Dre’s Race Review: IndyCar’s 2024 Sonsio Grand Prix

Alex Palou finally takes an official win as he, Will Power and Christian Lundgaard do battle on IndyCar’s iconic road course. Dre on that and the series’ marketing.

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 10 mins

“Ha, you forgot about Alex Palou didn’t you?”

Sorry it was a day late on this one, but in the second half of a loaded Motorsport weekend (Thank God I don’t review Sportscars or Formula E for the most part anymore. Seriously I’ve just about had it with the Electric series and its insistence on something resembling Cycling’s Peloton racing is fun to watch. It isn’t. When the stars of the show, the drivers – constantly tell the media they don’t want to race this way then why should I watch it behind a £30 a month paywall?)

Wait, sorry, I forgot, you’re here for an IndyCar review. Yes, it’s time to get the Month of May started. And for those who listen to the Motorsport101 Podcast, I said after Barber that the Road Course GP was the round last year that galvanised Alex Palou’s title campaign and it would be fascinating to see if he did the same again in 2024. Well, guess what just happened?

In a similar vein to the MotoGP race the following afternoon, this race’s story was told via its three main protagonists at the front of the field – Alex Palou, Will Power and Christian Lundgaard.

On paper, Alex Palou has had a quiet season. I think that’s a part of his character. Besides his contract shenanigans of the last two years, he largely keeps himself to himself. Always smiling, endlessly positive, even when he’s not had the best of days, never the sort of person who chases the spotlight. His only real big moment in 2024 until Saturday night was his win at The Thermal Club, a brand activation with an IndyCar race attached to it. 

But that’s the most dangerous thing about Palou – After this win at Indianapolis, Palou now has 152 points, 25 MORE than he had after the first four races last year when he’d go on to break the field over his knee as Bane did to Batman. 

It was pretty clear from the early going for the Indy GP race that three men had the speed to win, Palou, Power and Lundgaard. And for a little while, it didn’t look like it was going to be Alex’s day. He was beaten off the Lap 1 start by Lundgaard who led the early going. Lundgaard led 36 laps of this race before both he and chasing man Will Power were caught out by yet another genius overcut by Palou. I’ve mentioned it before on his blog, but Palou’s driving to a strategy in full flight has to be seen to be believed. His over/undercuts are outrageous, and to make up three seconds on Power and Lundgaard to take control at the front was incredible.

After that, the race was already over. Power and Lundgaard had no answer on pace alone as Palou picked off the lapped traffic, and even with a late caution restart due to Luca Ghiotto spinning out gave Power one last chance to take the lead, Palou defended it and then ripped off a six-second gap in the final 17 laps. 

It was Palou’s 10th IndyCar win (Shocking he’s had so few when you read it out loud) in just five seasons in the series, and another example of watching his greatness in real-time. The 500 awaits, and you have to wonder if it’ll be this year when he finally gets that elusive face on the Borg-Werner. He’s the bookies favourite at 4/1 for good reason. But for now, it galvanises what’s been a quiet, yet steely, consistently brilliant title defence. Remember, Palou hasn’t dropped out of the Top 5 in a race so far this season. 

But this race also did a brilliant job of laying out the seasons so far for its other two protagonists. Make no mistake, Will Power is back. After a subpar 2023 campaign where his mind was busy rightly focusing on his wife Liz nearly dying of complications from a staph infection, Power has adopted Mark Martin’s NASCAR career and turned finishing second into a habit. Three times already in 2024 Power has finished there this season, as well as twice in Qualifying. 

Power has returned to that Zenmaster-like state he had in 2022 where the ultimate pace might not quite be there, but consistency and not making mistakes have led to him being right in the title picture. Despite Palou’s outstanding start, Power is right there just 12 points back. The man who turned 43 back in March is driving like the Penske talisman he’s always been, which is more than can be said for his higher-profile peers battling questionable pace, and the court of public opinion. 

And then there’s Christian Lundgaard, who at this point must be wondering what he did to piss off The Racing Gods as he just can’t win at Indianapolis despite being a constant threat to win there year-on-year. Since debuting in the series in 2021, his finishes at Indy’s Road Course are 12th, 9th, 2nd, 4th, 4th and 3rd. Christian once again, didn’t do much wrong on this one. He showed excellent pace, and made the key pass on Palou early, but was always facing a low percentage chance on the overcut when he was put on the black tyre, and then lost second to Power on pitlane. 

It sums up a pretty wretched year of luck for the Dane, who is suffering via the actions of others. Hurt by Palou in St Pete, an unsafe release at Long Beach, lost a pit battle to Power at Barber and then stuck on the awful black tyre for the final stint, and now his stomping ground race didn’t come through again. Lundgaard should be in title contention. Instead, he’s ninth and 68 points off the top. And with the ovals still to come, a comeback looks slim. 

Lundgaard is a borderline Top 5 road and street course driver in the series now, and at this point, he needs a better seat to accommodate his talent, which he has in spades. The problem is, there’s little room at the inn. Penske isn’t going to run four cars and have their elite lineup likely locked in with Power too good to drop. Ganassi has the two best drivers in the series, Armstrong and Lundqvist are awesome younger investments too and Kyffin Simpson is paying for his ride. Andretti and McLaren feel like equally messy sidesteps. I hope a door opens for him somewhere, because, at this point, Lundgaard deserves better. 

This header may surprise you. Many people in and around IndyCar have often said that the series has a marketing problem, the classic “tree falls in the forest” problem. Everyone who watches the series knows how good it can be in terms of the on-track product. I’d agree, it’s the best in the world. But less than a million people watch the average race outside of the Indy 500. So it’s easy to say: “Hey the series can’t market itself because if it did it’d be kerb-stomping F1 and NASCAR”, when it’s not. And no, you can’t water down the impact of TV ratings as much as many will try – It’s where the money comes from. 

This weekend they made me realise that this series doesn’t have a marketing problem. I’d go as far as to say they have all the tools to make genuine gains on their competitors. I think the series has a storytelling problem. 

What triggered this way of thinking for me? Another bout of Santino Ferrucci. He decided to take his NASCAR training to Indy’s Road Course this past weekend as he ran close to Grosjean in the warm-up, prompting Santino to give him the finger. He took it one step further in the race by running Grosjean off into the grass in the early going, which Ferucci faced no punishment for (More on that later). During the weekend, Ferrucci got multiple interviews, cutting a full Wrestling-esque heel promo on Grosjean saying: “This isn’t Formula 1”, from famous 0-time F1 race starter, Santino Ferrucci. Kevin Lee even added: “Let’s add some hate”. 

I get it. You want an easy villain. You tried it with Josef Newgarden a fortnight ago, taking the brunt of the Penske cheating scandal (Did you see Marshall Pruett’s Mailbag? Yeesh), while Scott McLaughlin made his statement and dipped. But I stress again, is this the guy you want to promote to the moon? The guy who has alleged racism accusations, who tried putting pro-Trump slogans on his car, and who was booted out of F2 because he was mediocre and couldn’t pay his bills? He’s had one significant weekend in half a decade in the series and it comes off like desperation because the production truck so badly wants him to be a star when the results just don’t back that up. 

And it made me think about IndyCar’s bigger-picture promotion and I think they’re attacking the wrong areas. IndyCar tried promoting a little bit during the race about Ferrucci getting married in the off-season, a good move for the youngsters to get behind a driver, but then they dropped it after it got backlash on social media. Blergh. 

Do you know what IndyCar’s best content is across its race broadcasts and socials? Java with James is the interview series with James Hinchcliffe where he sits down with a driver weekly and grabs a coffee. It’s that simple. James is a brilliant broadcaster, and he does a great job of humanising the roster from the relatable perspective of being a former driver himself. 

His sit down with Alex Palou and his experience running a Coffee shop in Japan where he got his big break in Super Formula while he tries to make a coffee that James would actually like, is warm and endearing. It’s not on the broadcast though, it’s on their YouTube channel and it barely averages 5,000 views. It’s a waste of content that I think should be on their pre-shows. 

I say its a waste because of their arch-rivals in F1 got the formula right. Say what you will about Liberty Media, the one thing they’ve clocked is that the drivers are the stars. It’s not the Bernie days where the format was deemed to be the star. It’s the human stories that people will always gravitate to most. Liberty put that in a neat reality TV package and fired it into Netflix where a bunch of people who know OF F1 but don’t KNOW F1 fell in love with it. IndyCar’s tried to do that with 100 Days to Indy but it’s behind the 8-ball. Season 1 being on Netflix a year after release is a non-starter. 

The show itself being on The CW helps no one, and its 0.0 ratings reflect that. You need to be ripping full segments from the show and putting them on your pre-show for the race where you have the most possible eyes on you. Liz Power’s struggles with her health were the best episode of Season 1 and it would have instantly made Power’s 2023 mental struggles a lot more understanding but you had to go out of your way to find that out. It’s sad that that brilliant episode probably only has a couple hundred thousand people who have seen it, at most. 

Aim for 60-minute pre-shows. Watching the Indy GP’s 30-minute pre-show felt like it was one big advert for the 500 in two weeks. Some races not getting a pre-show at all is criminal and does no one any favours. The series doesn’t understand that the 500 sells itself. It’s had 110 years of prestige, valour and reputation to make it the event it is today. It gets five times the ratings of the usual race for good reason. You need to strengthen your backbone and get people to watch the other 16 races you have on the year because those are the people that will keep you afloat in the long run. 

It’s frustrating seeing a series you like and want to do well be so disjointed in terms of getting itself out there. It has all the tools you need. A TV deal (For now), a good social media team that doesn’t get the shine it should, and a reality TV show that while can be great, often isn’t sure if it wants to promote the racing more, or the people behind it, as it focuses on a race that doesn’t need the extra help. 

Push for the extra TV time, get your stories told where the people are guaranteed to watch before you try and venture into new markets, and don’t worry about the five million who will always watch the 500, worry about everything else that comes with it. 

And I love Leigh Diffey, one of the best and most versatile commentators in the world today, but he and Townsend have to chill on the nicknames and clinging onto them. It’s lazy. “The Professor of Precision” is cringe for Alex Palou, as is constantly bringing up the Fried Chicken from over two years ago when he won his first title. It seems more like a bit than genuinely endearing. Pato O’Ward is a racing driver, they ALL have fast hands! If they didn’t, they’d be making pottery instead of driving cars!

I have to be that guy again but, the stewarding. Marcus Ericsson punts his teammate Colton Herta into the gravel and is told to drop 5 positions, but Santino Ferrucci does the same to Romain Grosjean and faces no punishment. Decisions like this are why people are adamant Ferrucci gets special treatment. Poor form from the steward’s office again. 

PS: Jack Harvey should have been parked for nearly putting Josef Newgarden in the infield wall during that final restart. Disgraceful driving, it reminded me of that Michael Schumacher push towards Rubens Barrichello when he was at Mercedes in 2010. Shameful. 

Excellent comeback from Colton though to end up seventh regardless, he’s driving well and has definitely improved his consistency so far this season. Speaking of which, wasn’t Marcus Ericsson meant to be the stability guy? Can we talk about that?! 

Love you Trevor, I’ll see you soon.

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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