Three drivers will be making their NTT IndyCar Series debut in tomorrow’s 2020 season-opening Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. However, one of those three drivers will have a bigger challenge than the other two. Spanish driver, Alex Palou, will fulfil a dream of his by making his first start in IndyCar, driving the #55 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh. At the same time, Palou will also be racing in his first oval race and his first race held at night.
If all of that was not enough to fill Palou’s plate heading into this Saturday’s race, the twenty-three-year-old driver has also had to a deal with a few weeks of anxiety regarding whether or not he would even be able to attend the race due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions. However, the Spaniard was finally able to confirm his plans and managed to fly over to the United States just a few days ago.
“These last few weeks I was really worried about just getting back to the United States and now that I’m here, I’m even happier and more excited to go racing at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend,” Palou said.
“Not only did I make it, but I made it with enough time to prepare properly with the team and the engineers and to prepare myself. To be able to focus on racing and not always thinking about if I’m going to make it or not is a huge relief.”
Palou comes into the NTT IndyCar Series with, perhaps, equal amounts of anticipation and intrigue. After scoring top-three finishes in the Euroformula Open Championship and the Spanish Formula 3 Championship, Palou made the jump up to Formula 1‘s support roster in 2015 with Campos Racing‘s GP3 Series squad. A victory at the Yas Marina Circuit in the final race of the season would secure Palou tenth place in the standings, but the Spaniard would only return to the podium once more in his second season with a second-place finish at Silverstone.
Palou would make the move to the Japanese Formula 3 Championship for 2017 and would duly take a third-place finish with three victories to his name. During the year, he would return to Europe for appearances in World Series Formula V8 3.5 and the FIA Formula 2 Championship, with Alex scoring a victory and two further podium finishes in Formula V8 3.5 in his six starts.
A full-time campaign in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship would follow in 2018, with Palou scoring seven podiums on his way to seventh in the standings. In the process, he would mix it up with drivers such as Mick Schumacher and Dan Ticktum.
However, Alex would move back to racing in Japan for the following year, dovetailing efforts in both Super Formula and Super GT. Given his experience in single-seater racing, it was unsurprising that it would be in Super Formula where Alex would impress mostly. He would take third place in the standings after winning at Fuji Speedway, with ten points separating him from the title winner, Nick Cassidy and runner-up Naoki Yamamoto.
During the winter, Palou would partner up with Team Goh, a Japanese racing team, to put together a deal with Dale Coyne Racing to secure a spot on the NTT IndyCar Series grid. This came after a successful test with the team at Mid-Ohio, where Dale Coyne Racing team members were reportedly very impressed. He would return to the wheel, this time in his 2020-spec #55 Honda, for pre-season testing, only for his planned debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to be curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After months of waiting, Palou’s debut in the NTT IndyCar Series has arrived. However, it will now not take place in his relatively usual habitat of a road course or a street circuit. Instead, his debut will come at one of the fastest ovals on the IndyCar calendar; Texas Motor Speedway.
With a “crazy” rookie test at the Speedway back in March as his only oval experience heading into the weekend, Palou will have to make the most of just one practice session before qualifying and racing on the same day. To make things even more complicated, it will also be Palou’s first-ever night race. His fellow rookies – Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay – will also have the advantage of having raced on ovals before in the Indy Lights series.
“This weekend will be my NTT IndyCar Series debut, which has been a dream of mine. It will also be my first oval, first night race and it’s in Texas,” Palou said this week, “Everything to make it a difficult and challenging debut, but I’m looking forward to it.
“The team has had good cars there in the past so it’s going to be up to me to get up to speed and get comfortable with the car again after three months away. We have limited track time, so it won’t be easy for me and the other rookies, but we’ll try to make the best of it.
“I’ll be the only driver in the field that has never raced on an oval, in any type of car, but I’m ready for the challenge. It would be awesome for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh if we could come out with a good result as we finally get the season started.”
The season-opening race of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, will take place on Saturday, June 5. Practice and QUalifying will take place earlier on in the day, with the race taking place under the floodlights at night.