Race winner, factors chief: Is that this actually a driver who wants a change of group?


Given the way of Alex Palou’s victory on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with a wonderfully ready automotive and masterful technique from his Chip Ganassi Racing crew, one would by no means have imagined driver and group had been so fiercely at odds with one another lower than a 12 months in the past.

Not to mention embroiled in a civil lawsuit collectively all through their 2022 summer season of discontent.

“We’re not going to cease right here,” 2021 champion Palou mentioned after his crushing victory in final weekend’s Indianapolis Grand Prix. “We’re going to try to maintain the championship lead till the tip of the championship, and hopefully get the second.

“It simply fills all people with power, all of the crew, all of the engineers, myself – for the large race.”

Palou received by virtually 17 seconds on Saturday, thwarting the problem of tremendous sophomore Christian Lundgaard whereas holding the McLaren fleet of Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist nicely out of attain. Main 52 out of 85 laps, it was nonetheless solely his second most spectacular win of the final eight months.

Palou got here from third to win on SaturdayHe ended 2022 with an much more placing victory at Laguna Seca Raceway – he led 67 out of 95 laps and received by an astronomical 30.3 seconds, a report for the present IndyCar sequence all through its 27-year historical past. It was his first win since his championship triumph the 12 months earlier than, throughout which he claimed a trio of victories and got here inside half a second of successful the Indianapolis 500 – all in his first season as a Ganassi driver.

However Ganassi’s hopes of extending Palou’s keep on the group suffered a blow in July final 12 months after they introduced his one-year contract extension. Palou publicly denied his group’s announcement on social media, and McLaren claimed they’d bagged the Ganassi driver’s service for 2023.

Chip Ganassi Racing by no means backed down from its declare that Palou was their man for 2023, even because the extraordinary state of affairs unfolded of the group bringing a lawsuit towards its lively driver. Social media buzzed with claims Palou could be fired from the group – rumours that turned out to be nonsense. Nonetheless the sensation persevered that Palou could be proven the door the minute the 2022 IndyCar season ended.

However within the post-race celebrations after his win at Laguna Seca, it appeared Palou and Chip Ganassi had settled their variations. That view was justified when, three days later, Ganassi and Palou reached an settlement that might maintain him within the steady for 2023, whereas additionally below contract with McLaren to proceed as a System 1 take a look at driver, a task he carried out throughout opening observe of final 12 months’s United States Grand Prix.

Crushing efficiency at Laguna Seca underlined Palou’s classPalou’s pursuit of the F1 dream seemed to be the wedge that drove him and Ganassi aside. The 26-year-old isn’t discontent with IndyCar, the place an extended and fruitful profession beckons, however would have been consumed with remorse if he by no means tried to see what alternatives had been accessible for him to interrupt into F1.

His outlook is considerably bleak: Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri are already set at McLaren F1 Group. The driving expertise doesn’t seem like answerable for the group’s latest decline in efficiency.

That may drive Norris to look elsewhere when his present McLaren deal ends in 2025. However would Palou – who will probably be nearing 30 by then and has left the normal F1 feeder ladder 56323232long in the past – actually be the first goal to succeed him?

Ganassi’s lawsuit towards Palou is a factor of the previous, however there’s a poorly-kept secret too nice to disregard within the background. Palou’s present cope with Ganassi ends after the 2023 season, and barring a dramatic flip of occasions, he’s broadly anticipated to affix McLaren’s ever-growing IndyCar operation for 2024.

That’s one thing Palou refused to acknowledge in his post-race press convention. Requested if McLaren’s trio of top-five finishers had him considering forward to his plans for 2024, the victor shrugged, laughed, and mentioned: “Completely not. It’s too early. It’s Could, c’mon.” However 12 months in the past Rossi was equally cagey when answering questions on his personal long-term future – earlier than he left Andretti to affix McLaren.

Alex Palou, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2022Alex Palou, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2022McLaren ran Palou in US GP observe final yearMany have requested and can proceed to ask a good query of Palou – why depart Ganassi, a confirmed, perennial powerhouse organisation, to mortgage your long-term IndyCar profession with a rising however less-proven McLaren outfit with a robust roster of expertise? That query will probably be requested many instances if Palou continues to run nicely along with his present employers.

“Truthfully, final 12 months we had been actually good to begin,” Palou remembers of final season – countering the narrative that he’d been struggling whereas in authorized proceedings towards his present group. “We had three podiums within the first 4, which was fairly spectacular.” Lots of these had been shut runner-up finishes to the likes of Scott McLaughlin.

It’s a testomony to how nicely Alex Palou drove via the adversity – even when that adversity was considerably of his personal creation – that he was nonetheless preventing for wins and had an outdoor shot on the title whereas being sued by his present group. And now, freed from that self-made distraction, he’s main the IndyCar factors desk with an opportunity at his second championship in three years.

If Palou was to leap ship, the place may he go? Palou had been what Ganassi was looking for almost eight years: An appropriate substitute for the four-time sequence champion and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti. However it quickly grew to become clear that Palou was additionally in line to be the successor to the good Scott Dixon, Ganassi’s longest-tenured and most profitable open-wheel racer.

When Dixon’s reign as group ace involves an finish, who will lead Ganassi into an IndyCar future with out Alex Palou?

Marcus Ericsson is the obvious alternative. Ericsson’s career-changing Indianapolis 500 victory final 12 months coupled with three seasons of constant outcomes throughout each self-discipline of racing that IndyCar tackles has undone his popularity as a System 1 “never-was.” That he brings hefty monetary consideration with him solely makes him an much more enticing prospect.

The 2021 champion is again on prime of the IndyCar standingsBut that mixture can also be enticing to different groups all through the IndyCar paddock, and Ericsson can also be within the final 12 months of his present cope with Ganassi. There’s an opportunity he Ericsson might depart in parallel with Palou.

In-house, Marcus Armstrong brings with him a robust pedigree. The System 2 graduate has been strong on street and road programs in his rookie season, and Ganassi is without doubt one of the best-equipped groups to offer even an oval novice the arrogance to succeed immediately if he had been to run a full season.

Indy Nxt driver Kyffin Simpson was signed to a Ganassi improvement driver contract final season. Between open-wheelers and sports activities automobiles, Simpson has proven flashes of real brilliance past his 18 years. He’s additionally well-funded, backed by his homeland of the Cayman Islands. However he’s but to search out any form of constant success in IndyCar’s prime developmental sequence.

Ganassi has additionally evaluated fellow Ferrari Driver Academy alumnus Robert Shwartzman and System E title challenger Nick Cassidy in assessments earlier this 12 months, each extremely rated of their respective fields. Cassidy, like Palou, frolicked racing in Japan – and in addition, he’s an avid fanatic of open-wheel oval racing and his road racing acumen in System E has improved with each race.

There’s additionally a variety of younger drivers in different groups who may covet a transfer to Ganassi. Callum Ilott’s companies could be extremely wanted if he hits free company. Rinus VeeKay has hit his ceiling along with his present group and Lundgaard put in an attention-grabbing flip final weekend. David Malukas might observe the trail Palou took from Coyne to Ganassi after a number of spectacular performances. There could even be an opportunity of a reunion with Felix Rosenqvist, lengthy painted because the “lame duck” at McLaren who could be pushed out once they purchase Palou – until they broaden to a fourth full-season entry.

All of those situations are fascinating. They may be rendered moot if the sudden occurs and Ganassi is someway capable of retain Palou’s companies as an IndyCar driver. Whether or not it’s one of the best thought for him or not, Palou is ready to vary locations on the finish of 2023 – with the promise of constructing an IndyCar powerhouse and the slim hope of an F1 seat his obvious motivation.

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