Alex Palou’s career-best performance at Laguna Seca was another reminder of how dangerous the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion can be when he has a car underneath him that’s capable of winning.
The Spaniard toyed with the opposition on Sunday, leaving Josef Newgarden, the season’s king of victories, and the new champion, Will Power, nearly half a lap in his wake after 95 laps of competition. The gaudy 30.3s lead Palou built over his closest Team Penske pursuer was unlike anything he’s produced since joining the series in 2020.
“It was a special race, and once you get into that zone, it doesn’t really happen very often,” Palou told RACER. “I’ve had not many of those in my racing career, and it’s always special.”
Although he was not in contention to retain his IndyCar title, Palou was left with the next-best thing to pursue in capturing his first win of the year. And if he was going to win, why not do it in style?
“The best thing I could do was to win this race, and after that was to win it as big as possible, so that’s what we did today,” he said. “I was not thinking about what could have been with the championship; I was just focused on today, and today was my Indy 500 for an afternoon. You know that’s how I take every day at the end.
“I cannot change what I did in the past, but I could do the best I could, and this this reason everything worked out to be honest. I was only able to do this because I had great strategy, great pitstops; I was obviously driving fast, but everything went super smooth for me. And it’s good to finish like that. “
With all of the drama and distractions that have come from the signing with McLaren and the lawsuit that followed from CGR, Palou took a moment — with the end of the season finally here — to speak more openly than he’s been able to in recent months.
“I think they suffered a lot this year,” he added. “This is all my team, everybody around, my people that are not around me, too, but especially the guys that are on my team. So I think this is the best present I could give them now. And yeah, I’m sorry for the bad moments they had to go through this season, but hopefully they feel happy. “
For the first time since the lawsuit from CGR came to light, Palou acknowledged a return to the No. 10 car could be possible.
“Yeah,” he said when asked about staying with CGR. “We’ll see when I know. I think everything is moving the right direction. I don’t know if it’s going to take one day, one week or one month, but hopefully everything is going to be solved soon. Yeah, as I said, I don’t have anything to say clear, but everything is moving the right direction. “
With a bridge all but burned to the ground, the thought of Alex Palou returning to CGR was nonexistent when the tug-of-war with McLaren arose in July. Chatter throughout the Monterey event, however, painted a scenario where a reconciliation of sorts was newly possible.
Whether that option has come as a result of a change of heart by Palou, or by McLaren, is unknown. But in a Sunday morning interview with a small group of reporters, McLaren CEO Zak Brown provided an interesting response to a question regarding what he could say about Palou.
In his pursuit of Palou, Brown has sought to replace current Arrow McLaren SP driver Felix Rosenqvist, but when asked about the Spaniard, he name-checked the Swede.
“What I would say is, I’m very happy with Felix,” he said. “He’s done an excellent job this year.”