Palou Tops Opening Practice For Harvest GP

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Alex Palou was fastest during NTT IndyCar Series practice Thursday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. (IndyCar Photo)
Alex Palou has joined Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season. (IndyCar Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Rookie Alex Palou was the fastest driver in Thursday afternoon’s opening practice session for Friday’s first race of the IndyCar Harvest GP presented by GMR.

Palou drove the No. 55 Dale Coyne Racing Team GOH Honda to a fast time of 1:10.177 around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for a speed at 125.117 mph.

Jack Harvey’s No. 60 Auto Nation/Sirius XM Honda was second at 1:10.2773 (124.939 mph) followed by Colton Herta’s No. 88 Honda at 1:10.3857 (124.747 mph). Scott Dixon, who holds a 72-point lead in the NTT IndyCar Series standings, was fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 1:10.4328 (124.664 mph) and Max Chilton’s No. 59 Chevrolet rounded out the top-five at 1:10.4636 (214.609 mph).

Josef Newgarden, second in the standings, was sixth in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:10.5307 (124.490 mph).

“It’s a really important weekend for us at Indianapolis,” Newgarden said. “We’re running second in championship points and have some ground to make up to Scott (Dixon), so every point is really going to count. With this being a doubleheader weekend, the pressure is on to perform at our best in the Hitachi Chevy and really maximize the points that we get.

“With two opportunities to race this weekend, we still feel we have a good shot at the title since my entire team has been working so hard and have a really great plan put together. Execution will be key, especially since doubleheader weekends can be so intense and anything could happen. As a sport, we are probably most excited to have fans there this weekend. That’s going to be great, so we want to put on a good show and give them a good battle up until the end.”

Dixon can wrap up the championship if he leaves Saturday’s second race with a 54-point lead over Newgarden.

“I’m approaching this the same as every weekend, and that is to try to win,” Dixon said. “We should have come out with more points at Mid-Ohio, but that wasn’t the case. You can’t rely on the points. You have to keep after it.

“The ambient conditions are different than in July, but the basics are the same. It’s going to be fun. A lot of interesting changes. Even though it’s the same track, it’s going to be different.”

Dixon is attempting to win his sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship. The only driver with more is A.J. Foyt with seven. Both Dixon and Foyt won their 50th race when they were 40 years old.

The only incident in the practice worth note was Marcus Ericsson’s spin coming out of last turn of the road course, slides across grass and onto the oval for a Red Flag, ending his session with just a few minutes remaining.

NTT IndyCar Series qualifications are set for 6:20 p.m. E.T. Thursday. They are two 12-minute sessions, split by group. Friday’s race is scheduled for 3:20 p.m. ET and will be 85 laps/207.35 miles on the USA Network. Saturday’s race is 75 laps/182.925 miles and will be televised on NBC.

Dixon leads the NTT IndyCar Series championship with three races to go for the third time since 2008. He also led the championship with three to go when he won the title in 2008 and ’18. Dixon has led the championship after every round this season. Since 2008, the driver who has led the championship with three races to go has won the championship seven times –Dixon in 2008 and ’18, Dario Franchitti in ’11, Will Power in ’14, Simon Pagenaud in ’16, and Josef Newgarden in ’17 and ’19.

The IndyCar Harvest GP will be the second and third NTT IndyCar Series races conducted on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course this year and the eighth and ninth races, overall. Dixon, Pagenaud and Power are the only drivers to win on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Pagenaud won the inaugural race in 2014, ’16 and ’19, Power won the race in 2015, ’17 and ’18. Dixon won the GMR Grand Prix earlier this season.