Dale Coyne says he’s expecting Alex Palou to shine at Chip Ganassi Racing, especially when IndyCar reverts to a more normal race weekend schedule, allowing more track time.
This year’s batch of NTT IndyCar Series rookies – Palou, Rinus VeeKay, Oliver Askew and Dalton Kellett – suffered greatly from the knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, with not only zero in-season testing, but also reduced amount of track time allowed on any given race weekend.
This was almost entirely due to the series trying to compress most events into two days, in order to 1) minimize team members’ potential exposure to the virus , 2) reduce the teams’ travel (hotel) costs in what was a financially difficult year for all and 3) reduce the promoters’ losses at events where crowd numbers had been heavily restricted.
Despite this, Palou (Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh-Honda), VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet) and Askew (Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet all scored podium finishes.
Now Palou has moved on to Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s four-car line-up for 2021, Coyne says the 23-year-old Spaniard will be missed at DCR.
“Alex did a good job for us in what was a tough year for rookies,” Coyne told Motorsport.com. “He was very impressive considering how reduced the track time was.
“So going back to the usual three-day weekends and getting more test time will be good for him, accelerate his learning.” As well as his third place finish at Road America, in only his third IndyCar start and his second on a road course, Palou also qualified five times in the top eight.
“Yeah, he’s already capable of putting down a fast lap, that’s for sure,” said Coyne, “but I saw that in his first test with us at Mid-Ohio in July last year. “No problems with his speed.
“Now I think there’s more things he needs to work on in his racecraft, things we could have worked on in testing in a normal year. In-laps on worn out tires and low fuel, out-laps on cold tires and heavy fuel load – stuff that kind of comes automatically to the really experienced guys.
“But that comes down to comfort and confidence which you only get with experience.
“That’s the other thing – these tight schedules meant you didn’t want drivers tearing up cars because the next session might be just a few hours later, especially on the double-header weekends. So in that situation, a rookie especially is going to give himself a bit of a margin.”
Asked if he expects to see Palou flourish at Ganassi, Coyne replied: “He will be strong at Ganassi, oh yeah. If him and [six-time IndyCar champion] Scott Dixon drive similar cars, want the same things from the setup, that will be a big help.
“And for us, his feedback was real good, too, considering he didn’t really know what he could or couldn’t ask for because he had nothing to compare it with. Now with a season under his belt, he understands the car and he’s only going to get better.”
Coyne said that Palou’s driving style was, helpfully, much closer to incumbent teammate Santino Ferrucci’s style than that of the driver he replaced at DCR, Sebastien Bourdais.
“Yeah, Sebastien is very like [James] Hinchcliffe and [Simon] Pagenaud in liking the car to have a very solid rear end, and that’s hard to achieve with this aerokit. Very hard. Santino and Alex like their cars on the looser side.”
That said, Coyne remains a fan of Bourdais. While the four-time Champ Car title winner has spent the majority of his 2020 season racing for JDC-Miller Motorsports in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, he was also a part-timer in the #14 A.J. Foyt Racing-Chevrolet and in September it was confirmed that would become his full-time ride in 2021. Bourdais then delivered a fourth-place finish at St. Petersburg, the 2020 season finale.
“He’ll really help Foyt,” said Coyne of the driver that delivered him two wins, three other podium finishes and a pole position in their three seasons together. “He’s a high-quality driver, still fast and with the experience to know what he wants from a car.
“He’ll set up the car for them and that’s probably what they need, to give them some direction. Yeah, I think you’ll see them move forward next year.”
Coyne currently has no drivers confirmed for 2021 – “We’ve talked to everyone, here and in Europe!” – but he’s hoping Ferrucci can provide continuity by staying on for a third year.
“I still think what Santino does on ovals is impressive,” said Coyne. “His starts and restarts are [Tony] Kanaan-like – very confident on cold tires. And he’s decent on road courses, doesn’t make mistakes. The crash at St. Pete when he got hung out there on the marbles… that was pretty rare.
“So yes, I think we should be able to come to an agreement again. I hope so.”
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