Alex Palou won on Sunday in Laguna Seca. (Al Steinberg Photo)

Alex Palou Wins From The Pole At Laguna Seca

It was one year ago that Alex Palou was in the midst of a streak of races that helped propel him to a second NTT IndyCar Series Championship with a victory at one of North America’s most famous road courses.

In 2023, it was Road America, as the Chip Ganassi Racing driver scored an impressive victory.

Because of a schedule change in 2024, Road America was held earlier this month and WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca was moved into the weekend previously taken by Road America.

Different track, same result as Palou started on the pole and drove to victory in Sunday evening’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

The 95-lap race contest was at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn circuit on the Monterey Peninsula of the Central California coast.

Palou scored his 11th career victory, his second of the 2024 season as he won the race from the pole.

Starting on the pole at Monterey is important because with Palou’s victory, 21 of the 26 IndyCar Series race winners at Laguna Seca have come from the pole. However, the two previous race winners at Laguna Seca started 11th.

Palou has never finished off the podium as he has finished second, first, third and first with Sunday’s win.

Palou defeated Colton Herta by 1.9780 seconds. Alexander Rossi of Arrow McLaren was third. Romain Grosjean of Juncos Hollinger Racing was fourth in a Chevrolet and Andretti Global’s Kyle Kirkwood rounded out the top five in a Honda.

This victory, however, took some faith in the strategy devised by Chip Ganassi Racing that had Palou using the “overcut” – driving longer on his first stint so he could build up an advantage over the second stint and maintain the lead after pit stops.

“It was a chaotic race, man,” Palou said. “The strategy was risky for the position we were in, but we knew we had the pace. Too much intensity on those restarts, but a great run for the DHL car. 

“Everything was fine. I’m sure they had the trust and belief on that call. It was an amazing day for the Ganassi team.”

Herta picked up three spots in the championship race after finishing second.

“It was a good result and whether it was fuel savings or not, we had the pace,” Herta said. “It’s sucks that we didn’t win at this place.”

Rossi’s third place was the best for a Chevrolet.

“Before the yellow, we were quite good upfront, but then we got in a fuel-saving race,” Rossi said. “It was a good bounce back from our difficulties at Road America and we take it and move on.”

Grosjean’s fourth place was the best-ever result for Juncos-Hollinger and the best this season for the driver from France.

“I knew we had a great race car, it was physical and hard, but we did an amazing job,” Grosjean said. “I was coming for Alexander Rossi because I really wanted that podium.”

Kirkwood was the first driver to make his final pit stop, driving onto pit road on lap 67 for sticker black tires. Palou, who had to use the Firestone Reds for a mandatory stint, pulled onto pit lane for his final stop after 71 laps. 

Off came the Firestone Reds, on went the used Firestone Blacks and Palou was in and out of the pits.

Palou was safely ahead of his nearest competitor on the same pit stop cycle, Colton Herta, although Palou was scored in second place. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was the leader, but after serving a penalty for speeding on pit road, was out of sequence to the drivers fighting it out for the win.

It was a clean start, but Herta took the lead going into the Turn 1 and held it for the first 27 laps.

The first caution period of the race was on lap 35 after rookie driver Luca Ghiotto went off track in turn four and had a hard crash.

With 21 laps to go, Marcus Armstrong spun through the gravel after side-by-side racing with Christian Lundgaard. When Armstrong went back on track, he narrowly missed two cars at speed from hitting his No. 11 Honda. One of those cars was driven by Graham Rahal.

IndyCar held the yellow flag until the final car driven by Newgarden made his final pit stop. 

The decision to hold the yellow flag greatly favored Newgarden, who was able to leap his way through the field, but it remained consistent with IndyCar Race Control’s policy of letting everyone pit if a car is not in a dangerous position before throwing the yellow flag.

“Did they really wait for the 2 car?” Palou asked Barry Wanser, his race strategist, referring to Newgarden.

“Yes, they waited until everybody pitted, just like they normally do,” Wanser radioed back.

With 17 laps to go, Palou was in front of Newgarden, Herta and Rossi.

Team Penske drivers Scott McLaughlin and Will Power ran into each other heading up the hill to the corkscrew, sending McLaughlin’s Chevrolet off course. McLaughlin was assessed an avoidable contact penalty. His car also sustained suspension damage from the contact.

Racing continued, however, and on the other side of the hill, it was Christian Lundgaard’s Honda that went flying over the hill and through the corkscrew without making contact with another race car. IndyCar race control issued him an avoidable contact penalty.

Newgarden went wide and ran off course, dropping from second to fifth. Herta had raced his way into second place trailing Palou by 3.4 seconds.

The headers blew on Jack Harvey’s Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and he pulled off course at the exit of pit lane. The yellow flag waved with 12 laps to go

That set up a restart with 11 laps to go between two of the best drivers at Laguna Seca Raceway.

Herta went to the outside heading into the Andretti Hairpin, but Palou was able to hammer down the lead. Rossi pulled closer to Herta’s Honda.

Herta’s pursuit was hampered because he had to conserve fuel. Newgarden had the most fuel to burn and the freshest tires.

With nine laps to go, however, Kyffin Simpson and Graham Rahal crashed into each other after Simpson’s Honda spun in front of him for one more caution period. That allowed Herta to conserve fuel.

Herta radioed to his race strategist Rob Edwards, that unless he got Palou at the restart, he wasn’t going to be able to pass him.

Palou got a great jump out of the final corner on the restart with four laps remaining. 

With two laps to go, Newgarden ran off course and the race remained green as Palou had built a gap of over two seconds to Herta’s Honda.

Palou regains the points lead and has a 23-point advantage over Team Penske’s Will Power, who finished seventh.

This was the final race before IndyCar moves to the Hybrid Assist engine. The electrically charged device is designed to increase horsepower in conjunction with the current internal combustion engine and begins competition in the July 7 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.