His name has been sounding for years in the bullshit of motorsport, although the common one of the fans has just discovered it. While the big headlines were taken by a veteran Fernando Alonso and a mighty Carlos Sainz, in the background a ‘run-run’ sounded: “Yes, but watch out for Álex Palou …”.
That warning is about to become a reality in the early hours of Sunday to Monday in Long Beach, California. If the team’s number 10 car Chip ganassi enters the first 11 of the race, there will be a Spanish champion of the prestigious IndyCar for the first time in history and it will be Álex Palou.
THAT’S A PODIUM! 🏆
Finished P2 on a really exciting race, but couldn’t keep up with @ColtonHerta today. One step closer to the big goal. 👊
– Alex Palou Montalbo (@AlexPalou) September 19, 2021
The ‘gorilla’ or the ‘kiwi’, as they have baptized him his followers on twitch (more than 16,000 who follow their careers in iRacing), has become the ‘parabolic’ phenomenon of motorsport fans.
In a Formula 1 season (finally) exciting like few others, the IndyCar has become a focus of attention for the Spanish fans, who have seen that there is life far beyond. There are few who discovered Palou as “the other Spaniard” who ran the Indianapolis 500 in 2020, when Alonso tried for the last time his assault on the Triple Crown.
Palou shares with Alonso a certain origin: both were ‘bred’ sportingly by the yearned for Adrian Campos. The Catalan, like the Asturian years ago, shone in Campos Racing, in a Formula 3 in which he curiously struggled with Carlos Sainz, perhaps the most media exponent of his generation. The Ferrari driver does not hide that those years bring him good memories and that the fights they starred in are very vivid.
“It is great news for Spain and for Europe it is great news to see how a driver who has had to forge his career, in Japan, come back, then go to IndyCar … I have great memories of fighting with Álex championships of Spain. I follow him and I would be very excited if he won the championship, and it shows that if you work and follow your dream you can achieve success even if you have not reached F1 yet “, Sainz said on a whirlwind visit to Spain before heading to Russia. In a parallel universe, perhaps Palou would be the one in Ferrari, since talent and hands are not lacking, far from it.
To the United States via Japan
Álex Palou’s career had a turning point in 2015. His arrival at the GP3 It wasn’t as successful as expected, but the talent was there. Campos, his great defender, said it in public and in private: “He has incredible hands, you’ll see when things turn out for him.”
Two years later, in 2017, Palou was clear about his strategy: he had to run everything they gave him. He played three World Series 3.5 weekends in his senior year, six races of which he was on the podium in three, with victory included in Nurburgring. That same year he also participated in the last two events of the Formula 2 championship and the prestigious Macau GP from F3 and it was in Asia where he found accommodation. As he worked to find a way to Formula 1, he realized that the Japanese Super Formula it was perfectly suited to their conditions.
In 2018 his name was a clamor in the corridors of many powerful equipment and structures such as Prema, Hitech and even the quarry of Red bull, but he didn’t want to take the wrong steps. Many drivers have fallen by the wayside for a diamond to be lost. Palou has never sinned in false modesty, and always with the advice of Campos in the background, he decided to take a bold step: in 2019 he accepted the proposal of the former F1 driver Satoru Nakajima to compete in the Japanese Super Formula. He finished third that year, fighting for the title until the last race.
The calls came from everywhere, but it was the team of Dale Coyne Racing of the IndyCar the one that made him jump. Such was the bet that he did not need a sponsor: the team, much less a leader, wanted him at all costs. He contested the 500 miles of 2020 with a practically clean car, and that a few weeks before he had achieved a memorable podium on the Wisconsin Road America, becoming the second Spaniard to reach the drawer of the most important American single-seater championship after Oriol Servià.
It was a cry: there was a pilot there. A sort of auction began for 2021 in which the strongest was the legend Chip ganassi, neither more nor less, who signed him and promised him a winning car. Palou’s response, now a phenomenon in the United States and largely in Spain, could not have been more eloquent: victory at the Alabama Grand Prix, on the complex layout of Barber.
From the first moment he became the rival to beat, and his bravery made him fight until the last laps with the very Helio castroneves for the Indianapolis 500 victory. Two victories and three podiums later (and the occasional less brilliant race) have allowed him to reach the last round of the year not only with options for the Indy title, but also as a leader and a great favorite.
To get there first, you have to get there first
Álex Palou is on the lips of many by now, and he is aware of it. It has a 35-point advantage over Duck O’Ward, from Arrow McLaren SP, and with 48 on Josef Newgarden, from Penske, with 54 up for grabs. IndyCar’s complex scoring system (they reward pole, laps in the lead, etc.) means that there are multiple options, but the one who has the upper hand is Palou: if he is eleventh, whatever his rivals do, he will be champion.
It is enough for him to repeat the result he has achieved in eleven of the 15 races he has contested this year, but he is far from confident. Cold mind, the constant of his entire career: “Even if it is worth finishing 11th … you have to finish 11th”he admitted.
The bets are with him, how could it be otherwise. On Sunday there will be many fans glued to the television, some who will not have seen an Indy race. Who knows if a new golden age will open for the American championship, as it happened with F1 and Alonso. That Formula 1 to which, for now, Palou has not arrived … And it may not take you to make a dent in the biggest headlines.