Alex Palau Has Been Gearing As much as Take Over the IndyCar Circuit

Alex Palou may be a superstar to those in the motorsports know, but he may well be the most dominant athlete the rest of the sports world has yet to recognize.

By winning his second IndyCar championship last season, the 26-year-old Spaniard achieved what a handful of elite athletes have accomplished at that young age. Putting his motorsports milestone into perspective, Lebron James didn’t win his first NBA title till the age of 27. At that same age, Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo in 2015 to win his first UFC featherweight crown.

Then there was Tom Brady, who at age 26 won his second Super Bowl—the second of seven rings.

Palou, however, has no concerns about securing GOAT-level status at this point of his career. His goal at the moment is to continue grinding and racing his way to his next title. The quest for . 3 begins March 10 when the 2024 IndyCar season kicks off with the Firestone Grand Prix. With championships comes both opportunity and challenges, and judging by his record and race training regimen, there’s no reason to question whether he’s up to both tasks.

“At the end of the day, being a champion only lasts from September to February,” Palou says. “Once we’re on the track again, I’m last year’s champion.

The entire IndyCar field is looking to knock Palou off the podium in 2024. At the same time, he and Ganassi Racing recently unveiled its new sponsor, DHL, and the team’s new-look . 10 Honda.

Palou and a host of other IndyCar superstars will also be followed by camera crews and the CW prepares for its second season of  100 Days to Indy. And with all the racing attention zeroed in on Palou this season, he’s quickly finding out that navigating a car at 230 mph may feel like a joyride compared with regularly keeping pace with his daughter Lucia, born this past December.

“I had no idea about anything about babies or how to how to be a dad or how to just take care of small human, but I knew how to race to be a champion,” he says. “I knew how to put everything together during race weekends and be the best by the end of the year. Being a day looked simple from the outside, but it’s really tough.”

With each win and accolade, the young driver is making IndyCar—and fatherhood— look simple, yet Palou wasn’t anointed with auto racing greatness. His rise to racing’s echelon began with plenty of struggles and doubts while traveling through the lower circuits. He met uncertainty with increased work on improving his race game.

“You need to keep on, on being flexible on adapting on working and finding new ways to go fast,” Palou says, “because I know if I do the same as I’ve done in 2023, the results won’t be the same. People evolve, and setups are completely different. So I need to keep on working on every single aspect of driving.”

Alex Palou Worked His Way From Uncertainty to Unmatched

Palou earned last season’s IndyCar title in dominating fashion, becoming the first driver since 2007 (Sebastien Bourdais) to clinch an IndyCar championship before the season finale.

In 17 races, the Spaniard won five, along with 13 top-five finishes and 10 podiums. Palou’s excellence allowed the celebration process to be a little more enjoyable the second time around. “It’s actually more exciting, just because you knew what to expect and weren’t left wondering what could happen,” he explains. “You knew how the championship worked and how the battle at the end would go. So you get to enjoy the process a bit more.”

Palou road to racing’s elite began at the age of 5 in Spain when he got behind the wheel of a go-kart. He didn’t come from a racing family background—and wasn’t really considered a racing prodigy growing up.   Instead he worked his way through the lower-tier circuits as a teenager, at time in which his talent was overshadowed by countless missteps and mistakes. This was particularly true during his stint in the GP3 League in 2014 and 2015. Alex Palou admits to struggling—with bad starts, costly race mistakes dominating his early motorsports moments, which made moving up in the racing ranks more a question mark than conclusion.

“There’s always doubt when you’re doing a sport and the results are not coming,” Palou says. “But at the end, you always trust yourself and have that confidence that you know how to make it happen. Maybe you weren’t 100% for some reason, or you needed a different environment or opportunity, but you always need to trust yourself.”

Despite the frustration and doubts, Alex Palou dug deeper, and stuck to his regimen of more work, more driving and more focus on improving mentally and physically.

That opportunity presented itself over time—bouncing from Japan to Europe until he got a break, testing an IndyCar in 2019 and getting his break on the IndyCar Series when he signed with Dale Coyne Racing.  A year later he was signed by Ganassi racing and  has enjoyed success since.

“I just changed the work the amount of work in technically, mentally and physically,” he says. “That’s the only thing you can do us as a racecar driver. It’s not like I went to this amazing gym and started doing something different. It was just not giving up and believing that the work would take us where we wanted to be. Without those tough moments, I wouldn’t be as strong mentally as I am now.”

Ganassi Racing

Alex Palou Maintains a Motorsports Mentality 

When he’s not constantly racing after his daughter at home, Palou normally uses his remaining down time for—no surprise—working on enhancing his already top-level race performance, whether in the gym with his trainer Scott Salcedo, or fine tuning his track performance on a race simulator. Like NBA superstar Steph Curry’s legendary post-practice shot-draining routine, repetition behind the wheel makes all the difference, even if it sounds mundane to the non-motorports fan. “I’m a boring person,” Palou admits.

It’s not to say Palou tried diversifying his sports skills—his ceremonial first pitch at a minor league baseball game was a strike. But for how talented he’s become on the track—he’s recorded nine wins in a little over four IndyCar seasons, by his own admission, his athletic dominance doesn’t always cross over to any other athletic endeavors. “I’m really bad at other sports. I tried to do some pickleball last year, and I was really bad at that as well.”

Palou toyed with the idea of adding swimming to his training regimen during the race season, then we gave it a try during the offseason, he quickly found water exercise more challenging than relaxing. “I’m done with swimming,” he admits. “I thought it would be a lot easier and enjoyable—sort of like running, but in a pool. But you can’t slow down, otherwise you sink.”

His short-lived swimming obsession is one of the reasons why Palou stays as consistent with his in-season training regimen. Any unsuccessful experimentation he says, can have a negative mental effect on his performance.

“Once I have my routine and prepare for the races leading up to the weekend, I don’t want to change that normal session for something that I don’t whether I’ll feel good or not. The workouts prepare me physically and mentally.”

For that reason, Alex Palou and company keep the workout routines pretty regimented. After his 6 a.m. coffee, he and Salcedo hook up for about 90 minutes of training, doing what he calls a “hybrid CrossFit” workout that emphasizes race-specific goals. Palou explains the workouts as prioritizing neck, shoulders, and lower back, the muscles most affected by the sitting in the car for 500 miles. This has Palou performing loads of pullups, shoulder presses, and sled pulls to maintain strength in those muscles to keep him strong for the entire race stretch.

With the addition of some cardio, including some sprint work, Palou says the process has helped keep him strong and healthy. In the spring, viewers will get a chance to see some of his performance, as the second season of 100 Days to Indy begins. While he thinks the exposure is a great thing for the league, sometimes the soft-spoken champion admits to being a little reluctant to show his hand, especially with the cameras rolling.

“It’s fun to show what we do but at the same time you want to be showing how you prepare properly yourself,” Alex Palou says. “Especially, like, training stuff. You don’t want any driver to get an idea of, ‘Oh, Alex is doing this. Maybe we should do this type of neck training [laughs].”

Learning to Train for Greatness w and the Long Term

Last or near the bottom of Palou’s priority list is any comparison to other individual athletes. Despite his name being twice engraved on the sport’s iconic Astor Cup, racing is a total team effort for Palou and Team Ganassi.

It begins with the pit crew—responsible for fueling and replacing tires in under eight seconds—who fuel and replace tires in under 8 seconds—along with the mechanics and engineers maintaining the . 10 DHL Honda week after week, as well as crew chief Ricky Davis, the eyes and ears who helps navigate Palou every race, and one of the  main reason Palou has been able to reach the podium an incredible 24 out of 50 career IndyCar races.

“They make all those decisions,” Palou says, “and as a driver you then try and put the car in the best possible position. They do a lot of work that so many people don’t know that they are doing.

Despite sharing the credit, it’s Palou who gets the public praise and criticism, part of the reason why the mental wear and tear sometimes is more draining than any physical injuries he’s battled through at this point of his career. “Mentally, you feel drained from being on track and the tension that comes from having to get results. Once the season’s over, I like to relax a little bit.”

With the exception of some end-of-season posterior muscle aches—mainly in the neck, shoulders, and lower back—Palou shies away from much recovery work. He says he’ll normally incorporate some massage therapy during a long stretch during the season.

Although some thoughts of invincibility at his young age, Palou is now discovering the need to start thinking of his future. Toward the end of last season, as he wrapped up his second title, Palou connected with a longevity legend, surf icon Laird Hamilton. The two hit it off, with Palou admitting to being captivated about what it’s going to take to keep racking up racing titles—whether it be IndyCar or Formula 1—in his 30s, 40s, even 50s.

“He told me a lot about longevity,” Palou recalls. “He was like, you might not have any issues now and it’s easy because you’re 26, but the key here is to keep performing when you’re 40. It was one of those amazing conversations that afterward you feel so excited and want to go do stuff.”

For Alex Palou, Longevity May Also Be a Team Effort

Palou and Hamilton continue their correspondence, and Palou hopes to one day get to train with the Laird Superfood founder, communicate often and may get to train together in the future, as well as advice about nutrition. “He was teaching me to begin adding mor fats to my diet for mental stability and focus.”

Hamilton isn’t the only longevity expert Palou can turn to for advice. At age 43, Palou’s Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon is the ultimate example of keeping a winning mindset past 40. The 2008 Indy 500 winner is a six-time IndyCar series champion and second the all-time wins list (56). The teammates, with a nearly 20-year age difference (Dixon turns 44 in July), are set to race this June at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Scott’s one of the best if not the best IndyCar driver that we ever had in IndyCar,” he says.  “Knowing that he’s your teammate, it’s really rewarding because of how much I can learn from him and how much I can rely on him. When I have doubt and or when they need something. But at the same time is is a headache because I know he has the best team around as well that he will have the same tools as I do and that he has a little bit more experience. It’s tough, but it’s really fun.”

Dixon also finished runner-up in the IndyCar standings to Palou, which creates a somewhat friendlier challenge for Palou in order to keep his IndyCar reign for another season.

“I was last year’s champion, not this year’s,” Alex Palou says. “So I need to be on my game again. Once your career is over yet they may say you’ve won two, three, four championships. But when you’re competing, you always want to be called the reigning champion.”

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