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IndyCar Laguna Seca

Palou doubted “risky” strategy on way to Laguna Seca IndyCar win

Two-time and reigning IndyCar Series champion admitted to being unsettled by the strategy during a key moment en route to winning Sunday’s race

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou admitted to questioning strategist Barry Wanser near the halfway point of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca but trusted the process to claim victory.

Polewinner Palou lost his advantage after front row-mate Kyle Kirkwood pulled off a mighty outside pass for the lead at Turn 2 on the opening lap, and later fell to fourth after the opening round of pitstops.

Following the race’s first full-course caution, the 27-year-old Spaniard was left out on track and elevated to the lead as his rivals opted to pit again.

While those who stopped were thrust into a more conservative fuel-saving approach, Palou pushed the pace and was able to seize the upper hand in the race.

Even though there were three restarts over the final 20 laps, Palou successfully defended the lead for his second win of the season – taking the points lead in the process.

“It was risky,” Palou said of staying out during the first caution. “We knew we had the car for P1. I was P4 at that time. I mean, yeah, finishing P4 today wasn't a good race.

“I understand what [Wanser] did. I was like, ‘Oh, man, I'm the only one [on this strategy] here’. Obviously, it's not the preferred one. I doubted a little bit at the beginning.

“At the same time, I knew they know a lot more the numbers. They had trust in me on going fast. I have a lot of faith. As a driver, you always doubt everything. Just in case it goes wrong, I can say, ‘I knew it!’

“When I saw everybody coming in, ‘Are we sure this is a good one?’ If it didn't go well, I could say, ‘I told you.’ If it went well, I could say, ‘Yeah, you did a good job.’”

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Colton Herta, Andretti Global w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda,  Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, podium

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Colton Herta, Andretti Global w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda, Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, podium

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

But his uncertainty didn’t linger once the plan of attack was delivered thanks to a favored tire strategy: “We had really good pace. I think we actually were on a good strategy because we had primaries. Everybody was on alternates around us.

“It was like, OK, this full-course yellow allows us to be all in the same page, and I still have the best or the fastest tire to run while nobody else has.

“I doubted just because everybody peeled in, and I stayed out. I looked at my mirror and there was nobody until I saw Pato [O’Ward] and [Romain] Grosjean that were a little bit in the back. Obviously, I was like, ‘Oh, are we sure?’

“I just had one question. As soon as they said that we had to go fast, I understood what we had to do. It was just game on from there.”

The result marks his second victory at the historic circuit, and fourth visit to the podium in as many starts. He has also led 166 of 380 laps over that span.

“I love this track,” Palou said. “When you love a track so much, I think you get an extra that helps everything.

“The fact that we had really good cars here helps a lot. Like, you can see on tire deg that we're really good.

“It's a proper track. You cannot really do any mistakes. It allows you to push really hard. It's not a fuel-save race. Having these medium- to high-speed corners, yeah, it's been good for us.”

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