Long Beach IndyCar GP 2021 Preview: Alex Palou has an appointment with History

Alex Palou (Chip Ganassi Racing) is on the verge of making motorsport history next Sunday (September 26), when he could become the first-ever IndyCar champion from Spain. The Catalan racer arrives at the Long Beach GP 2021, the last round of the American competition, as the top favourite to win the title. 

Both his comfortable lead and all experts’ forecasts are on his side. Palou leads the standings with 517 points, 35 more than his main rival, the Mexican Pato O’Ward (Arrow McLaren SP), who is second with 482 points. The American driver Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) comes behind in third with 469 points, a little too far back to stand a good chance of conquering his third IndyCar title. These are the only three contenders left in the race for the crown. 

It is important to understand the IndyCar’s points system, quite different from that of Formula 1. Here the winner receives 50 points, the runner-up gets 40 points and the third classified, 35 points. Then, the number of points for each subsequent position decreases at different intervals all the way down to 5 points for the 33rd classified. The pole holder also gets an extra point and all drivers that have led at least one lap also get one. The competitor that has led for the most laps will receive two points. 

Palou’s 35-point lead over O’Ward is, therefore, a fairly solid advantage. If Palou’s Mexican rival was to have a perfect weekend and claimed the victory, the pole as well as lead the race for the greatest number of laps, the Spaniard would still take the title if he finishes at least in twelfth place. 

As for the two-time American champion Josef Newgarden, he still has a mathematical chance amid a very remote one. For the Penske driver to claim his third title he would have to get all of the points at stake while Palou finishes in 25th place or lower and O’Ward in third at best. 

Palou has earned his leadership by claiming more triumphs than anyone else this season including winning three Grand Prixs ((Barber, Road América & Portland), one pole, two second places – among them the 500 Miles of Indianapolis – and a couple of third places. These results would play a key role in the event of a tie. O’Ward has only won two races this year and if he was to win at Long Beach, the title would be decided by the number of second places, of which the Mexican has only one. In this case, the trophy would be for Palou. 

 The Catalan driver has arrived at an unprecedented place for Spanish motorsport. Nobody from that country has ever won the American competition and, regardless of what happens this weekend, Alex has already become a legend in the motorsport’s world of his home country. Never has a Spaniard been so close to victory in the United States. Palou’s extraordinary year is even more remarkable considering this is his first full season in IndyCar. Dale Coyne Racing, a humble team, opened the doors of the contest for Palou in 2020. He didn’t waste the opportunity and his talent soon became apparent when he achieved his first podium (3rd) at Road America. 

 Following that feat, the unknown Spaniard was noticed by Chip Ganassi, one of the greatest American teams. From then on, his career has grown exponentially, exceeding all expectations. The racer and his team seem to be in perfect sync with a rapport unusual for a ‘sophomore’. Over the fifteen races disputed so far, there has been a total of nine winners, seven pole holders and fifteen different drivers on the podium. Now, the moment of truth has arrived and what better scenario than Long Beach, the second most famous event in the speciality behind the Indianapolis 500, which was nearly won by Palou this year. 

Images of Long Beach GP 2021: Chip Ganassi Racing.

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