By: Ashley McCubbin
While the eyes were on Scott Dixon last year at Chip Ganassi Racing, the focus quickly shifted to Alex Palou in witnessing him score his first career NTT IndyCar Series Championship.
Prior to placing third in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, the driver of the No. 10 Honda spoke with NEWS FROM THE PITS about the title and his outlook towards the Indianapolis 500 in May.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What has it been like leading the sport as the current reigning champion?
ALEX PALOU: Awesome. It’s been a bit busier with stuff, but in a good way. More media appearances, and everybody is talking good about us. I think it gives us a small boost of confidence going into each weekend. The job we have now is to try and defend the title, try to go for the second one, and improve. We’ve started solidly so far.
ASHLEY: What moment stands out the most from the championship season in 2021?
ALEX: I think we had three moments in last year. The first moment was the first race of the season, the first race with the team in getting a win in the season opener. That just boosted my confidence and our motivation. Then we had the Indy 500, finishing second but fighting till the last lap for the win was awesome.
Then I would say the last two races we had. When we were fighting for the championship, we were struggling with some engine penalties, but we were very strong. it was just great to get it done and score two podiums to win the championship. I don’t know. I don’t think there was one moment that stood above the rest and stood out in the season – we had three moments that defined it.
ASHLEY: There’s been a lot of focus on you being the defending champion, as you mentioned. How much extra pressure does that bring for you, and how are you handling it?
ALEX: I think more attention, but that doesn’t really mean more pressure. I think it brings less pressure than last year because we’ve already achieved what we wanted to show and get it. We showed that we’re capable of fighting for a championship – we already proved that. So now that we don’t have to do anything that’s uncomfortable as we did that last year. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to have a good year – we just don’t have to do something that’s been never done. more attention for sure.
I think last year we were a bit of under radar. Nobody really like trusted us until the last couple of races where they said, “Oh, it’s real.” I didn’t have any pressure from media or our competitors. It’s good. The added attention is good. It just means that we’re doing a good job.
ASHLEY: You are having a good season again this year so far, but what do you feel that you can do better behind the wheel?
ALEX: A lot of stuff. I think in motorsports, you can always get a tiny bit faster here, tiny bit here. I think as a driver, there’s no limit on going faster and being more consistent. We want to take it race by race. Like St. Pete last year, we finished 16th last year; it was one of our worst performances. We turned that into a good run this year. Each week, we want to improve our finishes.
I’ve never won on a street course, so I want to get my win on a street course as soon as possible. It’s one of the targets that we have and hopefully we can make it one.
ASHLEY: Being that we’re in April now, we’re only a month away from May. Looking ahead to the Indianapolis 500, Chip Ganassi Racing placed all four cars in the top-10 at Texas Motor Speedway. What does that say about the team’s oval program?
ALEX: I think that was an awesome weekend for the team. I think it’s pretty awesome to get four cars in the top-10. It was a good weekend. Unfortunately, we did not get the win, but it’s a good showing before the Indy 500 as you said. You cannot translate everything from Texas to Indy as they’re so different from one to another, and also Indy, we have a week of testing which allows us to prepare as much as possible to be comfortable and make the car faster.
So I think it’s a great in seeing Jimmie (Johnson) get the first top-10 of his IndyCar career and it’s great to see how comfortable he is, and how big an asset he can be for the Indy 500. I cannot wait for May.
ASHLEY: I was actually just going to ask you. What has stood out for you in having the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion as a teammate?
ALEX: It’s been awesome. even though he does not have as much experience open-wheel as my other teammates, but he has so much experience in motorsports and winning. The way you approach championships, failure, and success means a lot. He has been able to teach me a lot personally. I think everybody is happy to have him.