Sunday, May 28, 2023

2022 IndyCar Driver Reviews: Alex Palou

Alex Palou at the 2022 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Alex Palou at the 2022 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo courtesy of Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment.

Continuing our driver review series of the top 20 drivers of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship, we are continuing our single-driver reviews until reaching Will Power, the 2022 IndyCar Series champion.

Here, we will focus on Alex Palou, the fifth placed driver in the championship points.

It’s hard to win a championship and it’s even harder to defend it. No driver has defended an IndyCar title since Dario Franchitti in 2011 and Alex Palou was the latest driver to come up short of defending his title.

The Spaniard started the season with three podium finishes and a seventh in the first four races of the year. At the Indianapolis 500, Palou had one of the fastest cars in the field. However, an emergency pit stop under caution for fuel while the pits were closed hurt Palou’s chances, dropping him far down the order. Palou recovered to finish ninth.

The only retirement to strike the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was at Road America in June. A collision with teammate Marcus Ericsson sent Palou off track, damaging the car. After a scathing interview, some might think that Palou had hit rock bottom, but it wasn’t until July that the 2021 Indianapolis 500 runner-up reached his lowest point.

A few days before the Honda Indy Toronto, Chip Ganassi Racing announced that Palou would remain with the team for the 2023 IndyCar season. A few hours later, Palou tweeted that the quote in the press release was fabricated and he would not remain with the team next year.

Shortly thereafter, McLaren released a statement saying they secured Palou’s services for 2023. Eventually there was a lawsuit, confusing statements and accusations about Palou’s Formula 1 aspirations.

It was the biggest soap opera in several IndyCar seasons with nearly every driver in the paddock having their own take on the situation.

The situation eventually worked itself out where Palou will remain at CGR for 2023 and will be allowed to test F1 cars for McLaren. That decision came after a season finale where Palou drove what may be his best race ever in IndyCar competition.

Honda didn’t like the data from Palou’s engine on Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. After an engine change and subsequent grid penalty, Palou executed a three-stop strategy to perfection on a track with high tire degradation to win by over 30 seconds.

Chip Ganassi likes winners. He says so on Twitter after his organization collects another victory. There was a congratulatory tweet after Palou’s win and some questioned their relationship after the lawsuit.

However, there was good news around the corner as Palou and CGR made their 2023 announcement a few days after the season finale. IndyCar’s biggest mess in 2022 was finally over.

If Palou can start 2023 off the same way he started 2021, then a second title might be a possibility.

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