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Palou beats Power to take championship points lead - IndyCar Indy GP Race Report

Credit: Ryan Fleming

Ahead of the 108th Indianapolis 500, our IndyCar drivers entered their "Month of May" mindset at the Indianapolis Road Course for Round 4 of the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series. Christian Lundgaard impressed in Friday's qualifying session, but it was Alex Palou's precision that placed him on pole position.

It is safe to say there were big question marks over the reliability of the Honda-powered cars, with both Graham Rahal and Marcus Armstrong battling engine problems on Friday. Chevrolet faced engine concerns of their own at the warm-up session, with Pato O'Ward's McLaren settling on fire. Uncertainty also surrounded Team Penske after their recent breach of regulations, which saw several team members suspended. However, forced to block out the noise and with their eyes ahead, the 27 drivers and their respective teams had to focus on the variables within their control.

The field was divided completely on tyre strategy, and the differences played out perfectly on the front row. Palou in pole position started on the red alternate tyre, therefore prioritising an immediate grip advantage over any longevity. Starting in second place, Christian Lundgaard opted for the black primaries, a harder tyre which he hoped would go the distance. With the drivers forced to run both tyres, it would all come down to when they would utilise each set, and how long they would run them for.

Credit: Ryan Fleming

Hailed as the "Professor of Precision", Alex Palou wouldn't have wanted anything less than a perfect start. However, as racing began at the brickyard, Palou went too deep into the opening corner and started a frenzy that sent multiple cars off the track. This error mixed things up completely, and those further down the field began to clash. Fittipaldi locked up and went into Rinus Veekay, who had to take avoidant action to prevent any more contact.

Hungry as ever, Christian Lundgaard made sure Palou's lockup did not go unpunished. Palou forced Lundgaard around the outside, but the young Danish driver made it work and capitalised perfectly on the situation, leading by turn three.

Equally as hungry and perhaps slightly inspired, Santino Ferrucci began to make some of his moves of his own. The perfect opportunity presented itself on lap two when Ferucci found himself alongside Romain Grosjean, who he had a fire exchange with in the warm-up session. The pair began to battle briefly, but their fight ended prematurely when Ferruci ran Grosjean off the track.

Although Ferrucci gained one position, the fierce attitude he displayed was handed right back to him, courtesy of the three drivers behind him. His fight became futile as Ericsson, Ghiotto and Pourchaire all cleared him with ease.

Credit - Ryan Fleming

After due diligence, Race Control concluded that Fittipaldi should give up his track position, and allow Veekay ahead because of their earlier contact. Marcus Ericsson was also penalised for contact with Colton Herta, as Ericsson lost it and hit him off the track. The only unpunished driver was Santino Ferrucci, who received no penalty for his avoidable contact with Grosjean.

Still in the lead, Christian Lundgaard began to build up his gap to Palou. Although Palou should have been quicker on the reds, the colour of their tyres didn't tell the whole story. Lundgaard was on sticker blacks, whereas Palou was on used reds without a lot of grip. Lundgaard was therefore quicker and made the most of the clear air in front of him as he extended his lead.

Contact from his teammate plummeted Colton Herta down to 20th place, and lap 13 saw him head to the pitlane for a set of sticker reds. Herta would have to make the most of this tyre and would hope for a yellow to make it worth his while. Other early stoppers included rookies Linus Lundqvist, Kyffin Simpson, Theo Pourchaire and Kyle Kirkwood.

Lap 18 saw Will Power give up third position to head to pitlane. Hoping to maximise the clean air available, Power switched to his only set of sticker alternate tyres. Also abandoning his place, Christian Lundgaard made his stop on lap 20. Opting against the overcut, Palou joined Lundgaard in pitlane. Palou switched to the black primary tyre, while Lundgaard opted for used alternates. It wasn't until lap 25 that Lundgaard cycled back to the front, and he quickly began to extend his lead.

After hunting Lundgaard and reaping no rewards, Power took the field by complete surprise as he made a last-minute dive into the pits on lap 39, switching to another set of the red alternate tyre. A few laps later, Lundgaard headed to pitlane once again, putting on the new primary tyres. Opting against the overcut, Palou joined Lundgaard in pitlane. Palou switched to the black primary tyre, while Lundgaard opted for used alternates.

With Palou close on his heels, and Power meeting him out of pitlane, Lundgaard would need luck on his side to stay ahead. This luck came in the form of Marcus Ericsson, who gave him momentary relief as he held up Will Power and Alex Palou. However, it wasn't long before Palou would clear them both and reclaim the lead of the race.

Credit - Ryan Fleming

Someone short of luck was Santino Ferruci, who came out of the car on lap 57 after unknown issues. Eagle-eyed viewers also spotted smoke coming out of the back of Alex Palou's Chip Ganassi machine, although it is unclear if this was just from him bottoming out.

Lap 62 saw our frontrunners head to pitlane for the final time. Having already used his single set of sticker reds, Power opted for used alternates. Having saved their set for the final stint, both Lundgaard and Palou switched to fresh alternate tyres. Lap 66 saw the first caution of the race, as Luca Ghiotto sat stationary on the track. A full course yellow came out, and the biggest winner was Scott McLaughlin who had visited pitlane one lap earlier.

The race resumed on lap 68, with Palou leading the field to green. This restart was make or break for Palou, as he couldn't afford to repeat the costly mistake that he made at the beginning of the race. Reminding us why he is the "Professor of Precision"- Palou finally got his perfect start. And once he was away, there was simply no catching up to him. By the final lap, Palou led by a 5-second gap.

One thing is certain, when the rest of the field is squabbling, shouting angrily on their team radio and getting penalties, Palou is nowhere to be found. However, Alex Palou will always be there when it matters, and most importantly: deliver.

Palou was joined on the podium by Will Power and Christian Lundgaard, with Scott Dixon and Marcus Armstrong completing the top five.


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