Controversy Surrounds IndyCar Champ Palou’s Future

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 13 2022

IndyCar champion Alex Palou is headed to McLaren in 2023. (Photo by Phillip Abbott / LAT Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Alex Palou’s INDYCAR future morphed into a battle of competing team news releases Tuesday, with Chip Ganassi Racing and McLaren Racing both claiming they have the reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion under contract for 2023.

A 25-year-old native of Barcelona, Spain, Palou won three races and scored eight podiums in 2021 en route to winning the INDYCAR championship for team-owner Ganassi. According to IndyCar.com, CGR issued a news release at 3:31 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday stating it had exercised its contract option for the 2023 season with Palou. Quotes from Ganassi and Palou were included in the announcement.

At 7:14 p.m., Palou tweeted the release was issued without his consent and that he did not intend to continue with CGR past 2022 for “personal reasons.”

McLaren Racing struck five minutes later via a release announcing it had signed Palou to race for the organization starting in 2023. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown and Palou were quoted in that release.

At 9:46 p.m., the Ganassi organization responded to a request for comment from IndyCar.com with a text reading, “We can confirm that Alex Palou is under contract with the team through 2023.”

The McLaren release stated that in addition to his INDYCAR duties, Palou also would test with the McLaren F1 Team as part of its 2021 MCL35M F1 car testing program featuring fellow-NTT IndyCar Series drivers Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP and Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport.

“We have always said that we want the best talent at McLaren, and it’s exciting to be able to include Alex on that list,” Brown said in the release. “I’m also looking forward to seeing him get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car as part of our Testing of Previous Cars (TPC) program alongside Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta as we continue to build our driver talent.

“Alex is an incredibly talented driver who has won in every series he has raced in, and I’m happy to welcome him to the McLaren family.”

Palou is fourth in INDYCAR’s championship standings through nine of 17 events heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto. Sunday’s race on the Streets of Toronto’s Exhibition Place is scheduled for 85 laps/151.81 miles on a 1.786-mile/11-turn temporary course.

“I’m extremely excited to join the driver roster for such an iconic team as McLaren,” Palou said in the release. “I’m excited to be able to show what I can do behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car and looking at what doors that may open.”

Palou ended the McLaren release with this comment: “I want to thank everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing for everything they have done for me.”

McLaren Racing will confirm its full driver lineups across all of its racing series “in due course.” Palou’s addition to McLaren is the latest in a series of moves that began May 27 when O’Ward signed a contract extension that will keep the 23-year-old native of Mexico with the organization through the end of 2025. O’Ward, who joined AMSP in 2020, is poised to lead the team into INDYCAR’s “hybrid era” scheduled to debut in 2024.

O’Ward, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet, is fifth in the 2022 point standings. A native of Monterrey, Mexico, O’Ward made his IndyCar Series debut in 2018.

Arrow McLaren SP will contest the 2023 INDYCAR schedule with an expanded, three-car fulltime lineup led by O’Ward and, supposedly, Palou. On June 2 Brown confirmed that Californian Alexander Rossi _ currently with Andretti Autosport _ had signed a multi-year deal with AMSP starting in 2023.

Rossi, a 30-year-old native of Nevada City, Calif., has posted seven wins, six poles and 25 podiums since joining the IndyCar Series in 2016 with the team owned by former INDYCAR star Michael Andretti. Upset winner of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May 2016 as a rookie, Rossi is eighth in the point standings. Rossi will be replaced in Andretti’s No. 27 Honda by 23-year-old series rookie Kyle Kirkwood, currently competing with AJ Foyt Racing.

Meanwhile, Palou’s addition apparently would relegate Felix Rosenqvist _ O’Ward’s current INDYCAR teammate _ to McLaren’s newly formed Formula E team in 2023. McLaren signed Rosenqvist to a multi-year contract extension on June 23 that will keep the native of Sweden with the organization from 2023 and beyond.

McLaren will compete in Season Nine of the FIA Formula E World Championship in 2022-23. A 30-year-old native of Värnamo, Sweden, Rosenqvist joined AMSP in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2021. But Rosenqvist’s career includes a stint in Formula E, having raced in the series from 2016 to 2019 with three victories, six poles and seven podiums.

“With the team expanding into Formula E next season, it provides additional opportunities for me both in the USA and Europe,” Rosenqvist said, “and I look forward to being in a position to announce my plans in the coming weeks.”

McLaren Racing was founded by world-class driver Bruce McLaren of New Zealand in 1963. The team entered its first Formula 1 race in 1966. Since then McLaren has won 20 F1 world championships and more than 180 F1 grand prixs; the Indianapolis 500 three times, including in 1974 and 1976 with Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, Texas, and endurance sports car racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in its first attempt.

In addition to O’Ward and Rosenqvist at Arrow McLaren SP in INDYCAR, the organization currently competes in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship with Belgian-British driver Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and the Extreme E Championship with Emma Gilmour of New Zealand and Californian Tanner Foust.

McLaren was the first F1 team to be awarded the Carbon Trust Standard in 2010 and has retained it since on a bi-annual basis, most recently in February 2021. The team also was the first in F1 to be given the FIA Sustainability Accreditation Award at a three-star level in 2013 as part of the FIA Environmental Certification framework, before becoming a signatory to the UN Sports for Climate Action Commitment in 2021.

As announced this spring, McLaren Racing has commissioned a new facility in Indiana for Arrow McLaren SP, with construction scheduled to begin in the second-half of 2022. McLaren Racing is looking to begin site preparation and construction in August or September, with an estimated build time of approximately 18 months. The facility will be located north of Indianapolis in Whitestown, Ind.

Reflecting McLaren’s commitment to INDYCAR and its North American presence, the new building will more than double the size of the current facility, with over 97,000-square-feet of space. The new facility also will provide a significant number of additional, high-quality jobs across a range of categories.


NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10): 1, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 321; 2, Will Power, Team Penske, 301; 3, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 287; 4, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 286; 5, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 256; 6, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 254; 7, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 252; 8, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 229; 9, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing, 217; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 212.

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 13 2022
No Comment