Who’s ready for a cage fight, particularly between former INDYCAR driver and current championship team owner Chip Ganassi and Zak Brown, the latter chief executive of McLaren Racing’s many entities? After all, this duo have been squabbling over the future of one Alex Palou, the Spaniard who became NTT INDYCAR SERIES world champion in 2021 and threatens to do the same this year.
Palou currently leads the standings, two days after his 43-year-old teammate, six-time titleholder Scott Dixon, earned his 54th INDYCAR victory on his 319th consecutive start (a new record) and upped his ante of 19 seasons with at least one victory in one of the most competitive open-wheel series on this little planet.
The driver Palou is leading? Dixon, of course, who was third coming into Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile road course.
Palou has a 101-point gap to Dixon, who is four points ahead of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, winner of this year’s 107th Indianapolis 500 and a terror on ovals this season. On road courses, the Tennessee native hasn’t had the spell of success, and whether that’s due to setup issues or racing luck is anyone’s guess. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin is fourth in points (-144) while Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward is in fifth place, 151 points behind Palou. It’s been fun to watch the standings rise and fall as the season races to its close at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca next month.
Palou, who remains under contract to Honda-powered Ganassi, was supposedly going to Chevrolet racers McLaren as an INDYCAR driver with access to Formula One seating. That agreement was arranged by his management team Monaco Increase Management (MIM) – since dismissed – and has been the subject of lawsuits that Ganassi won, keeping Palou on his team for this year and, most likely in the distant future. After all, Chip Ganassi Racing is a proven winner – of races and championships. McLaren is celebrating 60 years of racing, but in INDYCAR, and in F1, recent wins and titles have been elusive or fleeting. Palou has been acting like the successor to Scott Dixon at Ganassi. Expect him to remain there.
It’s been fun to watch the serves and volleys in this charade, but disappointing as well. Seeing his future played out in public, in the press isn’t terribly healthy. As such, Palou has returned to his original manager, Roger Yasukawa, who has driven in the INDYCAR series and introduced Palou to both Dale Coyne Racing in 2020 and, subsequently to Ganassi’s management. It’s important to remember that all of Ganassi’s contracts have been negotiated outside the public eye; he’s known for quietly making deals that are ironclad. Let’s assume this one is, as well. The boss doesn’t talk about his teams and drivers until and unless they are secure.
As this tiff became known, on Friday of this Gallagher Grand Prix race weekend, Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) confirmed one of its two 2024 drivers, Tom Blomqvist, who will return to his open wheel roots after several years kicking down all barriers in sports car competition. Blomqvist has worked with MSR in its WeatherTech Sportscar Championship team that won the final Role 24 at Daytona held under DPi rules with Acura and the first with GTP (LMDh) race, again with cars and engines. Those were the 60th and 61st editions of the mid-winter twice-around-the-clock classics; MSR won the 50th 24-hour race at Daytona International Speedway, its first IMSA prototype victory.
Current full-time MSR driver Helio Castroneves, who brought the team its first Indy 500 win in 2021 – and his fourth, making him the fourth four-time winner in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing – confirmed he won’t be racing full-time in 2024 but will, instead, concentrate on his Drive for Five Indy 500 wins and also take a part ownership in the team currently consisting of Jim Meyer, Mike Shank and Liberty Media Corp., the same folks that own Formula One. This is a smart move by the Brazilian, whose sole championship came in IMSA with Team Penske, the group he drove for from 2000 until the close of the short-lived 2020 racing season.
Simon Pagenaud’s future with MSR still hasn’t been confirmed as the Frenchman, who won both the 2019 Indianapolis 500 and the 2016 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with Team Penske recovers from injuries. He, too, joined MSR in 2021 and was part of both IMSA Rolex 24 victories for the team. Pagenaud’s future racing plans are dependent on his recovery from concussion symptoms following his horrific accident at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in July. While he was able to walk from his massive rollover wreck, he has not yet been able to pass protocol for reinstatement to the INDYCAR series. Both Blomqvist and 2022 INDY NXT champion Linus Lundqvist have subbed for him.
On Sunday of this INDYCAR/NASCAR doubleheader – actually a double, double-header because both INDY NXT by Firestone and the Xfinity Series shared the bill – Kyle Larson’s two race cars for next May were revealed by Hendrick Motorsports and Arrow McLaren. NASCAR’s 2021 champion will attempt to “Do the Double” by racing the No. 17 Chevy in both the 2024 and 2025 Indianapolis 500s as well as his NASCAR Cups Series No. 5 Chevy in the Coke 600 on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s oval.
Following this weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix, there are three contests remaining. Taking the upcoming weekend off, INDYCAR then travels a short distance to WorldWide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis, Missouri for the final oval contest of the year (there are five total) and then, on consecutive weekends to the natural road courses in Portland, Oregon and race No. 17 in Monterey, California. There will be a shake-out of the INDYCAR field; following the last checkered flag, the true silly season commences.
But back to our original premise, yeah, let’s promote a post-season cage fight between Ganassi and Brown. That might clear the air!