Why Alex Palou must improve to retain his IndyCar title

IndyCar champion Alex Palou will face a mighty challenge to defend his crown in 2022

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Alex Palou will have a target on his back when he begins his defence of his IndyCar title at this weekend’s season-opener in St Petersburg and he knows it will be crucial to find another step to hold off the determined field.

Palou overcame engine issues and incidents to comfortably get over the line to become the first Spanish driver to win the IndyCar championship.

His three victories and five other podiums carried him to the title, whilst his rivals faltered and failed to match the consistency of Palou.

Remarkably, the Chip Ganassi driver only scored one pole position all year, ignoring the cancelled qualifying session at the first Texas race where Palou was awarded pole position.

Palou admits it’s an area where he can improve to give himself a better chance of winning and finishing on the podium.

“Starting more up front, getting one-lap speed should be a priority for us,” Palou told the press.

May 23, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing driver Alex Palou (10) stands near his car during the second day of qualifying for the 2021 Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

“We’ve always been able, not always, but constantly able to be around Fast 6 or top 10, which is great, but we only got one pole position [at Portland International Raceway]. Hopefully that’s going to improve and make our life easier during the races.”

Learning the art of ovals

Five of the 17 races on the 2022 IndyCar calendar are ovals and this is another department where, with experience, Palou will naturally improve.

Mastering ovals takes time and an accident can dent a driver’s confidence on oval tracks for a long time.

This is where Palou impressed in 2021 as he put aside his qualifying crash at the Indy 500 to fight for the win against Helio Castroneves in an almighty battle during the closing stages of one of the most prestigious events in the world.

It showed Palou has the mentality to put mistakes aside, indicating he has a wide head on young shoulders.

A first win on an oval will be a landmark result for the 24-year-old, and the double points on offer at the Indy 500 in May will be key for his season.

Aug 14, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indy Series driver Alex Palou (10) during the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Palou IndyCar Oval Results

EventPosition
Texas 202023
Iowa Race One 202011
Iowa Race Two 202014
Indy 500 202028
Gateway Race One 202015
Gateway Race Two 202012
Texas Race One 20214
Texas Race Two 20217
Indy 500 20212
Gateway 202120

Fiercer competition

Palou thoroughly deserved the championship in 2021, although it did feel like some of his rivals weren’t at their best.

Runner-up Josef Newgarden was always playing catch up after a disappointing Indy 500 and you could argue his peak performances are unbeatable.

Pato O’Ward had an excellent campaign for McLaren last year and, just like Palou, he will only get better as he’s only in his third full IndyCar season

Colton Herta‘s natural speed will make him a serious contender, as long as he doesn’t suffer the same misfortune as 2021 and his Andretti team iron out their unforced errors.

Then, there is the ever-present Scott Dixon who can ever be ruled out. History tells us Dixon almost always bounces back from poor campaigns, so expect him to do the same this year.

Throw in names such as champions Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, or potential resurgences from Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist, you can see there are an army of drivers who could steal Palou‘s crown if they put a consistent season together.

Can Palou re-gain his IndyCar title?

Dario Franchitti‘s title-winning season in 2011 was the last time a driver defended their IndyCar crown, so Palou will be looking to break that 11-year pattern.

Whilst the former Formula 3 driver struggled to make a breakthrough in Europe, he’s performed brilliantly in Super Formula in Japan and has quickly rose to fame in IndyCar.

The last three years have been nothing short of impressive for Palou and a second IndyCar title would put him in esteemed company.

It will almost certainly be a bigger challenge to become champion this year, simply due to the quality of the field and the pressure of being the driver to beat, something Palou has never felt during his racing career.

Nigel Chiu
Nigel Chiuhttps://total-motorsport.com/author/nigel-chiu/
Nigel Chiu is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who worked at Total-Motorsport for 18 months until May 2023. He has been following F1 since 2007 and hasn’t missed a Grand Prix weekend since. Nigel’s worked with several motorsport websites, plus Eurosport and subsequently went on to work with Sky Sports F1 where he travels to multiple F1 races each season.
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