LONG BEACH, Calif. – Alex Palou cruised to his first IndyCar championship with an easy Sunday drive at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The 24-year-old became the first Spaniard to win the IndyCar championship and pulled it off in just his second season in the United States with a fourth-place finish on the temporary downtown street course that rolls along the Long Beach waterfront.
Colton Herta won the race – Long Beach is considered his home track – for his second consecutive win and third of the season. Josef Newgarden finished second and Scott Dixon, the six-time and reigning champion, finished third before turning the IndyCar crown over to his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate.
Palou's dream growing up outside of Barcelona was to someday make it to IndyCar and if he was lucky, maybe he could land a ride with Ganassi. He manifested both goals when, as an IndyCar rookie last year, he introduced himself to Ganassi during Palou's first Indianapolis 500 and parlayed it into a ride for this season.
Palou won the season opener, finished second in the Indy 500 and led the standings 12 of the 16 weeks. After climbing his way through the European ranks, Palou raced two years in Japan and hasn't won a title since competing in go-karts as a teenager in Spain.
Now Palou has joined Ganassi's elite “I like winners” club. The title was the 14th in American open-wheel racing for Ganassi among six drivers and came 25 years after Jimmy Vasser gave the organization its first championship.
Palou joins Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon as Ganassi open-wheel champions; he's the first Ganassi champion since Montoya in 1999 not named Franchitti or Dixon, who combined for nine titles from 2008 through last year.
Franchitti is now the Ganassi driver coach, and Palou is considered the best driver in the No. 10 as Dixon's teammate since a head injury forced Franchitti into an early 2013 retirement. Palou is the first Ganassi driver since Franchitti to beat Dixon in the season standings.
Palou held a 35-point lead over Pato O'Ward at the start of the race and needed only to finish 11th or better to clinch the title.
O'Ward was knocked out of the race 18 laps after it started, and Palou just had to make it to the finish line from there.
O'Ward was eliminated from title contention just 18 laps in when his drive shaft broke because of contact on the very first lap of the race.
O'Ward needed Palou to have a disastrous day to become IndyCar's first Mexican champion. The 22-year-old was frustrated all weekend, even though he had vowed to pull all the stops to disrupt the championship race.
O'Ward was spun from behind by Ed Jones just minutes into the race while running eighth.
“It's not the first time he's hit us,” O'Ward said. “I just wish he could use his head a little bit more, at least respect the guys that are fighting the championship.”
O'Ward won two races this year, his second full season in IndyCar, and earned an F1 test with McLaren scheduled for November.