BELLE ISLE, Mich — An odd name was thrown out there as a potential candidate to drive the 3rd Arrow McLaren SP car during the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season. That name? Alex Palou. With Pato O’Ward and now Alexander Rossi already signed to multiyear deals for each, adding someone of Palou’s caliber would certainly sent shockwaves through this sport. However, I don’t see that happening either. That would be an odd twist of fate that I can’t fathom occurring.
Chip Ganassi likes winners. He’s not shy of that fact. He has one now in Palou. Why would Ganassi ever let Palou, a winner, get away? Yes money talks. I get that. But, Ganassi would certainly find a way to fork out whatever it takes not to lose his next Scott Dixon.
I mean we have to be honest here, Dixon’s years are numbered anyways. With Jimmie Johnson being 46, Dixon 41 and Tony Kanaan 47, Ganassi knows he has to get younger still if he wants to compete for championships long term.
Marcus Ericsson brings funding and just won the Indy 500. He’s only 31 and is absolutely part of this teams’ future. Kyffin Simpson was signed to a development deal. He’s not ready yet but as of now is part of the future. What happens to the other 2 cars if you lose out on Palou to a rival and Dixon retires soon?
Ganassi knows that in 2 years you can’t roll out a lineup of Ericsson and Simpson and expect to look like the powerhouse he is now.
That’s why Ganassi can’t let Palou get away and I also don’t see Palou leaving an already established championship winning program for one where he’d be teammates with O’Ward and Rossi. I mean Ganassi is soon going to be Palou’s team if he stays. He won’t have that luxury in a crowded AMSP room.
This isn’t the NBA where superstars unite. I mean in that case the whole team gets rings. In racing, only 1 driver does. Ganassi would mold this organization around Palou the way that they have Dixon. I don’t see any scenario where AMSP would do so for him. If they do it, they’d do so for O’Ward instead.
“It’s as big as it gets. Just to see this young man come along, it’s been a few dry years in the 10 car,” Ganassi said after Palou gave him his 14th INDYCAR championship last year in Long Beach. “I go back to think of Dario and Dan Wheldon in the 10, all the successes they had.”
Ganassi, is thrilled to have a companion to fight for championships with Dixon. See, since Dario Franchitti retired at the end of the 2013 season, he’s struggled to find any balance to this team.
Dixon, had won three championships and 17 races in the seven year span between 2014 and 2020. He also scored 45 podiums in that time frame.
By comparison, the No. 10 car had 115 starts between three drivers in that same time frame. They had two wins, 17 podiums, 30 top fives and 64 top 10’s. The points finishes?
7th, 8th, 7th, 10th, 13th, 6th and 11th respectively.
3rd, 1st, 6th, 3rd, 1st, 3rd and 1st respectively himself. He was no worse than sixth with the 10 car being 6th or worst in all seven years.
That’s a stark comparison from what it was when it was Dixon and Dan Wheldon as teammates between 2006 and 2008 and then Dixon and Dario Franchitti from 2009 through 2013.
The 10 car in that span had 19 wins, 52 podiums, 75 top fives and 97 top 10’s in 133 races. The points finishes were second, fourth, fourth, first, first, first, seventh and 10th respectively.
Since Palou has been in that 10 car, his ride has outperformed Dixon by a large margin in fact. In 22 starts in this span, Palou has 3 wins and 12 podiums. Dixon has just 1 win and 5 podiums.
“Unfortunately for one reason or another, we haven’t found that right combination for a few years,” Ganassi said of the 10 car. “You have to work just as hard. Sometimes you’re probably working harder than the guys on the 10 car and the 8 and the 48. They have to work harder sometimes than the champion.
You don’t let a driver of this caliber and just 25 years of age walk. You simply don’t. This not only is your future, this is your now.
This also really is the best the 10 car has been since Franchitti was in it. Franchitti, is now in a advisory and coaching role with the team and sees first hand on how well Palou is doing. Just look at what he said on Palou last year even.
“It’s great to see the 10 car having success again. It’s a lot of the same crew when we won our last championship in 2011, our last 500 in 2012. It’s nice to see them having that success again, the smile on their face.
“It was a tough time. A lot of the guys, whether Tony or Felix, it was tough to go up against Scott. Again, I know how difficult it is going up against Scott.
“I think Alex has done a tremendous job this year with that. Nice to see all the cars getting results.
“I think he’s worked so hard, him, the whole 10 car team. They’ve just really worked hard from the first race. One of our first conversations, Alex and I, Listen now, you’re now in a team that in the pit stops and the strategy, they’re going to help you to win races so you don’t have to worry about driving 105%. If you get in position to win a race, et cetera, et cetera. He shows up in Barber and wins. I’m like, Hmm, okay, he got that message loud and clear straightaway. He’s a fast learner.
“We thought he was good when we signed him. He’s even better than that. He’s a hard worker. Behind that very nice, polite exterior, he’s just tough as anything, man. His recovery in Indy after the crash, the way he came back from that, he’s impressive.
“We, me, all of us at Chip Ganassi Racing, are delighted he’s driving the No. 10 car.
“As Chip calls it: You’re either a Sunday driver or your not. I think with Alex we have a Sunday driver.”
Palou even said last year that Ganassi is a place he sought to race at.
“One of the dreams was to come here to the U.S. once you are in the U.S. you want to be more and you want to be competitive, and to be competitive I wanted to be part of Chip.
“I actually introduced myself to Chip at the Indy 500 because I wanted to be part of that team. I saw the spirit of the team, just because of the years I was following. And yeah, to be part of Chip Ganassi is 50 percent of another dream, which is to become a champion.
“But it’s just 50 percent. I have to do the job now.”
He’s been as good this year as last and as happy as ever. You don’t leave that if you’re Palou and you don’t allow him to get out of the door if you’re Ganassi.