Franchitti explains how Palou came into Ganassi’s sights

Dario Franchitti (left) with Scott Dixon at Gasoline Alley where Franchitti met Alex Palou. Picture: Chris Jones

Four-time IndyCar Series winner Dario Franchitti has recounted his first interaction with Alex Palou which ultimately led to the Spaniard driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Palou, 24, made his IndyCar Series debut last year for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh.

It was at his first Indianapolis 500 that he caught the eye of Franchitti, who has been an advisor for Chip Ganassi Racing since retiring.

At the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Palou cracked the Fast Nine shootout where he would qualify seventh.

A crash would ultimately put paid to his Indianapolis 500 debut, although he had done enough to grab the attention of Franchitti and Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull.

“Really, it was Indy last year,” Franchitti recalled.

“I’d watched Alex in the early races, but at Indianapolis, it was the first race I’d been at in person last year.

“I watched what was going on, as I do in practice. I thought, ‘Okay, he’s pretty good’.

“I went up and said hello to Alex in the paddock. He was walking out of Gasoline Alley. I was walking in.

“[I said], ‘Great job, keep it up’. He said something like, ‘I hope one day I do a good enough job that I can drive for Chip Ganassi Racing’.

“I spoke to Mike Hull, I said, ‘This kid’s really, really good, man’.

He said, ‘I think so, too’.

“The next day Alex said something to Chip, introduced himself to Chip.

“When the opportunity came up for somebody to go in the [number] 10 car when Felix [Rosenqvist] decided to go to McLaren, it was like, ‘Oh, he’s our guy’.”

“Yeah, it was watching him at Indy, then watching what he did throughout the rest of the season that convinced me, but more importantly convinced Chip, Mike and the engineers.”

Josef Newgarden (left), Alex Palou (middle), and Marcus Ericsson (right). Picture: Joe Skibinski

Palou’s maiden season saw him claim a podium in just his third race, scoring third place at Road America.

In all, he would claim three top 10 finishes on his way to 16th in the drivers’ championship, finishing just behind rookie of the year Rinus VeeKay in 14th.

After Felix Rosneqvist’s departure to McLaren SP, Palou was drafted into an expanded Chip Ganassi Racing outfit alongside six-time series winner Scott Dixon, ex-Formula 1 driver Marcus Ericsson, and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series winner Jimmie Johnson.

In only his second season, Palou has only once lost the points lead since winning the opening race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park.

His nearest rival has been that of McLaren SP driver Pato O’Ward with Dixon not far behind in third.

Asked if a driver can be taught how to handle pressure, Franchitti replied, “No, honestly, you can’t teach that.

“You can help with experience and what works for you. I can help, Okay, for me this worked. You have to have that mental toughness. Alex has got it.

“We’ll see every race what we need to do going into it. We’ve already had discussions about championships, how you run for them. But he’s got the mental toughness.

“That’s step one. I’m not sure you can really teach that either.

“As Chip calls it: You’re either a Sunday driver or you’re not. I think with Alex we have a Sunday driver.”

Palou holds a 39-point advantage over O’Ward heading into the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix at the Nashville Street Circuit over August 6-8 (local time).

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