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No. 8: Palou’s Title Run Took Shape at IMS in May

Sunday, December 24, 2023 Curt Cavin, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Alex Palou

Alex Palou jump-started his run toward a second NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in three seasons with a victory in the GMR Grand Prix in May at IMS.

Note: The Penske Entertainment editorial staff is looking back at the 10 biggest moments of 2023 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this year-end series, with one installment appearing on the site per day in countdown fashion from Dec. 22-31.

Alex Palou’s monster year in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was fueled by a strong Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Palou’s bid for a second series championship in three years with Chip Ganassi Racing took root with a May 13 victory in the GMR Grand Prix on the road course. He led 54 of the 85 laps, beating second-place Pato O’Ward to the finish line by 16.8 seconds.

Palou used that momentum to win his first pole in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, a four-lap average of 234.217 mph on May 21 that edged Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (234.211) by .006 of a mph. That margin was the second closest in terms of speed between the top two qualifiers in event history, bested only by the .003 gap between pole sitter Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe in 2012.

The .0040-of-a-second gap between Palou and VeeKay broke the record for the closest time margin between the top qualifiers, .01 between pole sitter Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford in 1970. Felix Rosenqvist earned the outside front-row starting spot after qualifying third at 234.114 mph. All three front-row starters were faster than the previous pole record of 234.046 set in 2022 by Scott Dixon. Only Arie Luyendyk's mighty run of 236.986 mph, set on the second day of qualifying in 1996 and not eligible for pole, is faster.

It was a competitive qualifying session, too. Palou posted the fastest pole-winning average in history (234.217 mph) to lead the fastest front row ever. The 84 qualifying attempts on Saturday, May 20 broke the previous record of 73 in 2019.

Palou became the first Spaniard to capture a “500” pole, and he gave Chip Ganassi’s team its third consecutive pole in the event following top runs by Dixon. CGR became the first team to win three consecutive “500” poles since Team Penske won four from 1988-91.

Palou might have won the race on May 28, too, had it not been for contact on pit road with VeeKay during their stops on Lap 94. Returning to the pits for repairs dropped Palou to 28th in the 33-car order, but he rallied to finish fourth, a result which earned him the series points lead.

Palou’s championship march was on from there, and he never looked back. In a five-race span that included both IMS races in May, the driver of the No. 10 Honda led 222 of 520 laps – nearly 43 percent – and won four times. In succession, he took the checkered flag as the winner of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR and in The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2023 Accord Hybrid at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Palou added a fifth race win of the season, a total which led the series, in the Grand Prix of Portland in the year’s penultimate event. He ended the year with top-eight finishes in all 17 starts, giving him an average finish of 3.7. He finished seventh in the Gallagher Grand Prix on the IMS road course on Aug. 12.