INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was honored last Friday night at the IndyCar Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Palou, the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion, was awarded with a miniature version of the Astor Challenge Cup.
“What an amazing year we had,” Palou said. “I have to thank Chip personally for giving me the opportunity to drive the No. 10 Honda for the team. Chip doesn’t realize the amount of energy he brings to the team. I have to thank a lot of people. It’s been 19 years since I started racing and I have to thank a lot of people.
“My teammates were a huge help this year. Josef Newgarden made it exciting at the end when he won the pole and was leading those laps. And Pato O’Ward, you’ve been amazing. Good job.
“Last but not least, I have to thank my girlfriend, Esther, and my family. I’m driving in the best series with the best teammates. It’s like a dream that I never want to end.
“Let’s bring on 2022.”
Team owner Chip Ganassi also received his own Astor Challenge Cup.
“How about this guy, Alex Palou?” Ganassi said. “What an impressive season. For being his second year in the series, he drove like a wiley veteran. With guys Pato O’Ward, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden chasing him down all year, he never flinched. He never even flinched when he hit the wall here at Indianapolis.
“I can’t tell you in words how proud I am of Alex. That being said, drivers win races, but teams win championships. I’m really, really happy with the guys on the 10 car and what they were able to accomplish with this championship. Alex also had mentors to lean on like Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Kanaan.
“I also want to thank the captain of this ship, Roger Penske. In the past two years, this sport has been thrown some curveballs. Roger and his staff with Jay Frye, they were ready for those curveballs and the entire series thanks Roger for that.”
The full-sized Astor Challenge Cup is a permanent trophy that is kept at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
Also honored were Barry Wanser, champion team manager, and Ricky Davis, who won the IndyCar Championship Chief Mechanic Award presented by Pennzoil.
Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske was honored for winning the IndyCar Rookie of the Year award.
McLaughlin produced five top-10 finishes, including second place in the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway in his first oval race, in the No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.
“It’s been one of the hardest things, not only moving to a different country, but also to a different race car,” McLaughlin said. “I’m really proud of my team. The car was fantastic for me. I just needed to get my feet under me a bit. After the second place at Texas, I wanted more and more, and I overdid a few things. Once I brought my attitude back a little bit, I felt more at home.
“I’m really excited what is in store for us next year at Team Penske and I intend to be even better next year.”
Other award winners at the ceremony included Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the TAG Heuer Don’t Crack Under Pressure Award for advancing the most cumulative places during the season. Sato was awarded with a $25,000 check.
“Tough season,” Sato said. “I’m happy to have the hard charger award. The boys on my team did a phenomenal job. For me, it was the first season I did not win a race so getting this award makes me very, very happy.”
Also, Honda Performance Development took home the IndyCar Manufacturers Award for the fourth consecutive season.
“If you look at the total overall season, we had 24 full-time teams, which means we are growing,” IndyCar President Jay Frye said. “We had nine different winners from eight different countries, which ties a record. Forty percent of the field won a race and we had four first-time winners. We had the most unique rookie class in IndyCar.
“It’s an amazing group of people and it’s great working with them.”
For next season, Frye expects to have 26 to 27 full-time cars on the grid.
“We couldn’t do it without David Salters of Honda and Jim Campbell of Chevrolet,” Frye said. “We thank them for all of their help.”
HPD President David Salters accepted the IndyCar Manufacturers Award.
“HPD is like this huge orchestra and there are 200 people in this orchestra,” Salters explained. “There is another whole set of people at HPD that do this. We also have to thank Honda because they are a real racing organization.”
Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden finished the season second in the standings, 38 points behind champion Palou. He was honored for his runner-up finish.
“Never say never,” Newgarden said. “It was about putting ourselves in contention and we were at Long Beach. We gave it as much as we could.
“I live this. I love to compete against great competition. Alex is an amazing champion, and his team does a great job. They were flawless this year and are a great champion.
“Tough year to not be close enough to close the gap in the end, but we were in the fight. I was happy to be in the conversation at the end.
“I’m in this weird middle territory. I’m not young, I’m not old. I’m the middle child, I guess. I have to find a way to make this work. I’m looking forward to 2022. We’ll see if it’s the year of the ‘middle child.’”
Newgarden also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award, a $75,000 award for the driver and team for spending the least amount of time in the pits this season.
Newgarden also won the NTT P1 Award for the driver with the most points for NTT P1 Awards this season. Newgarden won four NTT P1 Awards and converted three of those into a race win and two runner-up finishes.
Newgarden won it for the second time in four seasons.
Pato O’Ward of Mexico finished third in points, 62 behind the champion, and was also honored at the Victory Lap.
“I have to go with my breakthrough win at Texas,” O’Ward said was the highlight of the season. “I had been looking for that for quite some time. I was very excited to get that out of the way and focus on the championship.
“The 10 guys (Palou’s team) were really strong all year. Congratulations to them. They had a great year. It’s really, really tough. But it was a great year for us.
“I have to thank my team and Chevrolet. We were truly in the championship battle all season long. We are excited to see what 2022 has in store.”