Written by Archie O’Reilly, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina
The IndyCar championship race has gone down to the final race in each of the last 17 years. Yet in 2023, this streak is at serious risk of coming to an end. After nine races, with eight more to run, Alex Palou has built a staggering 110-point lead over nearest rival and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon.
At this stage, the margin seems completely insurmountable. Given the maximum points any driver can pick up on a single weekend is 54, Palou could sit out two races and still win the championship. The Spaniard is producing something wholly unprecedented.
Let’s not forget the fact that IndyCar is rightly regarded as one of the most, if not the most, competitive racing series in the world, outlined by the battle for the Astor Cup going down to the wire nigh on every year. The racing product is arguably the best you will find, with IndyCar largely a ‘spec series’.
For Palou to have been so assertive is quite remarkable. You just have to be in awe of his current form.
He has won three races in succession, and four of the last five, and could well have five consecutive wins had he not been hit by Rinus VeeKay in the pit lane while battling for victory in the Indianapolis 500.
It is staggering to think that, as well as being en-route to his second championship, Palou could be a multiple Indy 500 champion if not for pit lane-related misfortune in back-to-back years, plus a second-place finish. In another world, at only 26 years old and in his fourth year in IndyCar, his resume could be near surpassing some of the series’ greats.
Competitors have argued that Palou has benefited from not having much bad luck this season. However, this point is disproven by an incident during the Indy 500, from which he managed to recover in sublime fashion to finish fourth - further evidence of the level he is showing that is plunging everybody else into subservience.
Palou’s consistency has been something to behold, with top five finishes in each of the last eight races following an eighth-place finish in the chaotic season-opener on the streets of St Pete. He hasn’t finished outside the top eight in the last 10 races when you consider his victory in the season-ending race at Laguna Seca last year, also meaning he has won half of the races across that 10-race period.
Consistency is invaluable in IndyCar, and Palou is beyond excelling in that department. He is such a precise and measured driver, with no real noteworthy errors in races. His biggest mistake this year came in Road America practice, with a high-speed, 90G impact crash in the morning ahead of qualifying. Such is his resilience, Palou would still go on to qualify third.
His pace has been supreme all season long - both in races and in terms of qualifying pace too. He took pole position in successive races at the Indy 500 and in Detroit, starting in the top seven in each of the first nine races, and not outside the top four in the previous seven, which further displays his consistency.
In races, Palou seems to presently possess pace that simply renders all of his fellow drivers inferior, all while taking such care of his car and nursing his tyres. As was the case for his latest win at Mid-Ohio, he can even execute when slightly off-strategy, with none of the expected drop-offs particularly prevalent late in stints.
The style with which Palou generates pace is impressive in itself, with his car never looking on the ragged edge like some other drivers. He is able to build gaps seemingly effortlessly once he gets to the front of the field, which has been a staple of many of his eight victories in IndyCar, especially since his championship-winning 2021 season.
He won by a staggering 30.3 seconds at Laguna Seca last September, and this season’s wins have come with an average winning margin of 6.85 seconds.
The first victory of 2023 came by 16.8 seconds on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and the next at Detroit could have been greater than just over one second had there not been several cautions, providing restarts which Palou navigated impeccably.
Road America saw Palou inherit the lead from Colton Herta late on before building a four-and-a-half second gap, while a five second lead over Dixon at the chequered flag in Mid-Ohio didn’t reflect around a 10 second lead held above the field for most of the race.
Palou still won’t publicly admit that he is dominating, instead only maximising the points opportunities. But that’s only evidence of Palou’s grounded character, when the reality is that he is the presiding force in the series.
The standard that Palou is performing at surpasses even that of his title-winning season. He won on debut for Ganassi at Barber and went on to take two further victories in 2021, but with eight races left for this season, he has already exceeded this total and requires only 21.5 points per each remaining race to level his 2021 tally.
The improvement on last year is marked too, with approximately 16.6 points required in each race to equal his tally from a tumultuous 2022. It took until the closing race for Palou to win, and six podiums overall is only one higher than the tally he has already notched this season after nine races.
It was clear that Palou was burdened by the contract dispute between Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow McLaren, with the win at Laguna Seca coming after a resolution was finally found for 2023. That unburdened driving has continued in stark fashion this season.
While Palou has been masterful on track, the team have been flawless too, producing excellent strategy time and time again, acing their set-ups, and continually proving pristine in pit stops. It comes across as a perfect match, which begs the question: why would you leave?
It doesn’t seem, on the face of things, you could have a better driver-team partnership. However, even if Palou may secretly have regrets (or not), it suggests that the decision to depart is irreversible after the whole debacle of last year.
One significant reason for Palou’s involvement for McLaren is no doubt the Formula One links, with Palou already the Reserve Driver for McLaren in F1, completing tests and a practice session. And this does hint towards Palou’s desire to get into F1 at some point, with rumours swirling about his management communicating with F1 teams about a possible vacancy.
There is a bone of contention in respect of Palou being highly unlikely to acquire a seat at McLaren, hence he didn’t necessarily have to vow to join forces with the team for the F1 avenue to open up. It is his performances for Ganassi that are leading to links with an F1 move - nothing to do with McLaren ties, as such.
It remains hard to see where a seat could end up opening up in F1 for the Spaniard, but if he was to make the move, it would be a huge loss for IndyCar. One of the most talented drivers the series has seen, it feels as though he has unfinished business on a path to becoming one of the all-time greats and making history, albeit he would likely always have a place in the series as a fallback option in case an F1 switch didn’t work out.
Some may question any prospective F1 move given he would likely be driving for a backmarker team as opposed to contending at the front and possibly for many more championships in IndyCar. But as a Spaniard, he will no doubt want to race in the series to emulate the likes of Fernando Alonso.
Everything does point towards Palou having the talent to succeed in F1 - it is just about finding a route into the series. It is incredibly rare to see this sort of dominance in a series where so many teams are so equally-matched, summing up the abnormality of Palou’s ability.
If he manages to win at Toronto, he will become the first driver to win four successive races in 17 years. And what’s more? He could very easily be on a streak with one win beyond that.
It looks almost impossible for anybody to stop him at this stage, only just past the halfway mark, even with some traditionally weaker tracks, namely the short ovals, to come for Palou.
And given how hotly-contested IndyCar usually is right until the season’s climax, this feeling of the season being done and dusted just speaks to the astounding level that Palou and the No.10 team are performing at.