pace he had today,” said Palou, driver of the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. “Like he was on rails, and he knew where to go fast and where to obviously save some fuel at the end.

“I was just there trying to make some pressure so hopefully he made a mistake or anything, but no, he was all good. Congrats to him. I’m super happy that he got his first win.

“Yeah, I’m happier that we got our first podium of the year.”

The end result was the complete opposite of how the weekend started off for Palou and Co. He started opening practice 17th, followed by seventh in second practice before ending up 10th in qualifying. It wasn’t until the warm-up session on Sunday morning that things looked somewhat promising after placing third on the charts; even still, though, that was a tough gauge as many just use the session as a shakedown rather than putting out maximum pace.

“I think everybody saw how we started the weekend,” he said. “We started struggling, but I think everybody saw, as well, how we were able to come back and just improve our car and our performance overall. I still think that our qualifying pace is not there yet, like suddenly today in the warm-up we were up there where we thought we would have been on qualifying. But yeah, we struggled to get one lap, especially on street courses, but we’re getting there. I think last year we got 17th here as a result and had no real pace, so today we had pace and also scored a podium.

“Pretty happy. We’re making steps in the right direction, but obviously we cannot make a huge change from one day to the other that’s going to completely change their performance. But yeah, we’re moving forward, and we’re proving that it’s working.”

While last year he started the year off with his first career victory, a second-place finish is, literally, the next best thing. It also marks his continued growth on street circuits, with Sunday marking his best-ever finish on the track disciple. He has only seven career starts on street circuits, but now has two podiums, three top fives and four top 10s.

In all, he now has 10 podiums in 31 IndyCar starts, with nine of those coming in his last 17 races.

“I think it’s always good to start with a great result,” Palou said. “If it doesn’t come, it’s okay. There’s a lot of races. But obviously it helps if you can get a good result and a podium is an awesome result to start the season.

“Yeah, we have three weeks now to prepare and get ready for Texas, so yeah, should be a good season now.”



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