Alex Palou scored a maiden IndyCar win in the season opener on his Chip Ganassi Racing debut, while Romain Grosjean scored a top 10 in his first series outing.
Chip Ganassi himself said that ex-Dale Coyne driver Palou was the fastest of the team’s drivers in the pre-season and come the Barber opener Palou did not disappoint.
Ganassi’s strong weekend began with qualifying three of its cars – led by Palou in third – in the top six, despite its road course qualifying performance being an area of weakness in 2020.
At the beginning of the race three-time Barber winner Josef Newgarden – starting eighth and the highest-placed driver on the hard tyre – crashed on the exit of Turn 4 taking Colton Herta out just behind with him, along with a host of other challengers further back.
Take a look at the #IndyCar first lap drama here ⬇️
— The Race (@wearetherace) April 18, 2021
When the race restarted polesitter Pato O’Ward had a problem with his left-rear tyre being “undriveable” – later diagnosed as a slow-puncture – and he pitted early on lap 19. Fellow front-row starter Alexander Rossi followed suit a lap later.
It was here Arrow McLaren SP driver O’Ward and Rossi were undone. Those behind them stayed out and Palou ripped off the then fastest laps of the race as he extended his first stint, making his race a two-stopper instead of the three O’Ward and Rossi would have to do now.
After the final stops Will Power in second emerged as a strong protagonist owing to the high amount of push to pass he still had available, but all the drivers on the two-stop strategy also had to save fuel – reducing what they could do with the overtaking system.
Palou’s reigning champion team-mate Scott Dixon joined the trio fighting for a victory but in the closing laps Power edged away and harried Palou for the win alone.
The gap came down to under a second and a half in traffic but in the last two laps Palou was assured and streaked clear to start his second season in IndyCar with a win.
Power had focused this off-season and the one before on finally having a strong start to the season, which he achieved with second while Dixon scored the kind of quiet podium his championship pushes are built on.
O’Ward had to settle for fourth after a nightmare race in which he was caught in traffic, barged off at Turn 5 by Sebastien Bourdais, ran wide in the last stint and was just hamstrung by the wrong strategy all started by that left-rear wheel issue at the start.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) April 18, 2021
Bourdais pulled off a brilliant rise through the order for AJ Foyt Racing, with Rinus VeeKay and Graham Rahal following him in sixth and seventh as all three pitted early and then had a long second stint overlapping Palou’s.
VeeKay’s result was all the more impressive given he was driving with a broken finger after his Indianapolis testing crash last week and had a wild time dodging the Newgarden crash.
— Rinus VeeKay (@rinusveekay) April 18, 2021
Bourdais, VeeKay and Rahal all passed Ganassi’s two-stopping third driver Marcus Ericsson late on.
Rossi struggled during his second stint so failed to follow O’Ward back up the order, and a bit of traffic didn’t help him either as he took ninth, ahead of Grosjean.
Grosjean qualified seventh in an impressive debut on Saturday, and converting that to 10th in such a complicated strategic race was no mean feat.
He mimicked Palou’s long first stint but was some way behind by then and came out in traffic, which hurt his chances.
Scott McLaughlin – Grosjean’s fellow rookie – started 12th and regularly ran in the top 10 but slipped to 14th at the end, while Jimmie Johnson had a spin early on and finished 19th.
|Pos||Name||Team||Car||Laps||Laps Led||Total Time||Fastest Lap||Pitstops||Pts|
|1||Alex Palou||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||56||1h52m53.036s||1m07.902s||2||53|
|2||Will Power||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||90||4||+0.401s||1m07.811s||2||41|
|3||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+2.988s||1m07.734s||2||35|
|4||Patricio O'Ward||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||90||25||+3.974s||1m06.818s||3||34|
|5||Sébastien Bourdais||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||90||4||+10.696s||1m07.227s||3||31|
|6||Rinus VeeKay||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||90||1||+13.875s||1m07.199s||4||29|
|7||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+18.738s||1m07.802s||3||26|
|8||Marcus Ericsson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+20.07s||1m07.889s||2||24|
|9||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+20.56s||1m07.382s||3||22|
|10||Romain Grosjean||Dale Coyne Racing with RWR||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+45.08s||1m08.038s||2||20|
|11||Jack Harvey||Meyer Shank Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+50.078s||1m07.837s||3||19|
|12||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||90||0||+59.052s||1m08.026s||3||18|
|13||Takuma Sato||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+1m05.588s||1m07.617s||3||17|
|14||Scott McLaughlin||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||90||0||+1m06.056s||1m07.792s||3||16|
|15||Ed Jones||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan||Dallara DW12-Honda||90||0||+1m08.409s||1m08.13s||3||15|
|16||Conor Daly||Ed Carpenter Racing||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||90||0||+1m09.107s||1m08.153s||3||14|
|17||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||89||0||+1 lap||1m08.006s||3||13|
|18||Dalton Kellett||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||89||0||+1 lap||1m08.613s||4||12|
|19||Jimmie Johnson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Dallara DW12-Honda||87||0||+3 laps||1m08.441s||3||11|
|20||Max Chilton||Carlin||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||86||0||+4 laps||1m08.528s||5||10|
|Felix Rosenqvist||Arrow McLaren SP||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||62||0||DNF||1m07.801s||5||9|
|Colton Herta||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||25||0||DNF||1m08.498s||3||8|
|Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||Dallara DW12-Chevrolet||0||0||DNF||0s||0||7|
|Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||Dallara DW12-Honda||0||0||DNF||0s||0||6|