Indianapolis, here I come!

Indianapolis, here I come!

Alex Palou ‘really excited’ ahead of series’ second round on Indy road course

– Alex, first of all, how are you? Are you excited about your first race in Indianapolis?

‘I’m really, really excited. It’s a shame that it’s a condensed schedule, so we only have about an hour of practice; but yeah, I’m just really excited. It’s gonna be our first road course race, so we are entering in our territory, not like the oval race, where we were just complete rookies. So next week I’ll be working on the simulator, then we will come back to Indianapolis to prepare as much as possible for the race and hopefully we are going to have a very good weekend’.

– I would like to have from you a general impression of the aeroscreen and its consequences… in terms of visibility and handling of the car, plus, of course, your personal point of view.

‘I have to say that the Aeroscreen is really good. I had driven a car with Halo before: I drove Super Formula with Halo and had a little bit of Formula 3 too, so I have some experience. Aeroscreen is really similar [to the Halo], you don’t feel the presence of the screen in front of you. All the teams and drivers were worried about the visibility during the night [in Texas], as well as with the lights on and when racing behind other cars, but I don’t think there was a single problem. We tested it a little bit in the rain before, and the rain was slipping away very quickly from the surface, so I think it’s really good, a good improvement for safety for sure. It was needed particularly in Indycar, where in ovals you can see a lot of crashes, a lot of debris going up in the air at the level of the head of the drivers; we unfortunately lost the life of some drivers with this kind of accidents. With the Aeroscreen, we are going to save some lives. So they did a really good job. Also, there are no issues with sunset: we were more worried about the heat. Because when we are driving we have an air duct behind the helmet, that conveys air from the outside, so when the car is moving no problem, because the drivers are getting some wind, but as soon as you stop you don’t get any air, so in the pitlane you can feel the heat. We need to get used to it. It’s similar to driving a GT car, some cars have AC but not here, you feel the sun that is beating hard on you when the car is in the pit’.

– Can you make a comparison between the last two Dallaras you have driven, the Super Formula and the Indycar?.

‘They are really different from one another. The Superformulas have a really low weight, much stronger aerodynamics, while the Indycar is the opposite, more weight and less aerodynamic. That’s basically because Indycar is built for oval safety. As soon as you go into the car you feel that the Superformula is very soft, I mean, from the outside if you press a piece with your hand, like any other Formula car, it feels like paper; and then if you go to the Indycar you feel it’s like really stiff, maybe instead of one layer of carbon fiber we have five and that’s why the total weight is much higher. To drive, it’s also different because we don’t have power steering, and that makes a huge difference, and then you have a lot of power in Indycars which is really nice for a driver, as soon as you go on throttle you feel immediately the power. You can feel a lot the car, and it’s moving all the time. It’s one of the reasons for the spectacular racing we had seen in Indycar. The fact that the cars are safer for the ovals means that in street circuits we can bump side against side, and the car won’t break. Even suspensions and wheels are solid’.

– Now a tale from the past: your view on the very peculiar journey from Super Formula to Indycar.

‘The Relationship with Team Goh started in late 2017, before the start of the season. I made a rookie test in Super Formula and they were really happy. I didn’t know them at the time, we started talking so we spent one year discussing our future plans and then they invited me to race with McLaren in the GT3 program in Japan. It was a good year, with new car we ended up scoring good results and we learned a lot. Team Goh had already a bit of past relationship with Dale Coyne, since twenty years before I think, so it was like the best time, the best people all together and a good opportunity for everybody, also for me. A lucky moment, I have to say. I think it’s going to be real fun, for Team Goh and for me, because we know each other and we had already lived a year together in Japan so we hope that we can have success again in the US’.

– You were at the Genesys 300, and the race had no fans: how does it feel from the paddock?

‘It feels very strange. The first time I went into the track there was nobody. There were fewer people even that there are at a test, normally it used to be a day with a lot of people, maybe one thousand people looking on from the grandstand, and then you arrive to your first Indycar race on an oval where normally the fans are one hundred meters away and there was nobody… The space was really big and if there’s nobody it feels even bigger. Of course it is what we had to do. I felt bad because the fans are one of the best things in racing, they bring a lot of energy, as soon as you get a lot of support from them it’s really nice and you can see how happy they are to meet you. It’s good that we could have some fans soon, in July already, maybe not the full crowd in the beginning, but hopefully before the end of the year we could start to have all the fans again together’.

– Do you feel the sense of friendship that sometimes we read about on the media? Have you already started to connect more frequently with other Indycar drivers?

‘It’s a true story. I had also heard that before. I had the privilege of racing in Europe, then in Japan e finally in the US. Going here from racing in Europe is a big shock because the drivers here are all together, we speak a lot, we have like an Instagram group and other social rooms where we talk. For me it all started when we talked a lot about iRacing, during the lockdown, everybody was talking about good things and bad things as well. In Europe you don’t see these things, here in the US all the drivers are really open and friendly. Of course, that doesn’t mean that when I am on track I can’t try to overtake and ‘kill’ them. I really like this situation and for example in Texas, after qualifying, some of the guys came to me and said ‘you’ve done a really good job for your first time’. In Europe, that never happens. If you do a good job nobody will notice it. So now it’s a nice atmosphere’.

– In your opinion, why are some drivers not keen to race on ovals, given the fact that they chose to compete in motorsports anyway, that is dangerous by definition?

‘They are scared about walls. I was always telling my teammates that I will do Indycar races, and everybody was like ‘oh, that is very dangerous’. Well, I see the difference between road courses and ovals, the risk is much higher, very much, and as soon as you jump into the car you feel very scared. I was really scared on qualifying, and I was scared during my first 20 laps into the race. I’ve never had the same feeling before, not even at Monza or Barcelona with their straightline speeds. You feel the adrenaline, the emotions, but you’re never scared. At the same time, though, I felt comfortable with being scared. I had always wanted to do this type of racing and I think the only thing you have to accept is that you have to respect the ovals, I show respect and that’s part of the job. I enjoyed the race after the initial scare so that’s why maybe now I don’t see the same risk as others do’.

– Do you have an idol in motorsports? And if so, who and why?

‘I had an idol, it was Michael Schumacher when he was at Ferrari. When I was young I used to watch all the races and cheer for Michael with my dad. Now I haven’t an idol, even if I do follow some drivers more than others, like Hamilton, who is… a beast!. But not as much as Michael for me. Maybe my hero is going to be my dad, inside and outside motorsport. It’s a huge inspiration for me, for everything. I know some history of Indycar, maybe not as much as I would like. I started watching Indycar maybe six years ago, and now I’m racing the same drivers that were there at the time, like Power, Pagenaud, Dixon: it’s quite nice to stay there with them, considering that some years ago I could only dream to do that. I think I have to learn as much as possible from them. When I was then years older I didn’t know about Indycar, I only knew about Formula 1 and karting and never thought about anything else. Growing up, I trained myself to watch also beyond F1, and I think after that championship the most important one is Indycar for sure’.

– And finally, Lewis Hamilton has taken a very hard line against racism. Any words from you on this issue?

‘It’s been quite bad. I had a firsthand experience here in US, I could see a lot of activities, the protests, and I could see on TV that they were like ten kilometers away from where I live. I can’t be with people mistreating the others because of the color of their skin. It’s unfortunate, I think as a humanity and community we have to take more actions, to make things much better. Some people say that this fight started a lot of years ago and now we need to put an end to all this. We have to realize that we are all the same, girls, boys, white, black. We need to understand that now it’s 2020 already, we need to grow up. I hope that this thing can end quickly because we correct our behavior, and not just because we forget. I don’t want to see that, maybe in two months from now, everybody has forgotten about this’.

Courtesy of Samuele Prosino/