Bringing You Up to Speed – Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

The NTT IndyCar Series kicked off the 2021 season yesterday with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park. Chip Ganassi Racing debutant Alex Palou emerged victorious after a cracking drive that saw him perfect a two-stop strategy along with holding off two series champs in the process.

Palou makes two-stop strategy work to take victory

  • The 24-year-old Spaniard held off a late charge from Team Penske’s Will Power to claim his first series win in his 15th start. Palou started from third and trailed polesitter Pato O’Ward the opening 17 laps before O’Ward made his first of three stops.
  • The IndyCar sophomore led 56 laps on the heels of a two-stop strategy which gave him fresher tires when it counted against O’Ward.
  • Palou becomes the third driver to win on debut for Chip Ganassi Racing – the first two being Michael Andretti at Surfer’s Paradise in 1994 and Dan Wheldon in 2006 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Will Power and Scott Dixon complete the podium.

  • Power made it a two-stop race and closed the gap late as the leaders navigated lapped traffic.
  • Dixon scored his 9th podium at the 2.3-mile road course but is still devoid of a win at Barber – just one of 5 tracks the six-time Indy car champion has not won at (Barber, St. Pete, Nashville, Portland and Laguna Seca).

Pato O’Ward ends up fourth after dominating early.

  • The polesitter driver led the opening 17 laps but surrendered it as he made his first pitstop and only reclaimed it on Lap 64 during the pit cycle.
  • His three stop strategy proved to be his undoing as he fell to fourth place after a tight battle with 4-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais.

Strategy lifts Sebastien Bourdais, Rinus Veekay and Graham Rahal to positions fifth-seventh.

  • Sebastien Bourdais picked up 11 positions to score a top five for his No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Honda.
    • The Frenchman made the most of an opening lap yellow flag to pit and jump on the rest of the three stoppers and briefly passed O’Ward to take fourth before losing it late.
  • Rinus Veekay overcame a multitude of bad luck to take a sixth-place finish.
    • The Dutch Sophomore spun in the opening lap melee and was dinged for stopping when the pits were closed. He pitted again on the Lap 10 yellow flag for Jimmie Johnson’s spin and  
  • Graham Rahal duplicated Bourdais’ strategy and ended up the race’s biggest mover as he finished seventh after starting 18th.

Romain Grosjean, Jimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin kick off rookie campaigns with clean results.

  • Former Formula 1 pilot Romain Grosjean backed up his seventh-place qualifying result with a clean race and scored a robust 10th place finish.
  • Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin hovered around midfield but mustered a 12th place finish at the end.
  • Jimmie Johnson dodged the opening lap wreck but spun a few laps later which cost him a lap on the field. The 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion ran an uneventful remainder of the race to log an 18th place finish.

Josef Newgarden’s opening lap blunder triggers five-car wreck.

  • The two-time series champion spun coming over the Turn 4 hill and triggered a four-car fracas collecting Colton Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Felix Rosenqvist and Max Chilton. Rinus Veekay spun but didn’t suffer any obvious damage.  
    • Newgarden suffered his first DNF since Mid-Ohio in 2019 and was remorseful for the incident in an interview with NBC: ““I got loose coming over the hill and thought I had the car saved but then got in the grass and that turned me sideways,” said Newgarden, “My mess created a bigger mess and I feel bad for all those guys that got caught up in it.”
  • Chilton continued albeit losing 4 laps while Rosenqvist and Herta lost several laps making repairs. Newgarden and Hunter-Reay did not carry on and finished 21st and 22nd respectively.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race results

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