With a dominant performance Saturday at the NTT IndyCar Series’ GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s safe to call Alex Palou the man to beat two weeks from now when the field takes the green for the 107th Indianapolis 500.
The 26-year old Spaniard had the field covered on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course, leading 52 laps and winning by 16.8006 seconds. Add that to the fact that he leaves this weekend as the championship points leader, he seems poised to be in the catbird seat for the pole and the big race on Memorial Day.
That’s all well and good, but Arrow McLaren looks ready to have something to say about it.
With the Month of May a pretty overwhelming experience, even for the drivers who have been there before, O’Ward and Rossi – with Palou thrown in there as well – wanted to focus on Saturday’s result, and the off-day coming on Sunday. The start of practice on Tuesday is just showing up on the horizon, and they didn’t seem too interested in talking about it.
Still, there are signs that everyone is liking where they are.
Rossi, who won the 500 in dramatic fashion as a rookie in 2016, is experiencing a few growing pains as he is the latest addition to the McLaren lineup. As the new guy on the team, he also has a lot of first-year personnel on the car, including some who had never touched an IndyCar vehicle prior to this year.
Being a step behind in qualifying has put the team behind on race day, but Rossi has raced fairly well, finishing fourth at St. Pete and eighth at Barber while improving over his starting position in the three races he’s finished. He feels that race day is well taken care of, and the rest of the details are starting to fall into place as everyone becomes familiar with each other.
“It is a big confidence boost and good momentum going into the biggest race of the year,” Rossi said. “This is a momentum game. Performance here doesn’t translate the other direction, but it’s good mentally for everyone. You know you’ve got the ability to have the results across all three cars.
“When everyone is relaxed and just doing what they know how to do, the confidence in their abilities is when the performance comes.”
O’Ward, meanwhile has three runner-up finishes this season, and has done well at Indy, finishing sixth in 2020, fourth in 2021 and was runner-up to winner Marcus Ericsson last year.
O’Ward, who trails Palou by six points in the standings, knows he is good, and knows the first win of the season is coming. Perhaps he is keeping the pressure off of himself by saying he is “chilling” and is happy piling up second-place finishes as they are good points days towards the championship, but he’s gotten too close at the 500 the last two years to be truly just going with the flow.
“Is it going to fall the next one, in two, three, four, five [races]? Who knows,” O’Ward said coyly. “You never know. I sure know that what we’ve been doing, we’ve been knocking on the door every single weekend. Like, there hasn’t been one weekend where we’re lost. There’s been some weekends where we haven’t started off that strong, but then we make changes and we’re right there.
“We’re growing massively as a team.”
McLaren throws another big chip on the table when practice begins as 2013 winner Tony Kanaan slides behind the wheel for his final ride at Indy, and along with Rosenqvist the team boasts the drivers who finished second through fifth at the 500 a year ago.
Speaking of Rosenqvist, he’s won two poles and now has three straight top-10 finishes after disastrous results at St. Pete and Texas.
Yeah, the McLaren boys know they are good heading to the 500, just don’t expect them to talk about it.
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