Alexander Rossi had bounced back from a mediocre weekend at Road America to turn some of the fastest laps in the opening IndyCar practice at Mid-Ohio when he was asked how one week transfers to the next — good or bad.
“Just because you were good last weekend," Rossi replied, "doesn't mean you're going to be good this weekend."
Unless you're Alex Palou. Then you're good every weekend.
The 26-year-old Spaniard has won three of the past four races with the only outlier a fourth-place run in the Indianapolis 500, and he has yet to finish outside of the top 10 this season with two more top-five runs at Barber and Long Beach. The consistency coupled with the frequent trips to victory lane has Palou a whopping 74 points ahead of Marcus Ericsson in the standings.
Oh, and he's been on the podium his last two starts at Mid-Ohio with second- and third-place runs.
“I wouldn't say that it's dominant, honestly. I would say that the points that we have now look better than what our races have been,” said Palou, who hopes to deliver a second series title to Chip Ganassi Racing in the past three seasons before an expected move to Arrow McLaren — if not Formula One, where he recently tested for McLaren in Hungary.
“We are just able to maximize everything well. Others, they couldn't maximize everything,” Palou said. “It still counts. We still have that gap and all those points, which is great. But I don't think it's dominating. It's just maximizing.”
It helps that Palou has such good feelings around Mid-Ohio, the 2.258-mile layout near Lexington, Ohio, and not just because of his recent results. His first IndyCar test came on the course and it remains one of his favorites on the entire circuit.
“It’s a really short track and really tight. Like, you cannot really breathe a lot. But it’s amazing,” he said. “It just feels very, very nice, especially sector two, sector three areas. I don’t know. I like it. As I said, it’s extra special because it was my first test there, and we had good cars the last couple of years. Hopefully we can try and improve it a little bit more and get one step higher.”
Palou was second in the opening practice behind Pato O'Ward, who took the pole a year ago at Mid-Ohio and led 28 laps before his No. 5 car failed him. O'Ward wound up 24th in what was one of his biggest disappointments of the season.
“A good start here,” O'Ward said. “We made some good changes to the car and ended up practice in a really nice spot.”
Simon Pagenaud, meanwhile, is in a really difficult spot after a terrifying wreck in Saturday's early practice. The veteran driver radioed to his Meyer Shank Racing team that his brakes had failed, and Pagenaud catapulted through a corner and into a gravel trap, where he rolled seven times before coming to rest against a tire barrier.
The wreck was reminiscent of a similar crash 25 years ago involving Michael Andretti at Mid-Ohio.
Pagenaud was taken to the speedway care center, where he was checked and released. But according to IndyCar protocol, he would not be allowed back on the track Saturday, taking him out of qualifying later in the day. Pagenaud will be evaluated again on Sunday, and at that point, he could be cleared to race his backup car.
“You know,” Pagenaud said, “in the car for us, things don't go as quick as it does on TV. So we kind of slow down the image — it is incredible what the brain can do. And I can dissect every moment of it. You know, you go into survival mode, and I'm just so thankful because (the cars) are so safe. It's incredible.”
WELCOME HOME, KYLE
The cars from Andretti Autosport have been quick at Mid-Ohio, but when it comes to Kyle Kirkwood, that shouldn't be much of a surprise. He won eight straight races at the course over three years in IndyCar's feeder system before a fifth-place run to end his 2021 championship season in Indy Lights, which has now been rebranded as Indy NXT.
Kirkwood was 26th there a year ago for A.J. Foyt Racing, but expects to be in contention with Andretti on Sunday.
“I probably have twice the amount of time around this place than I do anywhere else,” Kirkwood said. “Just confidence level when you go out for the first couple laps, you’re not uncomfortable by any sense. That’s the main thing. That just makes the weekend go smoother. When you’re not on the back foot in the first session, everything can go smooth, you start nailing what you need right away instead of sorting out the driving portion and then figuring out what you need to do.”
WELCOME BACK, TK
Tony Kanaan, who drove for the final time in the Indy 500 in May, rejoined Arrow McLaren this week in a hybrid role in which he will help with testing, driver mentorship and even commercial and sponsorship obligations. Kanaan began working with the team last fall, when plans were put in place to drive a fourth entry for McLaren in the Indy 500.
“He's a huge asset for the organization, just being someone who obviously has recent experience in the car,” Rossi said. “It's just him as a team leader and someone who really understands how to make relationships and differing dynamics within motorsports work together. He's pretty much an expert at that.”