DETROIT (AP) — Alex Palou went from critic to champion in a day.
He started and finished first in the Detroit Grand Prix on Sunday, roughly 24 hours after the IndyCar points leader said the street course was too tight and short for the series.
“It was a lot better than I expected,” said Palou, who won his second race in less than a month and the sixth of his caeer.
The Spaniard, who won the Indianapolis Grand Prix, led 74 of 100 laps on Detroit’s new street circuit and went ahead for the last time on lap 77. He stayed in front after Will Power made a move that didn’t pan out as he made contact with Scott Dixon on lap 91.
“I couldn’t get him,” said Dixon, a Team Penske driver. “I tried everything. My one chance was when Dixon got into me.”
After a seventh yellow flag, Palou pulled away in his Honda with five laps left and beat Power’s Chevrolet by 1.1843 seconds. Flex Rosenqvist finished third, followed by Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.
Indianapolis 500 champion Josef Newgarden finished 10th in the 27-car field.
The race got off to a rough start.
It was waved off because there wasn’t enough space between cars. When the race resumed on the second lap going into Turn 3, Callum Ilott damaged Kyle Kirkwood’s wing by running into him in the middle of the pack.
Palou said his plan was to stay in front with clean air ahead of the chaos as much as possible.
It worked out well.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the race from the start until pitting on lap 29 and allowing Power to pull into the lead.
When Power pulled into the split pit five laps later, Pato O’Ward had a lead that didn’t last long. Just after leaving a pit stop, his Honda stalled due to a mechanical issue and his Chip Ganassi Racing crew had to push him back to address the problem.
Trying to make up ground, O’Ward made an aggressive move to get inside Santino Ferrucci and ran into a barrier wall ending his day 41 laps into the 100-lap race.
Palou, meanwhile, was fast and steady enough to lead the race for most of the afternoon.
While he complained about the short, tight and bumpy circuit, fans seemed to enjoy the day above the fray and some watched for free. More than half of the race track was accessible without an admission charge and some had a view from boats and jet skis on the Detroit River that separates the U.S. from Canada.
The Detroit Grand Prix returned downtown for the first time since 1991, when it was held on a 2.5-mile course in the same area, after running up the river at Belle Isle.
“Detroit did a tremendous job,” Palou said. “The fans were amazing.”
Flavor Flav, a founding member of Public Enemy, was at the track during the weekend and Power’s friends were impressed by his photos with the hip hop artist.
“It’s pretty cool to put on your personal Facebook,” Power said.
Palou has won two of the last three races and two straight poles.
“We’ll try and keep the wave rolling if we can,” he said coming off the first IndyCar street course victory of his career. “It’s a great moment for us.”
Romain Grosjean, an Andretti Autosport driver, started third and finished 24th in Detroit and lamented a suspension failure in a Twitter post.
“Guess the track wasn’t made for our car,” he wrote in the post.
Grosjean finished 30th the previous week in Indianapolis.
Coming off the Indy 500 and Detroit Grand Prix in consecutive weeks, the series gives its drivers and teams a much-needed break before racing June 18 in Wisconsin at Road America.
By Larry Lage.