Monaco Increase Management driver Alex Palou took home a resounding third place in the Hi-Vee One Step 250 at Iowa Speedway today, turning a weekend devoted to ‘damage limitation’ into another major result. Of all tracks in the 2023 Indycar series calendar, the 0.875 mile oval at Newton surely was the most feared for Palou and his CGR team as the car didn’t seem to cope well with the characteristics of the super-fast Midwest short oval. Yet, after taking a comfortable seventh place in Saturday’s event, Palou and his team went on to transform the 250-lap race on Sunday into a masterpiece of strategy and stamina, bringing home an unexpected result thanks to careful pit-wall planning and Alex’s scorching restart in the thrilling final shootout, when the green flag was given for the last three laps in which every driver really had to give it all. “I am really, really proud of this guy” said Monaco Increase founder Salvatore Gandolfo. Palou’s podium finish granted him another 35 points to bring his total to 477, with weekend winner Josef Newgarden now running second at 397 ahead of Scott Dixon (357) and Marcus Ericsson (330). Given the fact that this weekend was the best opportunity for Palou’s rivals to close the gap, with 106 points at stake, and Newgarden took them all, it is fair to say that Alex played his cards well with five more races remaining of which only one will be run on an oval track. Newgarden himself showed appreciation for what Palou has done this year: “He’s been tremendous”, he said of the current series leader.
Palou started the race in P12 as a result of Saturday’s second qualifying run, but quickly gained two positions at the start, then moved on to pass Colton Herta and Ed Carpenter on the momentum. His first pit-stop came on Lap 57 but Palou’s #10 American Legion Honda-powered Dallara car seemed to struggle with the new set of tires, the driver complaining on the team radio that he was struggling with understeer. When Agustìn Canapino brushed the wall on lap 87 and many cars chose to pit in the short caution break, though, Palou and CGR decided to stay out until Lap 100. From then on, Alex was guided into a swift strategy, pitting again on Lap 147. Fourteen laps later, all drivers had a moment when the rear right wheel on Sting Ray Robb’s car came loose at the end of a pit-call and rolled across the track, prompting another caution period. Palou came again into the pit road on Lap 164 and the move paid out as he was able to battle with the likes of Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson and gain further ground. Palou’s last pit-stop came on Lap 196, the Spanish driver emerging in P5 and still in the leader’s lap. With eleven laps to go, Hunter-Reay caused another caution and the leading cars – including Palou – chose lap position over new tires. When the green flag was given again for the last three flying laps, Palou attacked furiously and was able to pass both McLaughlin and Rosenqvist for the last step of the podium. This is Alex’s tenth top-five finish this year and certainly one of the most unexpected, and for this very reason, one of the most enjoyable!