There’s no doubt that Alex Palou is currently one of the hottest drivers in the world.
As the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season reaches its midway point this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the 26-year-old Spaniard comes in on a massive roll, having won three of the last four races and sits 74 points up on the rest of the field in the championship standings.
Palou, who captured the IndyCar title in 2021, finished eighth at the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, but since then has finished in the top five in every event while reaching the podium in four of them. The Chip Ganassi Racing pilot has just one thing in mind heading to Ohio: keep this thing going.
“I feel like we have momentum,” Palou said during a media availability on Tuesday, June 27. “Momentum in motorsports matters a lot for driver confidence, team confidence, mechanic confidence. It just gets better and better. Hopefully we can continue having some success.”
If he is looking to continue his success, Mid-Ohio is a good place to be, as it is – in effect – where his IndyCar career started with a test with Dale Coyne Racing in 2019. After finishing 12th there as a rookie with DCR in 2020, he’s started seventh each of the last two years and has finished third and second, respectively.
It also doesn’t hurt that Mid-Ohio has been very good to CGR over the years, as the team has posted 11 wins at the venue, including six by Palou’s teammate Scott Dixon.
In IndyCar, it’s so important to take advantage of the tracks that fit a driver’s eye or where they have had success in the past. There is no coasting to a championship, it’s about piling up the points all the way through the last lap at Laguna Seca in September.
With 53 points available to the winner each race weekend, things can change quickly, something Palou knows all too well. In his 2021 championship campaign, Palou left the Nashville weekend with a 42-point lead over Dixon and looked to be in the driver’s seat with just five races left.
Then came a rough patch. Palou suffered a blown engine early in the race at the Indianapolis road course and finished 27th, then was involved in crash with Dixon and Rinus Veekay at World Wide Technology Raceway which left him to finish 20th. As a result, Palou left Gateway 10 points behind Pato O’Ward.
Of course, Palou won the next week at Portland and recovered to win the championship, but this series of unfortunate events reminded the Spaniard that anything can happen.
Then there are the contenders. Teammate Marcus Ericsson in second is having one of the most consistent seasons in his career, Josef Newgarden (81 points behind) won the Indianapolis 500 and finished second to Palou two weeks ago at Road America, and O’Ward (98 points) has notched three runner-up finishes and four podiums this season.
And then there is Dixon. In fifth in points and 98 in arrears of Palou, the six-time champion has been there way too many times to count out of the hunt. The Iceman thrives in the heat of the summer, as a majority of his 53 career wins have come at the midway point of the season and beyond.
Palou relishes being the one that everyone is chasing, but he’s not getting too far ahead of himself. In IndyCar it doesn’t take long to go from the hunted to one of the hunters.
“If it was another series, maybe yeah, you could try and just finish where you need to finish [but] in IndyCar you really can’t,” Palou said. “Now the season is going to go by really fast because we have nine race weekends in less than 12 weeks. It’s very tough to have a points lead in IndyCar because somebody can just get a roll like we’re having and win five races in a row, then suddenly your gap goes flying just like that.
“Mentally I’m just focused on one race at a time, one practice at a time,” Palou said. “I think that’s the best mentality, try to maximize everything and try and get as many wins as we can and being as consistent as we’ve been.”
The green flag for Sunday’s 80-lap, 180-mile Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2023 Accord Hybrid will fly at 1:53 p.m. ET, with coverage beginning at 1:30 pm ET on USA and Peacock.
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