During the majority of Sunday’s Detroit Grand Prix, Alex Palou was at the head of the field. He started on pole, led 74 of the 100 laps, and took his first street course victory.
There was a moment in the middle of the race, however, when he lost the lead to Will Power on a restart. The position swap was not just a difference in tire compounds, Palou was having to quickly manage a problem of his own doing.
Just before he was released for the mid-race restart, the Spaniard attempted to shift gears while warming his tires aggressively. That action caused his car to halt all gear changes in order to prevent damage to the gearbox.
Palou had to scramble in the cockpit to get his Chip Ganassi Honda back into working condition, and he flipped on ‘emergency mode’ to free everything up just as he was accelerating down the long straight.
His quick thinking to re-enable his gearbox in time for the restart is what allowed him to lose only one position in the run down to the hairpin, even with the entire field bunched up behind him.
“It was because I was trying – I think, I haven’t spoken to the team yet – but I was trying to warm up the rear tires,” Palou explained. “I up-shifted into second when we were wheel-spinning.
“It got stuck in first. I got stuck. I couldn’t really shift. Before [the pit wall] told me, because I was already heading to turn two, I switched to emergency mode because that’s the only way to take all the issues out.
“It went well, but you lose a lot of performance up-shifting. That’s why Will [Power] got us, until exit of turn three I got it back to normal, then it was all right. It was not something from Honda or the team. It was a driver issue that we had, yeah.”
Palou further described that it was a pretty frantic few turns as he mentally ran through the checklist of things that could be wrong and hoped that the problem cleared up by changing modes.
“Well, that was really a panic mode because I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t know if it was going to work or not because if you get stuck in one gear, you’re done. That was a pretty busy moment.”
Palou was able to take the lead back from Power nine laps later, and stayed ahead of him through to the finish despite a couple late surges from the reigning series champion.
He now has a comfortable 51 point lead after round seven, nearly the total available at a single event.