INDIANAPOLIS — In a race that might have been won before the green flag dropped, Alex Palou picked up his first win of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season at Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The Spanish racer started the race on a new set of Firestone’s red sidewall alternate compound tires that give more grip but wear out sooner. While most other competitors started on the black sidewall primaries, Palou went 18 laps on his opening stint, stopping for the primaries on Lap 18.
By getting his stint on the alternate tires done at the start of the race, Palou ran the rest of the 85-lap race on the preferred black sidewall primary compound tires. IndyCar mandates that drivers run both compounds of tires for a minimum of two laps in a dry weather road or street course race.
“In the warmup we found that we were struggling a little bit more than others on the alternate tires,” Palou said. “So that’s why we went on red, black, black, black at the end to try to get the best from what we had, and it worked. Perfect day for the 10 car.”
Starting third, Palou was the only driver in the top seven starting positions to start the race on the alternate compound tires. By being on the preferred primaries for the remaining 67 laps, the 2021 IndyCar Series champion lengthened his lead in the final 18 laps from 11 seconds to nearly 17 seconds by the time he took the checkered flag ahead of Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi in third.
The No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the fifth different car to pull into victory lane in as many races in the 2023 season. Palou also picked up the points lead by six points over Palou and 19 points over Marcus Ericsson.
“I’ve always said that we had a good season so far, but we didn’t really have a clean day,” Palou said. “Today was the first clean day. The speed was amazing, strategy, pit stops, everything went really smooth. We’re not going to stop here. We’re going to try and keep the championship lead until the end of the championship, and hopefully get the second one.”
O’Ward’s second place finish was his third of the season and his fourth top-five finish in five races. While some might be frustrated with coming so close to a victory so many times, the Mexican racer remains steadfastly upbeat about doing the right things in being so close to a win.
“Man, I’m flowing,” O’Ward said with a smile. “I know my wins will come. I’m chilling. Honestly, if we’re second for the rest of the season, we’re chilling. Yeah, they will fall. Is it (a win) going to fall the next one, in two, three, four, five? Who knows. Is it going to fall until next year? You never know.
“I sure know that what we’ve been doing, we’ve been knocking on the door every single weekend. Like, there hasn’t been one weekend where we’re lost, no. There’s been some weekends where we haven’t started off that strong. We make changes and we’re right there.”
This was Rossi’s first podium finish with Arrow McLaren and his second top-five finish of the season. Rossi was proud of his team’s effort because all three Arrow McLaren cars finished in the top five with Felix Rosenqvist in fifth place and Rossi gained seven positions from the start of the race.
“To get three cars in the top five is near on impossible these days,” Rossi said. “Arrow McLaren has done a phenomenal job all year. You can’t talk about how challenging it is to add a car in the off-season. They’ve done it with relative apparent ease. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes.
“Really proud to get the first podium for the team, the first one as part of Team Chevy. It was a good day. We’ve had a really strong pace on Sundays, we just haven’t gotten the results that we feel like we deserve. We’re missing a little bit on Saturdays.”
Christian Lundgaard started the race on pole position beside Rosenqvist on the front row. Palou got a better start than Rosenqvist and moved into second place immediately.
The 2021 Indianapolis 500 runner-up moved by the Danish driver on the way to Turn 13 before the opening lap concluded. On the race’s second lap, Sting Ray Robb left his braking too late heading to Turn 7 and collided with his Dale Coyne Racing teammate David Malukas.
Teammates collide.@malukasdavid and @sting_ray_robb connect and the yellow is out.#INDYCAR // #INDYGP pic.twitter.com/qLcJQMONIc
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 13, 2023
The No. 51 Honda retired on the spot with damaged right front suspension. Malukas made his way to pit road after getting his car restarted and the No. 18 Honda crew determined that the damage to the left rear corner of the car was terminal.
After a short full course yellow for the stopped cars, the race resumed and stayed green for the rest of the duration. Lundgaard was no match for Palou’s strategy and eventually faded to fourth place at the finish.
The only other retirement from the race was Simon Pagenaud. The No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda stopped on pit road near pit exit with a mechanical issue on the right rear corner of the car.