Motor racing - Reigning IndyCar champion Palou still hungry as ever

FILE PHOTO: Oct 3, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indy Series driver Alex Palou (55) during the Harvest Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - Alex Palou said on Monday he does not feel any added pressure as he gets ready to launch his IndyCar Series title defence and is actually approaching the upcoming season as though he still has plenty to prove.

Palou, who last September became the first Spaniard to win an IndyCar Series championship, understands that being a driver for the powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing team does not guarantee him anything.

"We'll have a lot of competition this year. We have new drivers in different teams. We have new drivers from other places. It's going to be challenging," Palou told reporters during a news conference.

"But, yeah, we've been working as if last year we lost it and I think we'll be ready to try and fight again."

In only his second season, the 24-year-old Palou looked more like a seasoned veteran as he proved to be not only consistently fast but also showed a level head while competing against other drivers with more experience and success.

But Palou still feels he has plenty more to prove.

"Just winning one championship, it means but it doesn't mean a lot. You need to continue winning races and championships to still be valued as a champion," said Palou. "It's going to be good having the target in our car. It's always good when people is chasing you.

"But 2022 is going to be brand new. We're going to start everybody with zero points, with new people around us, new teams, new tracks that we'll go to as well."

Palou's season also included a runner-up finish at the Indianapolis 500 where he led with just over two laps to go until the more experienced Helio Castroneves overtook him to become only the fourth, four-time winner of the race.

Palou knows getting more experience on oval tracks will help him towards his goal of staying on top but admitted his to-do list does not stop there.

"Oval is a good part. Qualifying, I think it's another part," said Palou. "Starting more up front, getting one-lap speed should be a priority for us.

"We've always been able - not always - but constantly able to be around Fast 6 or top 10, which is great. We only got one pole position.

"Hopefully that's going to improve and make our life easier during the races."

The IndyCar Series championship begins Feb. 27 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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