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Charles Bradley

Is IndyCar’s top team about to lose its standout 2023 drivers?

Ganassi heads into this weekend’s halfway IndyCar round at Mid-Ohio holding a 1-2 in points with its Spanish stallion Palou leading its Swedish sensation Ericsson by a whopping 74 points.

Palou has already equalled his win tally from his title year with CGR-Honda in 2021. Ericsson is best of the rest, and the winner of the season-opener in St Petersburg came within less than a tenth of a second of claiming back-to-back Indy 500 wins last month.

Yet Chip’s conundrum is that he might lose them both for 2024. How so? Well, they have very different contractual scenarios playing out right now…

Alex Palou, McLaren testing at Hungaroring (Photo by: McLaren)

Palou is being lured away by Formula 1

Palou is understood to have a McLaren deal in his pocket for 2024 and sees this as his best route to Formula 1, with the added bonus of driving for its burgeoning Arrow-partnered IndyCar team, where he can wait for his opportunity in the biggest league of all.

Remember, last year Ganassi issued a lawsuit against Palou when McLaren issued a press release claiming he’d signed for 2023. That was settled with the Spaniard staying on at CGR in IndyCar for the final year of his current contract in 2023 but also allowed for a test and reserve role with McLaren’s Formula 1 team.

His latest test was at the Hungaroring earlier this month, alongside race driver Oscar Piastri no less, and he got to run in FP1 at COTA last year – so you can see where his ambitions clearly lie. Plus, McLaren wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t think he was the real deal…

“It's been working so far – I love it,” he said when asked if his F1 running has been helping his development as a driver. “They are very picky on the way you drive obviously.

“They are pushing you on how to drive, which is really good in terms of driver development honestly. It's like you go there and they are teaching you how to brake.

“It's great, especially not being too familiar with the car, which I'm still learning how to drive it properly. It's great for pushing myself.”

Alex Palou, McLaren F1 reserve driver (Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images)

Palou stayed classy throughout this awkward contractual situation, and he’s reaping the benefit with another championship-challenging run that’s cementing his position as IndyCar’s premier performer.

His unflappable off-track demeanor, coupled with doubtless speed and resilience on it, all point to him being well worthy of an F1 shot. And there’s always a chance that another team might come calling to make that happen sooner rather than later…

Paddock gossip also suggests that Ganassi has counter-offered Palou with a healthy seven-figure salary to stay put. And one could argue that’s a better bet for ensuring further short-term success than moving to Arrow McLaren’s still-growing IndyCar team. asked him this week when he’ll be able to tell us where he’s racing next year, and he replied: “I don't know, honestly, I don't know. But, yeah, that day will come.

“That day will come maybe two months, three, four. I don't know. Maybe once the season is over, maybe later. We'll see.

“Yeah, that day will come. It will be exciting, I guess.”

Alex Palou, McLaren MCL36 (Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images)

On the subject of gunning for titles and winning lots of races in IndyCar versus battling to make a name for himself in Formula 1, he added: “I would just say that the beauty of IndyCar is that everybody can win because you have the same tools as everybody. In F1, maybe the beauty, it's different.

“It's just that you are in the pinnacle of motorsport, you're developing a car together with a big factory. It's just a different mentality, I would say.

“I wouldn't say one there's more satisfaction than the other.”

Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda celebrates (Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images)

Ericsson wants paying the going rate for an Indy 500 winner

Contrast that scenario to CGR’s other hot property, Ericsson. His F1 itch has already been scratched with five seasons with Caterham and Sauber/Alfa Romeo, and his Indy 500 victory last year is backed up by two consecutive top-six IndyCar Championship finishes.

Ericsson believes it’s time for him to be offered the kind of salary that the other frontrunners enjoy, rather than the nominal payment that is more than offset by the backing he brings via Swedish billionaire Finn Rausing.

But it seems like Chip is torn over that, saying ahead of the Indy 500 that “Marcus has a big future in the sport and I want it to be on this team” before adding “we just need to finalize some sponsorship”.

When asked by what Ganassi meant by that latter remark, Ericsson replied: “Yeah, it’s a good question. But I don’t think it’s a question for me, really.

“I’ve said a few times now that I want to be treated as a top driver, because that’s what I am in this series. It’s where I wanna be and hopefully we’ll get to that point with Ganassi. I feel like I deserve that.”

Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images)

Nothing seems to have moved in that situation, in fact it sounds like it’s deteriorated further as Ericsson vented to NBC’s Kevin Lee at Road America.

“It feels like we are a quite a ways away,” Ericsson told him. “I see things one way. The team thinks that I should pay to be there and I feel like I should get paid.

“I am frustrated. There are at least 15 drivers that don't bring a budget — and I'd like to think I am one of those with the performance — but the team thinks otherwise. So that's why we're quite far apart.

“I've tried to play nice and make it clear I want to stay here. I don't understand and it's frustrating.”

Ericsson claims his phone has been busy recently, and there will come a time in the next few months when he’ll be able to officially negotiate with rival teams. So keep an eye out for developments on this front too.

Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson & Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Photo by: James J Black)

This bizarre situation facing Ganassi is eased somewhat by the indefatigable Scott Dixon’s continued presence and unquestioned performance levels. If it loses both Palou and Ericsson, it could trim back to three cars next year and promote either (or both!) of the drivers that share its #11 car – F2 graduate Marcus Armstrong, who has been racing the road courses, or two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato, who has been doing the ovals.

There’s also the prospect of it developing a young American talent, with David Malukas showing flashes of eye-catching form for Dale Coyne Racing – where Ganassi signed Palou from for 2021. Or it could effectively swap out Palou with McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist, who raced for CGR in 2019 and 2020 before being replaced by… Palou!

One thing is for sure, if there really are two Ganassi rides going, this will be an intrigue-packed IndyCar silly season.

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