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The motto on Alex Palou’s Indy car, which touts primary sponsor American Legion, ultimately proved to be a testament to his quest for a second IndyCar championship in the last three seasons: BeTheOne.org.
Palou became the first driver since Sebastien Bourdais in 2007 to clinch the IndyCar crown before the season finale, doing so in Sunday’s penultimate event, the BitNile.com Grand Prix of Portland.
Squaring off with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon as the only two drivers still eligible for the championship, Palou drove a near-perfect race around the 12-turn, 1.967-mile to add the 2023 IndyCar championship to his 2021 crown.
He also earned a series-high fifth win, ninth career triumph and gave Ganassi his 15th IndyCar title as a team owner.
“That’s what we wanted,” Palou said of driving right into victory lane. “It was an amazing weekend overall. We just had three really fast cars.
“We knew we had to go for it and we just raced as we’ve been doing all season. I’m super proud to be here in victory lane and super proud of the second championship and 15th for the team.”
Speaking of a 15th championship, the boss man had a huge smile across his face.
“He likes to win, he likes to be at the front,” Ganassi said of Palou. “I told him (before the race), ‘Hey, let’s go wrap this thing up today.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to wrap it up with a win.’ He called his shot.”
And in breaking news that was the cherry upon the championship cake, Ganassi said his new champion will unquestionably be returning to the team for a fourth straight season in 2024.
“Alex Palou is going to be in our car, I can tell you that,” Ganassi said with affirmation.
“He’s certainly special,” Ganassi added of his latest champion. “We noticed that in his first race win at Barber (Motorsports Park) three years ago. We knew the guy was special. We’re glad he’s part of our team. We couldn’t be more happy than about that.”
After soaking up all the adulation and celebration with wife Esther Valle, Palou reflected back not only on this season, but his career to date.
“I love it, I never thought I’d be an IndyCar champion,” Palou said. “To be a two-time IndyCar champion just feels amazing, like a dream.”
What was the secret to Palou’s domination Sunday?
“Fast cars,” he intoned. “We just had a really fast car and whatever we were going to do today, we were going to come out in a really good position. We just focused on our fuel mileage, our strategies were perfect – pit stops and everything – so, yeah.”
Not having finished any lower than eighth place in any race this season, the 26-year-old Palou can essentially coast in the season finale next weekend at Laguna Seca. But after winning a series-high fifth race Sunday, he wants to win yet another race, so don’t look for him to take it easy.
Now having earned 9 wins, 24 podiums and 44 top 10s in his first 63 IndyCar career starts, Palou added something that should make all of his IndyCar competitors shake in their firesuits: “We’ll keep on rolling.”
Felix Rosenqvist finished runner-up, his best outing – and second podium – of the season.
“It kind of worked out our way for the first time in a while,” the Swedish native said. “It was nice to have this result and prove what we can do when things go our way.”
Rounding out the top 10 finishers, Pato O’Ward was fourth, followed by Josef Newgarden, Rinus VeeKay, Marcus Ericsson, David Malukas, Scott McLaughlin and Kyle Kirkwood.
Scott Dixon’s season came together just a bit too late. He won the two previous races before Sunday’s event after not having won at all earlier in the season.
Though not much consolation, Dixon locked up second place in the season standings with Sunday’s third-place finish. The New Zealand native will ultimately end a season for the 18th time – in 21 seasons – where he’s finished in the top four in the season rankings, including six championships and just barely missing out on a seventh title this season.
“It was pretty blah, to be honest,” Dixon said of his 2023 campaign to date. “We had an issue at Long Beach and some races where we didn’t capitalize or maybe didn’t do the right strategy like Toronto.
“You can always pick a season to pieces, just like everyone can. All-in-all, you have to look at the big picture to secure one-two in the championship, that’s tough to do. And in this competition, it’s really tough to do. For us to rebound the way we did, that’s a testament to everybody and what they did.”
It was Dixon’s third straight third-place finish at Portland in as many races there. But Dixon was more than complimentary of his current – and now confirmed future – teammate.
“He kind of does everything right,” Dixon said of Palou. “Yes, of course, you have seasons where things kind of roll your way sometimes. I’ve been a part of those and those are pretty special.
“He is a hell of a competitor, a huge talent. Obviously, we knew that right out of the gate. He’s done a hell of a job.”
The 43-year-old Dixon fell short of earning a seventh championship, which would have tied him with A.J. Foyt for most career IndyCar titles.
Very Classy Champion
Even though he was overjoyed with the win, Palou didn’t forget one of the most important people in his life since coming to CGR three years ago, namely, team manager Barry Wanser.
Wanser was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a common and treatable form of cancer, in late August. He underwent surgery on August 30 and his prognosis is excellent.
, he was unable to attend Sunday’s race and will also miss next week’s event at Laguna Seca so as to focus on treatment and recovery.
In a very classy move during his post-race interview with NBC, Palou acknowledged Wanser, saying, “’We miss you, Barry, and we wish you the very best of recovery.’ He did an amazing job.”
The Early Birds Wind Up Being Wormed
While the jockeying into the always treacherous Turn 1 on the opening lap was mostly uneventful—with the exception of Kyle Kirkwood and Josef Newgarden having minor contact that forced both of them to go through the pass-through area between Turns 1 and 3.
But on the same lap, the bad luck continued for Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean. The Swiss driver was behind Callum Ilott, who went off-track and kicked up a cloud of dirt.
Grosjean plowed forward into the dirt in totally blind conditions and wound up hitting the rear of the slowed Ilott, sustaining severe damage to the front end of his car. Grosjean took his car to the pits for repairs, including a new front end.
That wasn’t the end of early incidents. After making contact with Arrow McLaren SP’s Alexander Rossi in Turn 3, Team Penske driver Will Power went spinning and into the grass, needing a tow to get back on-track.
Rossi was involved in an incident with Marcus Ericsson with 20 laps left to go, sending Rossi into the grass and then into the pits to replace the nose of his car. Rossi ultimately finished 20th.
You Want Stats? We Got Stats
You want more stats? We've got them for you: Alex Palou's championship wasn't the only highlight of Sunday's race at Portland. Here are some of the other achievements earned by either Palou or team owner Chip Ganassi:
• Chip Ganassi Racing clinches its 15th IndyCar title (and 22nd all-time as organization)
• Chip Ganassi Racing has won three of the past four IndyCar championships.
• Chip Ganassi Racing has won 10 championships since series reunification in 2008 (10 of 16 seasons).
• First championship Chip Ganassi Racing has achieved with The American Legion and Parkland Corporation.
• Alex Palou is the 1st driver to clinch the championship before the season finale since Sebastien Bourdais in 2007.
• Alex Palou is the 5th driver in IndyCar history to win multiple championships at age 26-or-younger (Sebastien Bourdais; A.J. Foyt; Sam Hornish Jr.; Louis Meyer) (Won title in first season with CGR in 2021).
• Alex Palou is the 4th driver to win multiple championships with Chip Ganassi Racing (Scott Dixon; Dario Franchitti; Alex Zanardi).
• This is Ricky Davis' 5th season as crew chief on championship-winning car.
And Finally.... Make Way for Myles
Make sure you remember this name: Atlanta native Myles Rowe became the first Black driver to win a major open-wheel championship in the U.S., capturing the USF Pro 2000 title. Rowe gets a scholarship that will advance him to IndyCar’s minor league, Indy NXT (formerly Indy Lights) next season. … The 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season comes to a conclusion next Sunday with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on X (formerly Twitter) at @JerryBonkowski