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Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. Up next: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Álex Palou, the IndyCar points leader who is coming off a dominant win last weekend in Detroit. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. The full version is available on the 12 Questions podcast.

1. You have to pick one chore or obligation to do every single day for an entire year. But if you do it every day, you never have to do it for the rest of your life. So what would you like to knock out forever?

Maybe cooking. So I would have to cook for a full year and then not worry about it the rest of my life.

Are you a good cook?

No. So it would be a really tough year. But after that, then it will be easy.

2. Can you describe how you are as a passenger in a street car?

Really bad. I’m terrible. I’m always being like, “Hey, watch that!” if we approach another car too fast. I’m normally quite scared of people having control of the car. Because I will brake here and they don’t brake or something like that. And I never trust who’s driving. The only person I used to trust was my dad, but I don’t trust him anymore. Even he’s out.

3. What’s an app on your phone you love using and you think other people should know about?

Maybe the Whoop app. That’s the one I’m checking the most during the day aside from my messaging apps, just to see how my day is going and making sure I beat my teammates in the (Whoop community) groups.

So you can see their recoveries and their workouts and stuff like that?

Yeah. But not with (other) drivers. They actually have a group going on, but I didn’t want to get into that because otherwise I wouldn’t take days off. So I have a group with my gym members and with my dad and some friends.

So do you get a lot of good sleeps and green recoveries during race weeks?

It’s tough because I cannot eat as good as I do when I’m at home. And also maybe I’ll have a dinner until late, so I cannot go to sleep as early as I would like. For example, before (Indy 500) qualifying (his Whoop recovery score) was at 45 (out of 100). And I was like, “Oh, s—. That’s not good.” (Palou won the Indy 500 pole anyway.)

4. What do you do to make yourself feel better when you’re having a crappy day?

I always think there could be a worse day. That’s the best thing I have. I’m a really lucky person that even my crappiest day can be a lot better than other people. Or much better than myself 10 years ago or some members of my family.

5. I’ve asked readers to give me life advice questions they want drivers to answer, and I’m changing it for each driver. So you recently got married and this question is from a person who is planning their wedding. So they said: “I’m getting married this year and we’re in the process of planning the wedding. I’m trying to be involved. But my fiancée hates every idea I come up with. Should I keep trying to play a role in the wedding planning or should I go along with it and let her plan everything?”

He’s done. That’s over. You need to play a role of “their idea is the best idea in the world,” and it’s gonna be a happy marriage after that. I know maybe he doesn’t want that kind of flowers, but it’s OK. It’s OK not to be OK on your wedding day and during the rest of your life afterward.

6. The next one is a pop culture or societal debate-type question. Obviously, the siestas in Spain are quite a big cultural thing there. Could that concept ever work here in America? What would have to change about our lives to get people to take a little break in the afternoon?

The first thing is siestas are a big thing in Spain, but it’s not everybody. In my family, we don’t really take a lot of siestas except on the weekend. But honestly, we had a pickleball tournament (at Indy) and Josef (Newgarden) was a bit late because he was having a nap. So they call it a nap (here), but it’s a siesta. It’s the same thing. In the U.S., there are more people who take naps or siestas than what it looks like.

I think it could work here, but you would have to push dinner a lot later. And I don’t really like that. I prefer to have dinner early, and you can rest earlier and just have a bit of time before your stomach processes all the food and then you go to sleep. While in Spain, we are really bad with that. We start dinner at like 9:30 or 10 and go to bed quite late. But then we will wake up later because we start work later.

So it could work, but honestly, I think the culture here works better than there.

7. This is also a wild-card question I’m changing for each person. Last year, through the whole contract situation (with Ganassi and McLaren fighting over his services), you had to be so mentally tough. Few drivers have really had to face that situation you were in. So if somebody is ever in sort of a similar situation, what advice would you tell them based on what you’ve gone through?

It’s similar to having a crappy day. It was the same mindset of, “Yeah, there’s a lot of noise going on. Off-track, it’s not as it’s supposed to be and I have too much stuff on my mind to think of the race car.”

But it was OK because there were two teams fighting for me. Maybe the way everything went wasn’t the best way, and I would have changed the route we took. But honestly, it could have been a lot worse — like not having a seat and being out of the championship. So I was mentally as tough as I could be, and I learned a lot from that. But you need to go back to the basics of,  “It can always be a lot worse than it is,” and it’s true. And then I go back to my good mindset.

That’s a great point that hadn’t even occurred to me — it’s better to have two teams fighting for you than zero teams fighting for you.

Exactly. Like, that’s the biggest fear of every driver, and it happens a lot. It happened to me in the past, not having a seat. When I was in Europe, nobody gave me a seat there for free. I had to go to Japan (to race in Super Formula) and they gave (the ride) to me really late, like in late February. So I spent my whole offseason thinking I didn’t have a drive anymore.

So comparing that mindset to the mindset of, “There’s two teams who want you and there’s a really bad contract dispute and blah, blah, blah,” it was a lot better than not having a seat. So still when everything looked like it was total chaos — and it was — I was a lucky person.

8. I promise this question is for everybody, but based on what we just talked about, I think we already know the answer. In your career, what is the deal that came closest to happening that ended up not working out?

(Last year) is the most obvious one. Apart from that, I don’t really have much. In motorsport, there’s a lot of talks of like, “Oh yeah, you will be here next year” and then you never hear about that anymore. But (last year) is the most obvious. I cannot surprise anybody with my answer there.

9. Who is a person you would be starstruck by when meeting them?

Elon Musk. Some racing drivers, when I was younger, I would have been like, “Oh my goodness.” But not anymore. I’m sharing a team with Scott Dixon. I shared a team with Jimmie Johnson. So I already know amazing drivers.

But Elon Musk … If you put me as the head of Tesla, just with all the work he might have only with that, I’d collapse. And then you put SpaceX on top of that, The Boring Company, etc. — I would like to have dinner with him and ask him crazy questions.

10. What is the single most important skill a race car driver can possess?

Multitasking. I don’t know about 20 years ago, but nowadays, we have so much stuff in our steering, with the maps, weight jacker, the front, the rear anti-roll bar, we have to be thinking a little bit about the strategy, saving fuel, saving tires. And on top of that, you have to be racing against others and trying to overtake, trying to defend. So I would say multitasking is something everybody in IndyCar has to do while we’re driving.

11. What life lessons from a young age stick with you and affect your daily decisions as an adult?

The mindset of always giving 100 percent. I don’t come from a really wealthy family; it’s just a totally normal family. And we got into this crazy sport that was not for us. So every day I was doing a race, it could be my last race. So I still take my life like that and I love it.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. The last one I did was with Kenny Wallace, the former NASCAR driver. Obviously, you won the Indy 500 pole, but on the opposite end of that we saw Graham Rahal missed the race — although he ended up getting back in the race for other reasons. But we all saw that heartbreak and we saw your elation on the other end. So he was wondering if you can put yourself in Graham’s shoes. How would a driver process that and get over missing the race?

It’s so sad we have Bump Day, but at the same time, it’s so exciting for the fans. For the drivers, honestly, it’s not exciting at all — but I know the Indy 500 needs a Bump Day. It’s heartbreaking, but everybody knew — fans and drivers and teams — that it was not Graham’s performance, it was actually the car’s performance. He couldn’t do more. He’s been struggling since Day 1 (of practice).

It would be different if you had a really fast car like myself, and you don’t put in the work and suddenly you’re out of the show. That would be really tough for the driver. But in his case, he did no mistakes and the car was just not fast enough to qualify.

You’re still going to cry — and he did and you could see the emotions and how much he wanted to be in the show, obviously. I’m glad he had a second chance; not glad, obviously, Stefan (Wilson) is injured. But sometimes you put yourself in that situation of (thinking) it could happen. You never know. Even with the best car, it could happen.

The next interview I’m doing is with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Do you have a question I might be able to ask him?

I would like to ask him how involved he is on the iRacing development and the next ideas. And if there’s a chance iRacing and IndyCar are going to shake hands again, because I’m an iRacing addict. I spend a lot of hours on it, and losing the IndyCar licensing hurts a lot. So let’s see if he can answer that in a friendly way and I’ll be hearing his answer.

(Top photo: Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

 

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