Palou equalizes plans with Ganassi vs. McLaren as Spaniard tries to win Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Few had heard of Alex Palou when he joined IndyCar after several years of racing in Japan. It was 2020, during the pandemic and a season without spectators, and the Spaniard was driving for one of the smallest teams in the series.

But the next year he moved to Chip Ganassi Racing. And won the season-opening race. He then finished second at the Indianapolis 500. He crowned the crowning glory by winning the IndyCar championship in his second season in this series.

The 26-year-old is now starting on pole position at the Indy 500 on Sunday and is aiming for the biggest win of his life. He is the FanDuel sportsbook favouriteand its steely demeanor and powerful Ganassi car make it a solid choice.

Palou is unflappable, rarely makes mistakes and has an incredible ability to focus on his work and block out all distractions.

Consider this: It’s only been 10 months since Palou was involved in a nasty contract dispute with Ganassi and McLaren Racing and in the process he was pretty much thwarted by his teammates. But during qualifying this weekend, Scott Dixon stopped Palou as Palou headed into qualifying to offer animated tips on his run.

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All is well again in Palou’s world, even though he is on both the Ganassi and McLaren lines. The mediation revealed that Palou was contractually tied to Ganassi this season but will switch to McLaren next IndyCar season and is already one of McLaren’s reserve F1 drivers.

Palou is allowed to take part in McLaren F1 duties – he wore the Papaya Orange colorway and earlier this month received a special Richard Mille watch given only to McLaren drivers at the Miami Grand Prix – if it doesn’t conflict with his Ganassi commitments.

The drama didn’t slow him down last year – he won the season finale and finished fifth overall – and he opened his final year with Ganassi with a bang. To kick off the month, he won the road race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and took the points lead in the IndyCar Series. He then took pole for the 500m race.

While he doesn’t discuss his future at Ganassi or McLaren, this week he was adamant he’ll be competing in the IndyCar class next season, despite Formula 1 being his goal.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going to be in IndyCar next year,” said Palou. “I’ve always said that Formula 1 is not my goal. But after winning the championship, I saw that there might be a small chance. I thought, “I want to try to pursue that, because why not?” And I still want that chance. But if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be completely happy in IndyCar.”

Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 winner and co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, had perhaps his worst outing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1993 when he was thrown off the field in the closing minutes of qualifying.

Three of the team’s four cars made it into the semi-finals last weekend and his son Graham Rahal was nudged by team-mate Jack Harvey when the qualifying time was up. Then the following day, a training accident suffered by Stefan Wilson opened up the possibility for the younger Rahal to face his father’s team in Sunday’s Dreyer & Reinbold race.

“It’s been a tough week for him. “It’s a tough week for all of us,” said Graham Rahal after the final practice session on Friday. “I don’t think people realize how much dad put into all this. He loves this. He doesn’t have to do this. He wants to win it; he wants to win with me. I find it very disappointing that the cars haven’t gotten any better.”

IndyCar driver Stefan Wilson, who underwent surgery to stabilize a fractured vertebra earlier this week, posted a video to social media on Saturday showing him gingerly getting out of his hospital bed and taking a few cautious steps toward the door .

“I’m back,” he said, smiling, pointing to his back, which was in braces.

Wilson’s car was hit from behind by Katherine Legge in practice on Monday, causing both cars to hit the outside wall at Turns 1 and 2. Legge was unharmed, but Wilson was taken to Methodist Hospital with a back injury.

Graham Rahal was hired to replace him in the #24 car. Due to the driver change, Rahal will be the last to start on Sunday.

AP Sports writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

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