Silly Season moves full speed ahead into the INDYCAR offseason, a look at what’s at store including some new comments by Palou on Ganassi and talks there

SALINAS, Calif — The season may have wrapped up on Sunday afternoon but silly season has now met the offseason in the NTT INDYCAR Series. I expect both to go hand-in-hand soon with some recent developments that could change the way that this plays out.

Alex Palou is the lead domino. Where he ends up will factor into what else happens. Colton Herta’s name is also in the mix but it appears that he may not be going anywhere after all. The superlicense is still in flux even though he scored the 6th most road course points this past season. Him being 20th in oval points accumulated drop him to 10th in overall points and has him shy of the 40 allotted points needed for a superlicense.

If they give him a waiver, then he’ll leave his seat in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda. If he doesn’t, any signs now pointing to that not happening, then he’ll ride his contract out.

Which leads us back to Palou. Felix Rosenqvist is only on contract with McLaren Racing through September 30. Zak Brown acknowledged that their original agreement would have placed him anywhere within the family of McLaren motorsports but Rosenqvist stated his opinion that he wants to stay in INDYCAR.

“INDYCAR, I think it’s kind of addicting in a way,” he says. “Like it’s very tough. It’s probably — I wouldn’t say like — the driver level is high everywhere in professional championships, but it’s just such a team effort to get everything right on the day in terms of setup, pit stop strategy. The driver has to be fit, he has to be focused. There’s just so many variables, and if you lose one second in a pit sequence, you’re gone. That’s your day gone.

“I think that whole thing becomes — like when you succeed and when you win a race or get a podium or whatever, it’s just something you want to do again because it’s very rewarding when you do well, but it can also be brutal when you’re struggling, as I did last year. It was a super tough season for sure.

“But yeah, I’m doing well, and I want to continue that, so yeah, hopefully I’ll stay.”

Rosenqvist has done enough to show Brown that he deserves to stay so Brown said if they can’t find a solution before the end of the month, then the Swede is free to search elsewhere in the paddock. He’d like to keep Rosenqvist but isn’t sure when the Palou court case with Chip Ganassi Racing will be over. If it’s over before the 30th and Palou can’t get out of his Ganassi deal, then Rosenqvist stays. If Palou is allowed out, then Palou will be with Arrow McLaren SP replacing Rosenqvist.

The thing is, rumor has it that Ganassi has a $10-million price tag for Palou to buy him out and end this court case. If Brown wanted him badly enough, he’d get him out of there and let Rosenqvist walk. However, after a reported $15-millon to pay Daniel Ricciardo to walk early, would he be able to walk through the McLaren doors in paying $25-million to end this whole mess?

That’s a tough sell.

Alex Palou celebrates his win in Monterey on Sunday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Palou showed his worth by winning the season finale by 30-seconds. Rosenqvist finished 4th and has proved that if given the time to gel, he can be whom we all thought he could be. Which is why for Brown, it’s a tough decision that the best for him would be to wait this out until September 29.

The thing is, Palou has opened the door to returning to his seat in 2023 too. Just a few months ago, Palou was signing a different tune saying without hesitation that he expects to be a McLaren driver next season.

Now, he sounds more open.

“Yeah, they’re waiting to see what happens, as all of you guys,” said Palou. Fortunately I don’t have anything to share. I think everything is moving the right direction. I don’t know if it’s going to take one day, one week or one month, but hopefully everything is going to be solved soon. Yeah, as I said, I don’t have anything to say clear, but everything is moving the right direction.

“Yeah, we talk. We talked in Portland. We talked before that. You guys saw, I think, Nashville was it, talked this morning, so..”

When asked if it was about 2023, Palou said, “obviously.”

“Yeah, we’ll see when I know. I wish I could tell you guys, hey, I’m doing this, but I don’t have an answer yet. Maybe tomorrow.”

As far as what else is open, I’m hearing no changes expected to Penske, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing or Meyer Shank Racing. Andretti now looks to remain with the initial plans with 3 of the 4 2022 drivers being back and the addition of Kyle Kirkwood to replace the departing Alexander Rossi.

Benjamin Pedersen is the lead candidate to be replacing Kirkwood while Dalton Kellett is the favorite to keep the ride of the 2nd Foyt car.

Ganassi has 2 drivers solidified with Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson and waiting to see what Jimmie Johnson wants to do. He says Carvana is behind him 100%. In theory he could return to a full-time slate. The pause on that tells me he may not. Johnson wants to do some sports car events, would love to do the ovals here and maybe sprinkle some NASCAR starts. Can he do all by being full-time? If he’s not, that opens the door to maybe a full-time seat or CGR scales back to 3 full time cars and a 4th on a part-time basis.

We know David Malukas now appears to be back with HMD-Coyne again. The 2nd seat is Takuma Sato’s should he want it. If he doesn’t, then Linus Lundqvist likely moves up to that ride. If Sato returns, then HMD-DCR will try to get a 3rd car for him. All indications that there may not be any engines left to do so.

It’s all dependent on the Ganassi deal.

You also have the engine factor in this too. With a new package coming out in 2024, each are likely maxed out at 18 for both. I know they’d prefer not to use 18 full time engines but rather a sweet spot of 14-15 and another 3-4 part-time for Indy only.

So here’s where the engine front sits for 2023:

Chevrolet (16)

Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are returning

Arrow McLaren SP (3) – They’ll use all 3 engines full-time next year. O’Ward and Rossi will be in 2 of them but the 3rd will be down to Rosenqvist or Palou.

Ed Carpenter Racing (3) – Both drivers are back. Ed is likely back on ovals. Do they pair on a grander scale with Paretta for 2023?

AJ Foyt Racing (3) – They had 3 engines this year but will they use all 3 next season?

Juncos Hollinger Racing (2) – They’ll have 2 cars next year with Callum Ilott in 1 of them and a TBA driver in the 2nd car.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (2) – I don’t get any indication that they’ll scale back to 1 or 0 cars in 2023 after a strong show this past May. I also don’t get any sense they’ll add more races outside of Indy either.

The Top Gun/RC Enerson saga has 1 engine. AJ Foyt has another but do they use all 3? That leaves 1 engine left. Cusick and Paretta are interested. Can they each secure 1?

Honda (17)

Andretti Autosport (5) – They have 4 drivers signed for 2023 but 1 could go to F1. If he does, they have a seat open. Do they move Marco Andretti back into it? He doesn’t sound like he wants to go back full-time but still has the passion for the Indy 500 which is why I think they’ll use all 5 again next year.

Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – I don’t see them running a 5th car for Indy only next year. The question now is, do they stay 4 cars or park 1 of them while this Palou saga continues? Jimmie Johnson still wants to run full-time but Carvana’s status is uncertain. They can piece this together by having PNC return to Dixon’s car, Huski Chocolate on Marcus Ericsson’s and shifting NTT to Johnson and calling it a day at 3 cars. Which in turn would free up 2 engines. For now, I’ll keep them at 3.

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (3) – All 3 drivers are back in 2023.

Meyer Shank Racing (2) – They’ll have both drivers back. They’re eyeing expansion but I don’t see how that gets done yet.

Dale Coyne Racing (2) – They’re after a 3rd engine but can they secure it? Malukas is back unless Ganassi or Andretti comes calling. Sato is back unless he wants to retire. They could have 1 seat, both seats or no seats opening.

There’s 1 engine left out there (Vasser Sullivan’s) that could be used. Then the rest gets interesting. Does Ganassi drop 1 of their engines and can DCR gain it? Does MSR secure a 3rd one to use part-time?

Moves Made

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