By: Spencer Neff
April 18, 2021
On Sunday, 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES began today with a return to Barber Motorsports Park. After the 2020 race was canceled, this marked the first race on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course in Birmingham, Alabama since 2019, Here’s a rundown of the race day action.
Palou nabs First Win
Last year, Alex Palou joined the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after a stint in Japan’s Super Formula Series. Following a rookie season at Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, the Barcelona native joined Chip Ganassi Racing for 2021.
In the first race of the season, Palou started third and led 56 of 90 laps to win his first race in his 15th start. Previously, his best finish was third at the first Road America event last year. He also matched his career best start from the second Road America event in 2020.
Palou joins Oriol Servia, native of nearby Pals, Girona as the only Spaniards to win an IndyCar race. In winning his Chip Ganassi Racing debut, Palou joins Michael Andretti and Dan Wheldon as the only drivers to do so.
Behind Palou, Team Penske’s Will Power finished .4016 of a second behind, the closest finish in Barber Motorsports Park’ 11 races. Bookending the podium for CGR, Scott Dixon kicked off his bid for a seventh championship with a third-place finish.
Pole sitter Pato O’ Ward finished fourth for Arrow McLaren SP and A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais finished fifth. Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Romain Grosjean finished 10th in his debut, best among the 2021 rookie class.
On Lap 1, Josef Newgarden spun in Turn 4, initiating a multi-car incident that also collected Colton Herta, Rinus VeeKay, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Max Chilton and Felix Rosenqvist. VeeKay was able to continue but the other four were done for the day.
Following seven laps of caution, the race saw another brief green flag period as Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 15. While trouble continued behind him, O’Ward continued to lead. After starting on the alternate Firestone tires, O’Ward pitted early.
Later on in the first stint, Palou took the leads as he stretched his tires to Lap 31. Following O’Ward’s second stop on Lap 43, Palou kept the lead. After making contact with A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais in Turn 5, O’Ward was left frustrated as he maintained his pace.
At the front, Palou continued to excel on his two-stop strategy in contrast with a three-stop strategy utilized by the likes of O’Ward and Rossi.
While Power, Dixon and O’Ward made things interesting late in the race, Palou was able to hang on and win.
Rahal leads final warmup
Before taking the green flag for Sunday’s 90-lap race, the 24-car field took to the track for the traditional morning warmup. During the 30-minute session, Graham Rahal led the way. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver posted a best lap of 1m06.7319 (124.079 mph).
In second, Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Rookie Romain Grosjean made it a Honda 1-2, .1297 of a second behind Rahal. A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais was fastest among the Chevrolet-powered entries in third. The session was completed without incident as well.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES continues a busy start to 2021 next week with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. First practice will begin at 4:15 p.m. Eastern on Friday.
Stay with IndyCar1909 for the latest on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and beyond.
Header Image By Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR