Exclusive and in-depth interview celebrating Alex Palou’s 2023 NTT IndyCar Series Championship
PIT PASS INDY PRESENTED BY PENSKE TRUCK RENTAL– SEASON 3, EPISODE 38 – Exclusive and in-depth interview celebrating Alex Palou’s 2023 NTT IndyCar Series Championship
September 19, 2023
Show host Bruce Martin helps celebrate the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series Championship with this special edition of Pit Pass Indy Presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Martin has an exclusive, in-depth interview with two-time and 2023 NTT IndyCar Series Champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing.
For more INDYCAR coverage, follow Bruce Martin at Twitter at @BruceMartin_500
"Penske" means performance ... and winning
For good reason. Since 1966, Team Penske has won 43 national championships, 17 IndyCar alone. Its 19 Indy 500 victories are a record. And last year, Penske was the first team in history to win both the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series championships in the same season. Those are results that are tough to top.
IndyCar fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host, Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar Series.
Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar Series in a fast-paced podcast featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering IndyCar and NASCAR, working for such media brands as nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports Ticker, Sports Illustrated, Autoweek, and Speed Sport.
So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
Welcome to this week's special edition on Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Today's podcast celebrates Alex Palou’s second NTT IndyCar Series Championship with an exclusive in-depth interview with the Chip Ganassi Racing driver that dominated the 2023 season.
The driver from Spain established himself as a generational talent that saw him win a series high five races, including a stretch of four wins in a five-race period that saw Palou take the checkered flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May, the streets of Detroit, and the rolling hills of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin in June, and a 4th of July weekend win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Palou clinched the championship in style by winning the BITNILE.COM Grand Prix of Portland on Labor Day weekend, to wrap up the title with one race left in the season.
It's the earliest any drivers won the IndyCar title since Sebastien Bourdais won the Champ Car Series Championship with one race remaining in 2007.
With 9 wins and 64 IndyCar starts Palou will continue in IndyCar, turning down a chance to jump to McLaren and a potential Formula One ride to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing for multiple seasons.
Palou will be honored for his second IndyCar series championship in three seasons at IndyCar's Victory Lap Award Ceremony at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on September 21st.
But at Pit Pass Indy, we can honor the 2023 IndyCar champion now with this exclusive in-depth interview with Alex Palou.
We can finally call you a two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion. It's Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing.
The season's over, so now, you can finally celebrate. You clinched the championship the BITNILE.COM Grand Prix of Portland a week earlier, couldn't really celebrate like you could after the Monterey Race.
So, what's it like to finally be able to relax with that second championship?
It was weird clinching in Portland basically because I mean, the season was not over. We still had to stay focused and prepare Laguna as much as possible.
And also, we didn't really get the ring or the Astro Cup, which is the best moment, but it was awesome.
I had to celebrate a little bit in between, but then yesterday with the team and just getting those pictures was the moment that we were waiting for.
Sunday night, what did you get a chance to do? I know Chip was wanting to celebrate then. What were you guys able to do Sunday night?
Oh, in Monterey, yeah. So, we did a bunch of photos and media until like really late at night at the track. Then I went from there directly to a Mexican place that I know, Baja Cantina, and just had some frozen margaritas, celebrated a bit. with my trainer there, Roger, some other people. And it was really fun.
You've said that you don't drink. And one beer, you get kind of funny, as you say it.
So, the frozen margaritas, how happy were you after?
I was happy. I was happy enough not to obviously drive back. And to ask Esther to drive the car. And to start yeah, getting funny, talking and just listening.
But yeah, I normally don't drink. Just in good occasions and especially at the end of the year, when I can celebrate something with my family. But yeah, for sure this year, I'll have couple of beers.
There's been a lot to celebrate in 2023. You led the series with five victories, including a stretch where you won three out of four races, which really gave you firm control of the championship from that point on. It wasn't even the midway point of the season yet.
You also find out that you're going to be back with the best team in the NTT IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing into the future. You clinch your second championship, but the biggest prize of all is coming up in November.
So, if you could just tell us what that prize is and how excited you are about it.
Yeah, so obviously, it's been an amazing year in the IndyCar Series, but yeah, we'll have also, some exciting things together with my wife. We're expecting a baby end of November, so it'll be a busy off season.
We won't be able to rest a lot, but I'm sure we will remember this year as for sure one of the best, if not the best years ever.
So, you get excited about and prepared for a race, but how excited and how do you prepare to become a dad?
I have no idea yet. just asking a lot of questions, obviously, getting as many tips as possible from family, from friends and people, but I don't think you can be prepared for that.
I think it's easy to prepare for a race. You just need to look at all data, all videos, talk to the engineers and go through the plan that you can do. But yeah, being a dad, I don't know where to start, honestly.
Are you nervous?
Yes, I am, and especially started today because I mean, now, I don't have to worry about the season anymore. I just need to worry about that some 2024 hybrid testing. But then my biggest priority now, is having a baby.
Have you got a nursery put together? Are you in there painting? You got the pen and everything ready to go?
Not yet. So, that's why I started panicking this morning when we went through the calendar that we have now, and we won't have as many days as we thought we would.
You're a professional athlete, so training's very important. Your sleep schedule's very important. That's going to change. How do you prepare for that?
I know. We've been trying to get as much sleep as possible because I mean, the good thing is that it's going to be during the off season. So, we will have like three months before I need to start like being fully prepared for the races.
But yeah, it's something we'll have to deal with. We saw many, many good drivers dealing with it, like Power, Dixon, and Newgarden lately. And they still do really well on track, so I'm sure we'll find a way.
So, let's go back a year at Monterey when you won that race, defeated Josef Newgarden by 30 seconds, a lot of people looked at you and thought, “Man, he's really got a great situation here at Chip Ganassi Racing. How could he leave?”
And Chip told us the other day when we talked to him that he said to my call leaving the track that night that he said, “I'm not so sure that he's going to leave.”
Was that really when the seeds started of thinking, “We've got something really special here that we need to keep together.”
Yeah, I wouldn't say it's been one moment, honestly. I mean, we won the championship together in ’21. ‘22 was a tough season, but also, we had some really good results at the beginning and also, the last race of the season as you mentioned.
But I would say it's been like a steep curve of just knowing that it was the right place and that we wanted to get as many wins and as many championships as possible together.
Well, here's an example of Chip Ganassi Racing yesterday when they decided to change the engine in Scott Dixon's No. 9. They've got like an hour and 15 minutes, hour and a half to get it done.
And I go over there into the garage and there were guys with all four crew shirts from the four entries at Chip Ganassi Racing, all pitching in to get that job done in time.
That pretty much signifies the team aspect of Chip Ganassi Racing.
Is that the one thing that when you see that much effort go into something like that is what sets them apart?
Absolutely. And you can see that by the way they work as you mentioned. But we were actually yesterday preparing for the race meeting that we have all together, all the cars together, and there was some people missing from each car and I just asked, “Hey, where are these people?”
And then they mention, “Oh, they are helping to change Dixon's engine.”
And it was that moment when you realize moments like that, that everybody works for everybody. It's a one team.
Then when we are on track, obviously, we fight each other and that's the way it should be. But yeah, it's what sets them apart I would say. And you can see on the results that it's paying off.
The race strategy on your stand has been flawless all year, whether it be Barry Wanser or Mike O’Gara.
But in the final race of the season at Monterey, when you were about to pit, had you pitted one lap earlier, you would've been able to do it, then the yellow came out. Unfortunately, you'd driven by pit lane and then a yellow came out and then that pretty much put you in a position where it was going to be difficult for you to win the race.
Is that about the only time where misfortune really came your way?
Well, I think during the year, we had some other races where we had situations like that of like, “Oh man, if we just pitted one lap earlier or one lap later, it would've changed completely our result.”
But as you saw yesterday, we went from 1st to 14th or 15th and still finished 3rd, and then people just look at the end result and don't look at what's going on in the race.
But yes, it was one of those moments. I actually saw it coming because when I saw that we had the gap of like seven seconds, every time we would push, I was like, “Man, that's going to give them enough time to react to a yellow and we won't have that time.”
So, I was prepared for it, but I thought I could have play it smarter than just pushing. We were also, fighting people that was on another strategy with one less stop, which was actually Dixon. So, we had to push.
So, yeah, a bit of misfortune here and there, but still got a good result back home.
We looked at the pit stop sheets after the race. It was a 95 lap race on a long course, and you did it in two pit stops. How did you do that?
Yeah, because there was a lot of yellows we had to do. I don't exactly know the number of laps on the alternates, but it was a very long stint on the alternates at the end, which I was not a big fan obviously. Because in my opinion, and if you look at the results, it was actually the worst tire yesterday.
But yeah, we just had to save a ton of fuel during the yellows. We knew that we had to hit the number since lap one of the last stint. So, we just had to hit that number and hope for the best.
So, yeah, yellows at the end helped us not do an extra stop. And they did a really good job. We saw other cars not putting the alternates until the end and having to pit just to change tires. We didn't have to do that. And yeah, the team did another great goal there.
So, in other words, you did better at stretching fuel mileage than Scott Dixon has done at some races in stretching fuel mileage. Are you going to become the fuel mileage king?
I don't think so until he goes away, honestly. He's really good. There's a lot that everybody could learn from him on how he saves fuel and how he still managed. Because I mean, saving fuel is easy. The hard part is to save fuel and be fast, like let's put it that way.
But I still have a long way to go. I would say that I'm a lot better than when I started and it's because of him and because of the team. But yeah, I still have a lot of learning to do.
But you had enough fuel after really light up those rear tires on the front stretch afterwards with your celebratory burnout and just how cool was that?
Because a lot of times, especially during the season with engine limitations, you want to protect that engine, but yesterday it's like, “Blow it up if you can.”
Absolutely. So, I was a bit … yeah, I had in mind to do something big in Portland, but then I started panicking if like we were underweight because of the tire rubber that you burn or something.
So, I said, “Oh man, no, I cannot do more than two.” So, I did two at Portland. And then I was like, “Oh, we need to win again in Laguna so we can celebrate hard.” We didn't win, but that third place felt like a win and Scott won. So, it was a great day.
And yeah, I told everybody in the 10 car that I was going to do it in the front stretch and they were there. So, yeah, we did as many as I could. And then I couldn't see anymore, so I just had to stop.
Well, if you're going to share the spotlight with anybody, you can't pick a better driver to share it with than Scott Dixon.
Absolutely. I mean, it's been since day one, he's been helping a lot. He's a big headache, man. He never stops on like pushing and putting pressure.
Like we see he has a bad weekend, and he finishes fifth and he has a terrible weekend and he finishes P1 because he has an engine failure. He has to drop back to like 14th. He has a penalty at the beginning of the race and he still finishes first.
So, he never gives up. He's always pushing hard and he's able to manage the races so well. So, yeah, I'm glad that I'm able to learn from him from the inside and I know exactly what he's doing. I don't know how to do it, but I know what he's doing.
Alex Palou’s the champion, but does Scott Dixon remain the king?
Absolutely. Yeah, that's not going to change. We see the form that he has. He's putting a lot of pressure, so yeah, I wouldn't change that he's the king and he's the man in IndyCar.
But one day can that king be Alex Palou?
I can. We just need to learn and make big steps on everything. I need to still learn a lot about him, how to manage the races, oval stuff. So, yeah, until that day comes, he will remain a big, big king.
But can we start calling you Alex The Great?
Not yet, not yet. Otherwise, I mean, I'll be here for a long time, so if you start like that, calling me Alex The Great now, just my confidence it's going to go too high. So, yeah, don't do it.
But it's a better nickname than Mr. Chicken.
Absolutely. Yeah, we need to stop that.
Yes. And also, I think that you probably took the chicken thing as far as it goes.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Hey everybody, this is Josef Newgarden, winner of the 107th Indianapolis 500, and you're listening to Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Welcome back to this special edition on Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Here's the rest of my exclusive interview with 2023 IndyCar Series Champion, Alex Palou for Pit Pass Indy.
Hey, when you won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course back in May, did you have any inclination at all of what was in store for you in terms of success?
No. In terms of like how this season was going to be, no. I knew we had a great race there, that we had really fast cars all season until that point.
But the level of performance that we all had at Chip Ganassi Racing, it's been excellent. And also, the ability we had to manage the races and stuff, it's been great.
So, yeah, I'm just a bit sad that the season is over because I mean, every time we've been on track, we've been like top 10, so I know that that's going to end at some point and it's tough to maintain, but it's been such a great year.
You win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May, the next weekend you win the pole for the Indianapolis 500, you're the dominant car in the 107th Indianapolis 500.
Midway through the race, the pit stop, you leave, Linus leaves, you make contact, put you to the back of the line. But you fought and scratched and clawed your way back to a fourth place finish.
And is that about as good a drive as you had all season to be able to make that fight back to the front?
Honestly, yeah, I would say it's been like one of the best, if not the best moment of the season. I mean, the wins are super special. Winning three in a row from Detroit to Road America with Mid-Ohio felt just insane.
But winning the pole at the Indy 500 when I didn't think that we had the speed to get that pole, and obviously, it's an oval, so we didn't expect to be fighting that hard. And then also, to get dropped back to last and still come up in the top five was great.
So, yeah, I would say that was highlight of the season.
So, then it's off to Detroit, where that was a wild race. The restarts there were crazy, a little bit like Monterey in some regards.
But Detroit being a new course, how challenging was that to be able to put on the type of performance that you did?
Yeah, it was a new course for everybody. Obviously, the team did a phenomenal job on giving us a great car because we were able to get the pole and the race win.
But yeah, it was a hectic race, hectic weekend, lots of restarts. We got overtaken by Will at some point when we had some issues but still got the win and we were so fast. So, it was a great weekend.
So, after Detroit, then it's onto Road America and another victory. And to win at Road America, that's one of the iconic road courses in the world, especially in the United States.
But to win there, how great of an accomplishment is that because that's almost where you got your first victory back in 2020.
Yeah, and it was my first ever podium in IndyCar, which I still remember so good sharing with Scott Dixon and Power.
But yeah, I mean, I love that track. They did a repaved. It was so grippy, it was so nice to drive. And to get the win there was amazing, especially after having like a big hit in practice too, where we completely destroyed the car and they had to work very hard for it.
But yeah, from that moment it felt like we won Indy Road Course. We won the pole at Indy 500, so that felt like a win. We won at Detroit and then we won again at Road America. So, at that point we were like, “Oh man, this is something very special.”
But wait, there's more. You go to Mid-Ohio and win there, so now three victories in a row, four out of five. That point, the point sleeve was getting to the point where it's like, “Unless he gets kidnapped, he's not going to lose this championship.”
Now, I know you kept telling us you don't look at it that way. It's IndyCar and anything can happen, but you had to feel pretty confident.
I felt really good and yeah, confident, but I never thought that we were going to maintain it that high until the end of the season, honestly. And that's me talking honestly now. I thought that there was a big chance of us struggling a lot more and shrinking that gap to like 10 or 15 points.
But yeah, that felt amazing. I just couldn't believe what was going on. We were just going on track, and I think mid-Ohio we started like sixth or seventh, and we still managed to win at the track that it's so hard to pass.
And it was like three in a row, so we wanted to get a bit more in Toronto, but we couldn't. But yeah, the second place there was good.
You battled back at Toronto and then you knew that the Iowa Weekend doubleheader, the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa was going to be the chance for Josef Newgarden to close the gap.
He won both races, which wasn't a surprise, but you finished eighth and you also got a podium. And at that point, when you looked at it, the net loss of points was fairly marginal.
Yeah, it was a lot less than what we expected, than what we anticipated. Everybody anticipated, including us, including myself, that Josef was going to win there. He's been amazing the last couple of years on ovals, especially short ovals.
But yeah, I mean, getting two top 10s, one top 5, and a podium in Iowa felt like, “Oh, we did the work we had to do, and we did even a bit more than what we expected.” So, I was thrilled to leave Iowa with a podium and a top eight.
So, when you left Gateway, which was the start of a three race stretch that would conclude the season, how confident were you?
When I left Gateway, I was pretty confident. Heading into Gateway, I was not that super, super confident, honestly.
But having that said, Gateway, Scott won and it was two in a row for him. And you saw in the last four races or five races, he won three.
So, yeah, I knew that there was something that could happen. But I felt confident after Gateway because I think we did a really good job there.
Scott ended the season similar to the way you had that stretch of four victories and five races. So, in a lot of ways, it just goes to show the rollercoaster nature of this series.
Absolutely, yeah. And yeah, that's remarkable. It's really tough to do. He did it in like really hard circumstances.
But the good thing is that a Chip Ganassi car won the last four races, I believe, with us winning at Portland. So, that shows the level of performance we had this year.
So, you're with the best team in the series. There's a lot of great accomplishments that can come in the future, but I want to go back to how you got here and people that were very important to your journey, one of which was well, Team Go, and also your agent Roger Yasukawa.
If you could describe how important they've been to you.
Oh yeah. I mean, they gave me the opportunity to race first in Japan back in 2019 in Super GT, in Super Formula. It was a great year. I felt like I was fulfilling one of my dreams, which was to be a professional race car driver.
And then I was like, “This is great. I love it, but please, guys, can you try and get me to US, which is where I think I'll be happier. And it's a championship that I love to watch.” And they did.
It was both of them. It was Team Go, it was Roger pushing a lot. I knew that obviously he had raced here before, so he knew how everything was and he was able to get me a ride with Dale Coyne Racing, and that's when we started.
Dale Coyne Racing is a team where they're able to do a lot with very little. They're not one of the biggest teams out there. Dale runs a pretty lean operation, but it's a group of racers, guys that roll up their sleeve and do five different jobs.
What is a driver that's new to IndyCar learn from an experience with Dale Coyne Racing, because he really has had — when you look at what he's been able to do with what he's got, it's pretty impressive.
Yeah, you said it perfectly. It's a group of racers. They might not have the level of investment that big teams have, but they do a tremendous job with the level that they have of infrastructure and investment.
But I learned a lot, man. The group of engineers was amazing. Actually, we have two engineers from Dale Coyne Racing from that year in Chip Ganassi Racing. So, the level of people, it's excellent. And it goes the same for mechanics.
So, learned how to drive on ovals, learned how to race on ovals, learned about IndyCar and how to save a bit of fuel. Then it was obviously another story when I saw Dixon.
So, in your second year in the series, you're now at Chip Ganassi Racing, and it's the great season, you win the championship.
Linus Lundqvist is going to be in a similar position. He didn't have a full season in IndyCar. He was the 2022 Indy NXT Champion, but now, he's going to get a ride at Chip Ganassi Racing.
What does he have in store for him in terms of Chip's toolbox is very complete?
Yeah, absolutely. It's here at Chip Ganassi Racing, he'll have all the tools to win, everything he needs. He'll have the teammates to push him, he'll have the strategist level that he needs to finish the races up front, the mechanics and the performance of the car.
So, it's all up to the drivers now to be up there and fight. I'm sure that he will do very, very well. Haven't seen him on one of our cars, but obviously, raced against him in Nashville and Gateway, and he was very impressive.
In 2021, you told me that your relationship with a Chip Ganassi Racing driver at that time, Jimmie Johnson was, you used to have a lot of talks with him and he taught you how to be a champion outside of the car and all the other things that it takes other than the racetrack to become a champion.
He's not with the team anymore, but how much do you keep in contact with Jimmie Johnson?
Oh, a lot. I mean, he's not in the team anymore physically, but he's right there texting us almost every weekend. He keeps track on the IndyCar schedule, and he keeps in contact with Dario, with almost all the team. And he texts me from now and then.
And when I have any issues on the ovals or anything that I might think, I just call him and ask him because he's the best at it and we saw it in the races he did here with us.
So, yeah, he's amazing. He's an amazing champion and he's an amazing person also.
How much do you miss having him around every weekend?
A lot, a lot. I wish he could be here every weekend. You learn a lot from him. Even when in some races, obviously he was struggling and he was like learning still on road courses, but the way he would work and the way he would approach and talk to the engineers was remarkable.
Well, Jimmi Johnson was a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion. You're now, a two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion. You're very young, you got a lot of great seasons ahead of you. One day we may be calling Alex Palou a seven-time IndyCar Series champion.
But you've got quite a future ahead of you, and when you think of that, you have to daydream a little bit.
Oh yeah, I do. It's amazing to have two championships now. I think we just got started and I have a lot of willing to learn as much as possible, to improve myself, improve the team, improve together, and get as many wins and championships and Indy 500 wins as possible.
There he is, the two-time NTT IndyCar Series Champion, Alex Palou, congratulations on an outstanding season. Good luck in the future and thank you for joining us today on Pit Pass Indy.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Hi, I'm Scott McLaughlin, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Chevy, and you're listening to Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
Before we wrap up this episode of Pit Pass Indy, a quick news item.
Chip Ganassi Racing dropped a big surprise on September 18 when he announced Kyffin Simpson, an 18-year-old from the Cayman Islands would make the leap to IndyCar with a multi-year contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.
That gives the 15-time IndyCar Series championship team five cars on the IndyCar grid beginning next season. By far, the most of any single team in the series.
Simpson currently competes in the European Le Mans Series where he and his two teammates lead the LMP2 championship standings with three races remaining thanks in large part to their impressive 4 Hours of Le Castellet victory.
This year, Simpson also, captured sports car victories at IMSA’s 12 Hours of Sebring race in the LMP2 class victory, P3 overall, and the Asian Le Mans Series, 4 Hours of Dubai race, LMP2 class, and the overall victory.
Simpson, who joined Chip Ganassi Racing as a development driver in May, 2022, competed in the Indy NXT by Firestone series for the past two seasons.
This year, Simpson registered two top five finishes in his sophomore campaign, standing on the podium at both Mid-Ohio and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
He tested an IndyCar Series car for the first time in January of 2023 with Chip Ganassi Racing at a Sebring International Raceway test.
Let's all wish 18-year-old Kyffin Simpson good luck as he begins his IndyCar Series career with Chip Ganasi Racing.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
This is Will Power of Team Penske, and you are listening to Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
And that puts a checkered flag on this championship edition of Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental.
We want to thank our guest, two-time IndyCar Series Champion Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing for joining us on today's podcast.
Along with loyal listeners like you, our guests help make Pit Pass Indy presented by Penske Truck Rental, your path to victory lane for all things IndyCar.
And because of our guest and listeners, Pit Pass Indy is proud to be the winner of The Best Podcast by the National Motor Sports Press Association.
For more IndyCar coverage, follow me at Twitter @BruceMartin (one-word, uppercase B, uppercase M) _500.
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin and final mixing was done by Dave Douglas. Learn more at evergreenpodcasts.com.
Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.