IndyCar silly season: Chip Ganassi gets the last laugh

Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images) /

Chip Ganassi once again ended up on the winning end of a battle with Zak Brown, retaining Alex Palou for the 2023 IndyCar season.

Chip Ganassi Racing may not have won the 2022 IndyCar championship with any of their drivers, despite at one point being just 11 points out of owning a top three sweep in the standings, marking the first time they haven’t walked away with the Astor Cup since 2019.

But the offseason produced an early victory for the team that once appeared poised to lose their most recent champion to a rival organization.

Back in July, Chip Ganassi Racing announced that they had picked up a team option in Alex Palou’s contract to keep him behind the wheel of the #10 Honda for the 2023 season.

But shortly thereafter, Palou announced that the press release announcing the move was not authorized by him, and McLaren proceeded to announce that they had signed him. Chip Ganassi Racing stood by their initial claim, however, setting up a legal battle.

Palou had previously shrugged off the rumor that he would be joining McLaren, but other sources indicated that it was only a matter of when, not if, the chaos would unfold.

At that point, Palou seemed destined for a McLaren seat in 2023, whether that be with Arrow McLaren SP or elsewhere, with Formula 1 considered the other possibility given the uncertainty surrounding Daniel Ricciardo’s future.

But a couple recent developments indicated that a return to the #10 Honda wasn’t out of the question, as was once thought.

First of all, McLaren initially confirmed that they had signed Felix Rosenqvist to a contract extension that ran through 2023, but they did not specify whether he would be in IndyCar or in Formula E.

It later emerged that Rosenqvist was still a pending free agent, indicating that the team simply made this announcement to prevent other teams from pursuing him, in case they needed him as a fallback option if the Palou deal didn’t work out.

Then in response to Chip Ganassi Racing suing Palou for breach of contract, the 25-year-old Spaniard’s lawyer put out a statement suggesting that the team were attempting “to keep Alex from an opportunity to compete in Formula One”.

If Formula 1 was really the reason why Palou signed his McLaren deal, however, things weren’t looking too bright, given the goings on with the team on the other side of the pond.

Formula 1’s own “Palou” situation broke out when Alpine announced that they had signed reserve driver Oscar Piastri as the replacement for the Aston Martin-bound Fernando Alonso, whom many believed was staying with the team before he decided to replace the retiring Sebastian Vettel.

But Piastri denied that he would be driving for Alpine next year, and it emerged that he had worked out a deal with McLaren to replace Ricciardo, despite the fact that Ricciardo’s contract ran through 2023 and he had said that he was committed to the team until then.

The Contract Recognition Board (CRB) ultimately ruled in McLaren’s favor, and when it was officially announced that Piastri would be joining them as Ricciardo’s replacement alongside Lando Norris next year, it was revealed that he had actually signed his deal before Ricciardo publicized his own commitment to the team.

More significant to the Palou situation, he had even signed it before the dueling Chip Ganassi Racing/McLaren press releases went out.

Long story short, there was no place for Palou at McLaren’s Formula 1 team. And with the older of Norris and Piastri being the 22-year-old Norris, it will likely remain that way.

It then emerged that McLaren had deleted their initial tweet welcoming Palou to the family.

Palou denied that the McLaren’s signing of Piastri affected his interest in joining the team, but let’s not forget how he carefully insisted that he was happy with where he was at Chip Ganassi Racing — before the dueling announcements were made but likely well after agreeing to a McLaren deal.

There was never more than a slight chance of him signing with Arrow McLaren SP just to drive one of their Chevrolets. That move would, at best, be a lateral move, considering he is already in car that will probably be capable of winning Indy 500s and championships for the next decade or more.

The fact that he won the season finale by 30.381 seconds — more than 24 seconds higher than the next highest margin of victory throughout the 17-race 2022 season — backed it up.

Now a few days later, he has confirmed his commitment to Chip Ganassi Racing.

And it marks another big win for Chip Ganassi over McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

Back in 2019 when it was announced that Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports would be forming a partnership with McLaren to form Arrow McLaren SP — and switching to Chevrolet — Marcus Ericsson’s team immediately began pursuing other opportunities.

After just one season with the team, the former Formula 1 driver signed with Chip Ganassi Racing, and Arrow McLaren SP signed Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew, the two most recent Indy Lights champions at the time.

Then in this year’s Indy 500, Ericsson passed and held off both O’Ward and Roseqnvist, a former Chip Ganassi Racing driver himself, to earn Ganassi his first victory in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in a decade.

Of course, Brown was able to lure Rosenqvist away from Chip Ganassi Racing following the 2020 season, but Rosenqvist has yet to win a race in two seasons behind the wheel of the #7 Chevrolet — after winning the 2019 Rookie of the Year title and winning at Road America in July 2020 behind the wheel of the #10 Honda that Palou now occupies and will continue to occupy.

There was also a rumor that Arrow McLaren SP had tried to lure longtime Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon to the team for 2023, but that too ended up going nowhere.

However, there is a plus side for McLaren. Chip Ganassi Racing have agreed to allow Palou to pursue Formula 1 testing with the Woking-based team outside of his IndyCar commitment, so it appears that no bridges have been burned (aside from the obvious fact that Ganassi and Brown remain not best friends).

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So after all that, there are no changes set for Chip Ganassi Racing’s top three championship contenders next year, and the only change at Arrow McLaren SP is set to be the addition of a third car for Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.