INDIANAPOLIS — We heard the rumors, but could it truly be? On Monday night, it was confirmed that not only would NTT Data be leaving Chip Ganassi Racing after a decade in business together, but on Tuesday morning, it was revealed that they’d go to Arrow McLaren SP. Also a part of that announcement was that Tony Kanaan was plucked away and will be driving for them in a 4th Indy only ride.
Here are my takeaways.
Palou/Ganassi/McLaren Drama Deeper Than We Thought
Just when you think the saga between Chip Ganassi Racing, Alex Palou and McLaren Racing couldn’t get any worse, the details come out now that not only was McLaren courting Palou, but they were also in the services of his sponsor too.
NTT Data and Ganassi started a partnership in 2013 when the NTT Data colors were on Ryan Briscoe’s No. 8 entry for the Indy 500. A year later, they moved to the 10 car with Tony Kanaan and has been the primary colors of Ganassi’s second seat for nine years.
Now, they’re leaving.
It was a nice relationship but I can see where this could get ugly in a sense that McLaren likely poached them into coming to their side. I can see even more now to where Ganassi was fuming last summer in a sense that not only did he find out that McLaren was trying to lure his driver, one that just won a championship for him, but also trying to steal away his long-time sponsor too.
Writing On The Wall Here For Initial Plans, Future Plans
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to connect the dots here. The initial plans were that Alex Palou was going to leave Chip Ganassi Racing and join Arrow McLaren SP for the 2023 season and have NTT Data join him on that car. While Palou may have been under the pretense of being a F1 driver, Zak Brown and McLaren F1 behind the scenes were courting Oscar Piastri during the same period and weren’t going to get Piastri for Formula E or INDYCAR. In turn, it meant that Palou would replace Felix Rosenqvist in INDYCAR and Rosenqvist then could get forced to Formula E.
When the court case got deeper, Brown realized that there was a possibility that he could not only lose out on Rosenqvist, but also Palou. So they settled. Palou would be back in the 10 car at Ganassi and Rosenqvist in the 7 for AMSP.
Just for 2023 however.
With this new coming to light and Rosenqvist and Palou each on one year deals, it’s clear where this is headed. Palou is going to leave Ganassi at seasons end and drive the No. 6 Chevrolet with NTT Data as a sponsor in 2024. Rosenqvist is then likely headed to free agency as they’ll have Vuse on Alexander Rossi’s No. 7 Chevrolet and Pato O’Ward’s with the same branding as always.
Makes too much sense.
Ganassi Needs To Find Young Star Again
This also now puts the future of Chip Ganassi Racing up in the air again in terms of the next great driver. They have Scott Dixon but he’s 42 and will be 43 next July. Marcus Ericsson is 32. They’re more than likely losing 25-year-old Alex Palou at the end of next season.
So who’s next?
They thought they had a star in Felix Rosenqvist. He was 27 when Ganassi signed him for the 10 car and in Year 2, he became a winner. Then he bolted for AMSP for 2021.
Ganassi found lightning in a bottle in securing Palou to replace Rosenqvist for the 2021 season and unexpectedly, he already became a champion. Now he’s leaving for AMSP.
So who’s next?
Penske has 31-year-old Josef Newgarden (will be 32 next season) and 29-year-old Scott McLaughlin as future stars. AMSP has 23-year-old Pato O’Ward, 31-year-old Alexander Rossi and a likely 27-year-old by time he joins Palou. Andretti has 22-year-old Colton Herta and 24-year-old Kyle Kirkwood.
See why Ganassi needs to get younger? They need to keep Dixon as long as they can and Ericsson has proven to be a nice piece, but can he be the lead driver with Dixon retires?
10 Car Finally Got Going Again, Now Back To Rebuilding
Ganassi was thrilled to have a companion to fight for championships with Scott Dixon again. See, since Dario Franchitti retired at the end of the 2013 season and Ganassi had since 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.
Then Palou comes in, wins in his first start with team as well as taking home the 2021 championship as well on the heels of three wins, eight podiums, 10 top fives and 12 top 10’s in 16 starts. Last year, he won the season finale by half of a minute and had 6 top 5 finishes, all on the podium and 13 top 10’s in 17 stats. He was 5th in the final standings.
“Unfortunately for one reason or another, we haven’t found that right combination for a few years,” Ganassi said of the 10 car after Palou’s championship in 2021. “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.
“Like last year with Dixon… I’m really, really happy for the team. Championships are won by a lot of hard work, by a lot of people making a lot of sacrifices that aren’t obvious to the naked eye or get lost and they never get the press or the coverage of the late nights over the winter in Indianapolis, cold and dark and blowing snow. Guys are in there toiling away on their computers or on their cars, making them just a little better, getting ready for the start of the season or getting ready for the Indianapolis 500. That’s where the championships are won.
“There’s a whole slew of people back in Indianapolis that I’m sure right now have a big smile on their face. They’re in our race shop, family members that aren’t able to be here with their spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends. It’s a pleasure to represent those people. So that’s what makes this championship special.”
This 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.
“It’s great to see the 10 car having success again,” he said in 2021. “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.”
Which is why the sting of him leaving is so deep.