Spain’s First IndyCar Champion
by Bobby Markos
In September, 24-year-old Alex Palou made history by becoming the first driver from Spain to win an IndyCar Championship. The young driver from Sant Antoni de Vilamajor accomplished the feat in just his second season on the Championship Car circuit. It was also his first season with Chip Ganassi Racing, where he joined a decorated list of champions that includes Jimmy Vassar, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.
He recently took a trip to Charlotte on his championship victory tour to take an inside look at the world of stock car racing. During his visit, he took in his first Cup race as a fan at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL and also took a tour of the NASCAR Hall of Fame to learn more about the history of the division. While Palou hasn’t set foot in a stock car, he holds a distinct similarity with Dale Earnhardt: he won a championship in his second full-time season, a feat Earnhardt accomplished in 1980.
On this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Dale and his co-host Mike Davis sit down with the newly crowned champion to learn more about his life and racing career. Palou entered the Bojangles Studio with a bang as he brought Dale a birthday cake and balloons and quickly showed his humorous side. The conversation dove into Palou’s humble beginnings in the Catalonia region of Spain and what life is like there. They discuss his entry into the world of motorsports, which began in karts at a track near his house. Palou describes his early career as being a family affair, with his father even building his engines at home.
Palou gives listeners a unique look into the world of racing in Europe and what it's like navigating it as an up and coming racer. In 2014, Palou entered the world of formula racing when he got a call out of the blue from Adrian Campos to drive for his F3 team. Over the next few years, Palou would travel through Europe and to Japan to pursue his career in racing, before receiving a call in 2019 to come to the US for a test with Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar at Mid-Ohio. The test went well and he received a contract, so Palou moved to Austin, Texas, a city he fell in love with while racing at Circuit of the Americas in 2018.
Dale asks Palou about adapting to oval racing, which he would encounter for the first time in his IndyCar debut at Texas Motor Speedway in June of 2020. Palou recounts what the experience was like with little to no practice, and how nervous he was as he prepared to qualify. Mike Davis asks Alex about his experience at the 2021 Indianapolis 500, where he led 35 laps and was leading the race with 10 to go when he was passed by eventual winner Helio Castroneves. Palou recalls conversations he had over his team’s radio and what his mindset was like in the waning laps of the historic race.
The chat wraps up with what's next for Palou and what his future ambitions in racing are. Listeners can expect the tale of a racer who skyrocketed from humble beginnings in the mountains of Spain to one of the biggest stages in the world of auto racing.
During the opening segment of the show, Dale Jr. and Mike talk about NASCAR’s recent weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL, which Dale describes as “Frankenstein”. They also debate whether NASCAR should have blackflagged Chase Elliott and their feelings on the ongoing Harvick/Elliott feud. Dale also speaks on the crew’s time in Daytona Beach while filming an episode of Lost Speedways earlier in the year, and what he learned from the experience.
As always, listeners got a chance to send in questions during the Ask Jr portion of the episode and this week they covered Barstool Pizza’s review of Mr. Z’s, Dale’s special graphics on his new Silverado pickup truck and plans for his daughter Nicole's first birthday party. All of this and more on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr Download - available on this website and all major podcast platforms.
Additional reading about our guest:
Born in Sant Antoni de Vilamajor, Spain, Alex Palou entered the world of auto racing through karting in 2003 near his hometown. He would progress through the ranks in the division and begin traveling internationally, winning the WSK Euro Series championship title in 2012.
He would make a name for himself and receive a call from former F1 driver Adrian Campos to drive for his F3 team in the Euroformula Open Championship starting in 2014. Palou would win races at Nurburgring, Hungaroring and Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and finish 3rd in the season points standings. This good showing would help him graduate to the GP3 series in 2015, where he would notch one victory at Abu Dhabi, becoming the first Spanish driver to win in the series.
After another season in GP3 in 2016, Palou moved to Japan in 2017 to race for Threebond with Drago Corse in the Japanese Formula 3 series. He would go on to win three races and finish third in the season standings. He would also have starts that season in the World Series Formula V8 and Formula 2 series, winning one race for Teo Martin Motorsport at Nurburgring.
2018 saw Palou return to Europe to compete in the Formula 3 European Championship for Hitech Bullfrog GP, where he finished on the podium seven times. Palou would move back to Japan the following year to compete in the Super GT GT300 and Super Formula series, where he would score his first win in the country at Fuji Speedway. He turned heads with his skill on road courses and would received a call from Dale Coyne to come test for his IndyCar team at Mid-Ohio in July of 2019. The test would prove successful and Palou was rewarded a contract, which brought him to Austin, Texas for residence to compete in the 2020 IndyCar season.
Palou made his IndyCar debut in June of 2020 at Texas Motor Speedway, which was his first attempt at oval racing. Soon after, he would score his first podium at Road America and go on to finish 16th in the season points in his rookie attempt. Chip Ganassi Racing would sign Palou to a contract for the 2021 season, and he would win in his debut with the team at Barber Motorsports Park. He would impress at the running of the Indianapolis 500, where he led 35 laps and was leading the race with 10 laps to go when eventual winner Helio Castroneves would pass by. Palou went on to score victories at Road America, the Grand Prix of Portland and finish on the podium five other times to pick up the 2021 Indycar season championship in just his second year of competition.