For the first time since the late Dan Wheldon in 2006, Spain’s Alex Palou won in his debut for Chip Ganassi Racing as he won the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series opener at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday afternoon.
The IndyCar season got off to a less-than-optimal start as two-time champion Josef Newgarden’s car shot loose on him coming out of a corner. He spun out after hitting the grass and right in front of the field, piling up a handful of cars. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Colton Herta, Max Chilton and Felix Rosenqvist were all involved in the wreck.
Shortly after the massive incident, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson went for a spin in an unfortunate event to the infancy of his IndyCar venture.
Differing pit strategies quickly became the theme of the day as frontrunners in pole-sitter Patricio O’Ward and Chip Ganassi Racing newcomer Alex Palou held a high-speed chess match.
Palou went on a strategy of one-less stop than O’Ward in an attempt to put the pressure on the Mexican, who had his fair share of battles with lapped traffic.
O’Ward’s one-extra pit stop came into play just after the halfway point as he got into a slight incident with Sebastien Bourdais and he began fighting a loose race car on corner exits.
Palou remained out front in the latter stage of the race as O’Ward made his final stop. He was challenged by Will Power in the closing laps as the Team Penske driver had more “Push To Pass” time than the leader.
In the end, Palou held off Power to win his first career IndyCar race by just 0.4 seconds.
Dixon had a fairly uneventful day, but he earned his 120th podium in the series.
O’Ward tried rallying late, but he ran out of time and came home in fourth place. After the incident with O’Ward, Bourdais managed to bring home his A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet in fifth place.
After starting on the front row, Alexander Rossi had little pace to maintain with the leaders and finished ninth. Veterans Simon Pagenaud and Takuma Sato both finished outside the top 10.
Former Formula 1 veteran Romain Grosjean scored a top-10 finish in his IndyCar debut with Dale Coyne Racing. For the other rookies, woes were apparent as three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin finished 14th in his Penske No. 3 and Johnson finished three laps down in 19th.
Next Sunday, IndyCar remains in the south and heads to Florida for a date on the streets of St. Petersburg.
1. Alex Palou
2. Will Power
3. Scott Dixon
4. Pato O’Ward
5. Sebastien Bourdais
6. Rinus VeeKay
7. Graham Rahal
8. Marcus Ericsson
9. Alexander Rossi
10. Romain Grosjean
11. Jack Harvey
12. Simon Pagenaud
13. Takuma Sato
14. Scott McLaughlin
15. Ed Jones
16. Conor Daly
17. James Hinchcliffe
18. Dalton Kellett
19. Jimmie Johnson
20. Max Chilton
21. Felix Rosenqvist
22. Colton Herta
23. Josef Newgarden
24. Ryan Hunter-Reay