Alex Palou wins at Portland to reclaim IndyCar points lead as Pato O’Ward struggles to 14th


Alex Palou emphatically reclaimed the NTT IndyCar Series points lead Sunday with a win in the Grand Prix of Portland.

With his third victory of the season, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver zoomed past Pato O’Ward to the top of the championship standings with two races remaining.

Alexander Rossi finished 1.2895 seconds behind in second at Portland, followed by Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey and Josef Newgarden, who lost ground to Palou in the standings and trails by 34 points.

Winning from the pole position, Palou, 24, reclaimed the points lead with a rebound from consecutive DNFs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (engine) and World Wide Technology Raceway (crash).

The Spaniard was making his first start at Portland, just as he will be over the next two weeks at Laguna Seca and Long Beach in trying to become IndyCar’s first new series champion in four years.

After starting on the pole, the second-year driver had to restart 17th after going off course to avoid a typical first-corner melee on the road course.

Palou and his teammate Dixon (who restarted 18th) were among several drivers who were placed behind the cars that missed the first-corner incident that seemed to start when Dixon was hit by Felix Rosenqvist.

James Hinchcliffe was eliminated in the wreck, and Will Power, Romain Grosjean, Oliver Askew, and Helio Castroneves all suffered damage. Per IndyCar rules, drivers who avoid a collision but leave the track are placed behind those who remained on the racing surface, which is why Roseqnvist, Palou and Dixon all restarted outside the top 15.

The Ganassi drivers disagreed with the call.

“I don’t know what IndyCar was thinking about, you avoid an accident, and they put you in the back,” Palou told NBC Sports pit reporter Kelli Stavast. “But anyway, we kept our heads down. We knew the race was really long. I can not believe it. We made it. The strategy was amazing.”

Said Dixon: “It’s just one of those situations. The call was on race control to put us all at the back was definitely interesting, but lo and behold, it worked out for us. Huge congratulations to Alex, the team. Just a weird start to the day and thankful it ended up working out for us.”

O’Ward went from a 10-point lead over Palou entering the weekend to a 25-point deficit after a mediocre 14th at Portland. The Arrow McLaren SP driver led for 28 laps after taking the lead under the first yellow.

But O’Ward’s strategy went sour on a full-course yellow on Lap 52, and his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet struggled for pace afterward while the driver complained about a loss of power on the straightaways.

“Today was obviously very tough,” O’Ward said. “It just wasn’t our day. We got unlucky with some of the yellows, and this race favored the alternate strategy, which you can see when you look at the results. It just goes to show how exciting of a sport IndyCar is at every race.

“We gave it everything we had all weekend. The No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP crew was solid on every stop. We are up against some great competitors for the championship, but we will come back the next two races and fight down to the last lap in Long Beach.”

Said Palou: “I don’t care that much about the points at the moment. I just think the race we did today was amazing. Not me but the guys with the strategy, the pit stops with everything. We still won, so I’m proud about that.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”