Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – PORTLAND, OR – Alex Palou put a decisive stamp of authority on a dream season, winning the BITNILE.COM Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday at Portland International Raceway to clinch the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship.
Palou, from Barcelona, Spain, earned his second series title in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing after claiming his first championship in 2021 with the team. He became the first driver to seal the INDYCAR SERIES title with one race to spare since Sebastien Bourdais claimed Champ Car honors in 2007 in the penultimate race.
“That’s what we wanted,” Palou said. “It was an amazing weekend overall. We had really fast cars. We knew we had to go for it, and we just raced how we’ve been doing all season. Super proud to be here in victory lane and super proud of the second championship.
“I never thought that I would be an INDYCAR champion, and to be a two-time INDYCAR champion feels amazing, like a dream.”
Chip Ganassi Racing won its 15th INDYCAR SERIES championship, second only to Team Penske’s 17 titles in the history of the sport. Ganassi also clinched its first 1-2 finish in the driver point standings since 2009, as six-time series champion Scott Dixon secured second with his third-place finish in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
This was Palou’s series-leading fifth victory of the season, and he has finished eighth or better in all 16 races this season. Palou, 26, leads Dixon in the standings, 618-527, with one race remaining, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Palou won the race by 5.4353 seconds over runner-up Felix Rosenqvist in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Dixon was 8.0669 seconds behind the winner.
Pato O’Ward placed fourth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden rounded out the top five in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
Palou, who started fifth, led 69 of 110 laps. He paved the way for eventual victory at the start when he darted around Dixon and Colton Herta in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda in the precarious first turn to take third place.
Running on Firestone primary tires at the start, Palou first took the lead on Lap 22 when NTT P1 Award winner Graham Rahal and fellow front-row starter Scott McLaughlin stopped for fuel and swapped their Firestone alternate tires for primary rubber. The CGR team decided on an “overcut” strategy for Palou and Dixon on primary tires, running long on the more durable rubber to build a gap on the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course.
That strategy worked perfectly. Palou made his first stop on Lap 31, switching to Firestone alternate tires. Dixon stopped a lap later as the last driver to enter the pits for his first service, staying on primary tires.
Palou cycled to the front on Lap 34 when David Malukas pitted from the lead in the No. 18 HMD Trucking Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing with HMD.
From there, Palou and Dixon alternated the lead during pit cycles until Rosenqvist grabbed the top spot on Lap 81 when Palou made his final stop. But Palou took the lead for good on Lap 84 when Rosenqvist pitted a lap before the caution flew for the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet of rookie Agustin Canapino, who spun off track in Turn 12.
That caution period allowed Rosenqvist to get heat into his new, cold Firestone alternate tires at slow speed behind the Honda pace car, avoiding a probable attack by Dixon on warmer, grippier tires if the race was under green-flag conditions.
Palou eased away from Rosenqvist and Dixon on the restart on Lap 88. But Rosenqvist stayed within one second for the next five laps before Palou began his inexorable drive away from any threats and into victory lane as Rosenqvist’s alternate tires lost grip toward the end of the race.
“I was kind of lucky in the end, first off with the yellow that we just managed to do our stop before,” Rosenqvist said. “And then also at the end, we kind of had a buffer with lapped cars that gave us a little bit of a cushion to Scott at the end. It kind of worked out our way for the first time in a while, so I was enjoying the race a lot.”
Palou will split $10,000 with Chip Ganassi Racing and his chosen charity, The American Legion, for his victory as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.