Barber IndyCar: Palou holds off Power, Dixon for first win

Alex Palou scored his first NTT IndyCar Series victory in his opening race for the Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda team, comfortably holding off Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Will Power and his own teammate and reigning champion, Scott Dixon.

Polesitter Patricio O’Ward made a strong start to hold off the Andretti Autosport-Honda of Alexander Rossi with Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s Alex Palou Team Penske-Chevy’s Will Power and two more Ganassi cars, those of Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson, falling in behind. However, on the climb out of Turn 3, chaos reigned.

Josef Newgarden, who had started eighth, ran wide on the exit curb, touched the curb and spun in front of the pack. Andretti pairing Colton Herta and Ryan Hunter-Reay had nowhere to go and clobbered the two-time champion’s Team Penske-Chevrolet hard, while Felix Rosenqvist was also collected and sent airborne in his Arrow McLaren SP before striking the barrier. Max Chilton’s Carlin Chevrolet was caught up in the chaos and limped back to the pits.

An apologetic Newgarden told NBC: “I just got loose coming over the hill. I had a good start, we were lining in pretty nicely, but then I got loose in the wake. I felt I had [control of] the car, and touched the grass, and once I touched the grass it pitched me sideways. I feel really bad for everyone involved, my mess created a bigger mess behind, so I’m really sorry as it was obviously us who tipped it off. It was a shame, I felt like we had a really good car. We just have to bounce back at the next one.”

Herta commented: “Man, that sucks. I was waiting for Newgarden to find a direction to spin in, I had Conor on my right so no room there, but he kept spinning in the same place. It’s such a disappointing start. I’m ready to get out of here and go straight to St Pete.” 

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Rinus VeeKay who had spun in the melee pitted his Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet, and Graham Rahal in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda did likewise.

The Dale Coyne Racing with RWR-Honda of Romain Grosjean had been ahead of the shunt so maintained his seventh ahead of Conor Daly’s ECR-Chevy, rookie Scott McLaughlin in the Penske, and Jack Harvey’s Meyer Shank Racing-Honda.

The big beneficiaries were Takuma Sato (up from 19th to 12th) and James Hinchcliffe (up from 24th to 15th).

The restart was orderly but O’Ward’s car looked loose for the first couple of green-flag laps and came under pressure from Rossi. Further back, Bourdais and Pagenaud demoted Sato to 14th. Then the yellows flew again, when Jimmie Johnson spun coming over the crest at Turn 13, just after being passed by the recovering VeeKay. The NASCAR legend couldn't quite bumpstart his car on the downhill section, so needed assistance from the AMR Safety Team, which lost him a lap before he was able to catch back up to the pack. VeeKay and Kellett took the opportunity to pit again under this caution.

Pagenaud committed early to a three-stop strategy and stopped on Lap 16, but it appeared his teammate Power had swung the other way, as he had fallen four seconds behind the O’Ward vs Rossi battle when they pitted on Lap 18, rejoining in 15th and 16th. Palou took the lead, 2.8sec ahead of Power, with Dixon hanging on to the Penske ahead.

Palou kept pulling away from Power, extending the gap to 5sec by Lap 25, and he was turning faster times than O’Ward and Rossi who were now on primaries, so was clearly going to benefit from the overcut. McLaughlin made his first stop on Lap 26 and rejoined 14th, behind teammate Pagenaud.

Palou was looking sensationally quick in this opening stint, albeit leaning hard on his push-to-pass, and on lap 30 his lead over Power was 6.6sec, the Penske driver having also pulled a 1.7sec margin over Dixon, who was almost 4sec up on teammate Ericsson.

Palou pitted on Lap 31, while Dixon went to Lap 32, Grosjean went to Lap 33 – having risen to second during everyone else’s stops – and Power stopped on Lap 34.

The #10 Ganassi crew’s tactics had worked well, and Palou rejoined just ahead of O’Ward, but the Mexican passed the Spaniard around the outside of Turn 5 to take the effective lead (Bourdais and Rahal had yet to stop at that stage). Palou didn’t need to fight too hard, however, as he knew O’Ward would have to stop twice more. The Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy looked animated in the extreme as O’Ward set about trying to pull a 30sec lead over Palou who was running 1sec ahead of Rossi. Power and Dixon had resumed in fourth and fifth, with Ericsson sixth. For IndyCar debutant Grosjean, the two-stop strategy was not working so well, having dropped to 13th after his stop.

O’Ward made his second stop on Lap 42, this time for new primary Firestones, and Rossi did likewise next time by. As O’Ward tried to get his tires up to temperature, Bourdais dived past him at Turn 5, and the lost momentum for the Arrow McLaren SP driver allowed Graham Rahal to also get past and into sixth. O’Ward’s troubles weren’t over, for although he was still ahead of Rossi – and maintaining a 3sec gap – VeeKay had passed him for seventh.

Power, Dixon, Ericsson, now running in convoy had shaved Palou’s margin down to 7.5sec by Lap 50, this trio 11sec clear of Bourdais, but they made no further gains until Palou hit traffic five laps later, when his advantage slipped under the 5sec mark.

Ericsson was the first of the frontrunners to pit on Lap 60, with Palou and Dixon stopping next time by. Power went to Lap 62 before pitting for scuffed primaries, emerging just ahead of Dixon again and remarkably close to Palou.

This left O’Ward and Rossi in first and second, 5.8sec apart, until Rossi stopped on Lap 65, and O’Ward pitted a lap later. The Arrow McLaren SP team got him out ahead of Ericsson, but the Ganassi driver on warm tires took him up the inside on the exit of Turn 5 to move into fourth. Rossi however, was now separated from O’Ward by Bourdais, VeeKay, and Rahal.

With 20 laps to go, O’Ward started trying to retaliate on Ericsson while also facing pressure from Bourdais, and on Lap 74 he dived down the inside of the Ganassi driver to reclaim fourth, but he was now seven seconds behind Dixon. Being O’Ward, he bent himself to the task, while Ericsson was further demoted by Bourdais and VeeKay on Lap 77 and came under pressure from Rahal, who passed him on the penultimate lap.

Up front, Palou’s margin over Power concertinaed in and out according to traffic, but basically stayed the right side of two seconds, and with 10 laps to go, that was the same margin that Power had over Dixon.

In the final seven laps, Palou got backed up by Daly, Power drawing to within 1.2sec of the leader with four laps to go. Less than 1.5sec behind Power was Dixon, who now had O’Ward less than a second behind him.

Palou kept his cool however, passing the checkered flag 0.4sec ahead of Power who had a 2.5sec margin over Dixon. O’Ward claimed fourth ahead of Bourdais and VeeKay, with Rahal seventh.

Ericsson ran out of fuel on the slowdown lap but was classified ahead of this disappointed Rossi.

Grosjean took 10th on his IndyCar debut, top rookie ahead of McLaughlin in 14th and Johnson three laps down in 19th.

With this victory, Palou finally scored the Ganassi team’s first win at Barber Motorsports Park.,

Cla Driver Team Laps Time Gap Pits Retirement
1 Spain Alex Palou
United States Chip Ganassi Racing 90 1:52'53.036 2
2 Australia Will Power
United States Team Penske 90 1:52'53.437 0.401 2
3 New Zealand Scott Dixon
United States Chip Ganassi Racing 90 1:52'56.024 2.988 2
4 Mexico Patricio O'Ward
Arrow McLaren SP 90 1:52'57.010 3.974 3
5 France Sébastien Bourdais
United States A.J. Foyt Enterprises 90 1:53'03.732 10.696 3
6 Netherlands Rinus van Kalmthout
United States Ed Carpenter Racing 90 1:53'06.911 13.875 4
7 United States Graham Rahal
United States Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 90 1:53'11.774 18.738 3
8 Sweden Marcus Ericsson
United States Chip Ganassi Racing 90 1:53'13.106 20.070 2
9 United States Alexander Rossi
United States Andretti Autosport 90 1:53'13.596 20.560 3
10 France Romain Grosjean
Dale Coyne Racing with RWR 90 1:53'38.116 45.080 2
11 United Kingdom Jack Harvey
United States Meyer Shank Racing 90 1:53'43.114 50.078 3
12 France Simon Pagenaud
United States Team Penske 90 1:53'52.088 59.052 3
13 Japan Takuma Sato
United States Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 90 1:53'58.624 1'05.588 3
14 New Zealand Scott McLaughlin
United States Team Penske 90 1:53'59.092 1'06.056 3
15 United Arab Emirates Ed Jones
Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan 90 1:54'01.445 1'08.409 3
16 United States Conor Daly
United States Ed Carpenter Racing 90 1:54'02.143 1'09.107 3
17 Canada James Hinchcliffe
Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport 89 1:53'17.679 1 Lap 3
18 Canada Dalton Kellett
United States A.J. Foyt Enterprises 89 1:53'55.799 1 Lap 4
19 United States Jimmie Johnson
United States Chip Ganassi Racing 87 1:53'29.303 3 Laps 3
20 United Kingdom Max Chilton
United Kingdom Carlin 86 1:53'15.978 4 Laps 5
21 Sweden Felix Rosenqvist
Arrow McLaren SP 62 1:38'14.872 28 Laps 4 Accident
22 United States Colton Herta
United States Andretti Autosport 25 1:24'02.462 65 Laps 2 Accident
23 United States Josef Newgarden
United States Team Penske 0 0.558 90 Laps Accident
24 United States Ryan Hunter-Reay
United States Andretti Autosport 0 1.488 90 Laps Accident
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Series IndyCar
Event Birmingham
Author David Malsher-Lopez
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