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Rookie Palou Focused on Long Career in America, Excited about Oval Racing
Note: This continues a series of feature stories focused on competitors in the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and GMR Grand Prix this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stories will appear at IMS.com on Tuesdays and Thursdays through May.

Alex Palou was born in Barcelona, Spain, and grew up racing in Europe and Japan. But make no mistake about it: He already feels at home in the United States before he’s even completed one lap of NTT INDYCAR SERIES competition.

Palou, 22, will drive the No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh Honda as a teammate to 2019 rookie sensation Santino Ferrucci in the entire NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.

“I always followed it because it’s happening in the U.S., and I love the U.S.,” Palou said of the series and Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. “I don’t know why, if it’s because I’m from outside the U.S. When I come here, I feel really, really good and love everything. I’ve followed INDYCAR really close in the last four or five years, trying to learn as much as possible.”

Like most European racers, Palou started in karting, at age 6. Palou won the WSK Euro Series karting title in 2012 and was Spanish karting champion in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He and current Coyne teammate Ferrucci were teammates briefly toward the end of Palou’s karting career.

“He was just as crazy as he is now,” Palou said of Ferrucci’s younger years. “It was good. It was fun. We had a bad moment at the beginning of the season, but we ended up good. We had fun.”

Palou then climbed to junior formula open-wheel racing in 2014, jumping to the Spanish Formula 3 championship in 2015. His options in Europe then began to dwindle, so he looked to other continents to continue his career.

America was his first choice, and he tried to land a ride in Indy Lights. But that didn’t materialize, so Palou headed in 2017 to the highly competitive domestic racing scene in Japan, where his career flourished.

Palou finished third in the Japanese Formula 3 championship in 2017, climbing to the Japanese Super Formula last season with Nakajima Racing. Super Formula cars have similar performance to Indy cars, with turbocharged engines generating around 540 horsepower, six-speed paddle-shift gearboxes and a minimum weight of 1,477 pounds.

He showed a strong affinity for the Super Formula cars, winning in heavy rain at Fuji en route to third in the championship. He also was the top-placing rookie in the series last year and claimed three poles.

Palou also expanded his driving horizons in 2019 by racing for Team Goh in Japanese Super GT, a championship featuring exotic, full-bodied touring cars. That drive showed his diverse skills, and team owner Kazumichi Goh and another Team Goh official – with a familiar name to Indy 500 fans – helped Palou connect with Dale Coyne Racing.

Japanese-American driver Roger Yasukawa, a veteran of five Indy 500 starts between 2003-07, works as Team Goh’s team manager. He knew of Palou’s longtime desire to race in INDYCAR and helped to open a few doors with the Coyne team.

Palou tested for Coyne late last July at Mid-Ohio, turning 102 laps on his first day in Sebastien Bourdais’ car. That test opened Coyne’s eyes and tested Palou’s body, as he wasn’t used to turning laps in a car without power steering.

“Super Formula is challenging, as well, but it’s a different way of challenging,” Palou said. “You don’t need your arms. You just need your neck because of the downforce. When I was at Mid-Ohio, I felt some muscles that I haven’t felt before. So, I said, ‘Yeah, I should be ready.’ I’ve been training a lot. I think I’m up to speed.”

Coyne was impressed enough with Palou to put together a deal with Goh to bring the driver to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the entire 2019 season. Palou’s longtime dream of racing in America came true.

“The drivers I was looking (up) to are the drivers who I will be racing this year, and it’s really good,” Palou said. “I was looking, of course, at Scott (Dixon) and Will (Power), especially in qualifying. It’s really good to be able to share a track with them.”

While Palou is experienced in road racing in a high-powered open-wheel car, he never has raced on an oval. So, he knows he has plenty of work to do before his first oval start in the biggest race of them all, the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 24 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s a lot more exciting than intimidating,” the engaging Palou said about racing on ovals. “At the end, every driver had their first oval. I’m just going through the same steps as everybody.

“The only downside is that I don’t know the car much. I never raced Indy Lights on an oval. I’ve never been inside an oval. I have no idea. We need to do it step by step. I have to learn as much as possible from my team. I’m really excited to go there and learn what that’s about.”

Visit IMS.com or the IMS Ticket Office for tickets to the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, GMR Grand Prix and all other Month of May activities at IMS.
 
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