until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Palou, Chadwick and two giants: Unpacking an IndyCar mega-deal

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Alex Palou has a new Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar contract - despite an ongoing lawsuit over a McLaren deal he allegedly signed for 2024 - which was just one of a number of revelations from a Tuesday media call that revealed plenty.

In the wake of Ganassi announcing DHL as Palou’s new sponsor - the logistics company pinched from Ganassi’s chief Honda rival, Andretti - Palou, Ganassi and Mike Parra from DHL all answered media questions but in some cases created more uncertainty.

Rounded up below are the key elements in the situation that were either cleared up on Tuesday or remain murky.

Palou’s new multi-year deal

Alex Palou, Ganassi, IndyCar

The Race has suspected for some time now that Ganassi was reluctant to confirm any new contract details for Palou due to his ongoing court case with McLaren. Technically, his Ganassi deal was due to end in 2023.

I’m sure you’ve come to a similar conclusion - that it might be premature, rude even, to make a big song and dance regarding details of a new Ganassi deal when McLaren alleges it's the team Palou is contracted to - even if its lawsuit against Palou is about claiming back costs it believes it is owed rather than trying to get Palou to drive for it next year. The latter ship has sailed.

Chip Ganassi himself confirmed Palou would return in the wake of his title success in September, and further team announcements have alluded to Palou returning, without any details on his contract.

Still, to think that the reigning champion, two-time title winner and the person who wiped the floor with the opposition in what some call the most hotly contested single-seater series in world motorsport would not get a contract announcement felt very unusual - even with everything happening in the courtroom.

Alex Palou, Ganassi, IndyCar

The Race asked Palou, given the DHL deal was announced as a multi-year arrangement, whether that arrangement included his services, too, and if he had thus signed a new deal with Ganassi.

“Yeah, that's right, it's another new deal,” replied Palou with a smile.

“It's going to be multi-year, as well. It's not been announced like, specifically, but it was, let's say, announced today.

“So, yeah, I cannot really mention more than that. Yeah, it's going to be a multi-year deal.”

In usual cases we would suggest that this means Palou’s medium-term future appears to be secured, but that feels premature given past events...

Lawsuit a 'speed bump'

Ganassi, Andretti and Arrow McLaren, IndyCar

Palou also confirmed that he can’t say much about the court case with McLaren itself, other than confirming reports that his legal representation has submitted his defence in the case.

It likely won’t be decided until 2024, with no timeline as yet in place.

Ganassi himself called the lawsuit “just a little speed bump along the way” and added, after reeling off a number of Palou’s stats including 24 podiums in 50 CGR IndyCar starts, “when you look at statistics like that, he knows he has our unwavering support in anything he wants to do”.

It's at this point you would normally debate what carrying a lawsuit through 2023 and into next year might do for Palou and his focus, but he's used to this now, and knows he has no choice but to go out and deliver.

The Race says

Jack Benyon

Andretti and Ganassi, IndyCar

For 2023, Arrow McLaren had poached a Ganassi sponsor of nearly 10 years, NTT. At the time, this was seen as a precursor to Palou joining the team for 2024 with NTT sponsorship.

Later in 2023, Ganassi lost out on Marcus Ericsson to Andretti, because it failed to find the sponsorship to pay Ericsson until it was too late and a rival came into play.

I raise these two points only to show that it's been a tricky year for Ganassi, which doesn't always appear to attract as many big sponsors as teams like McLaren, Andretti or Rahal Letterman Lanigan - but no one can debate it's fighting back strong with DHL.

It has four paid drivers in 2024, which is not insignificant, and has somehow held on to reigning champion Palou.

Ganassi has put a renewed effort into its search for big partners - which is never easy, by the way - and that has certainly paid off here.

It's the kind of move that aids sustained success, which is bad for the opposition. Just when it looked like Ganassi was under threat of losing many of its most valuable assets, it has come out fighting and it's hard not to like the position the team is in for the future.

Why DHL left Andretti

Andretti IndyCar mechanic

Andretti is a team that seems to be moving in the right direction - slimming down to three cars, signing Ericsson, planning a new factory build, not to mention the small matter of juggling an F1 bid among its ambitions.

So how did it let a major backer slip?

Parra, DHL Express Americas CEO and head of global sponsorships, said of the Ganassi switch that “the opportunity for us to compete at the front of the field was just simply too compelling, too compelling to pass up”.

Even if it isn’t intended as such, that is a slap in the face for an Andretti team which hasn’t won an IndyCar title since 2012, or an Indy 500 since 2017. Ganassi has won three of the last four titles and a 500 last year with Ericsson, who coincidentally is headed to Andretti.

“You walk the hallways at CGR, the first thing you see is the intimate relationship that Chip has with everybody that works for him,” Parra added.

“You can just see the rich history of Chip Ganassi Racing on the walls. It loops around the whole building.

“He could stop and tell you about every one of those wins - that started with the Andrettis, by the way, working with Chip in that - the rich history.”

Parra did also attempt to explain the decision to leave Andretti (which DHL had joined as a sponsor back in 2011) directly.

“First and foremost, I have a friendship with Michael. I consider him family, to be honest, in a lot of different ways,” Parra said.

“It was just an opportunity where we both came to the conclusion that it was time for both of us to look at other opportunities. Nothing concerning in that part.

“We were a big part of bringing Jamie Chadwick over to Andretti Autosport, lining up Michael and myself on bringing women into the IndyCar series, in the Indy NXT series.

“Nothing of concern, to be honest.

“It was just an opportunity too good to pass up for both of us. That's what I would say.”

What does this mean for Chadwick?

Jamie Chadwick, Andretti, INDY NXT

Chadwick has already announced a return to Andretti for 2024, and tested the team’s Indy NXT car in the traditional yellow and red of DHL she had run in this year's races - only without the DHL logos.

However, Parra says their relationship has not ended, which makes sense as DHL had wanted to bring Chadwick to America earlier and had discussed the potential for that a few years before her 2023 debut in Indy NXT.

“We're going to be doing an ambassadorship role, which was the original intention when we spoke to her a couple years ago,” said Parra.

Jamie Chadwick, Andretti, INDY NXT

“We've been following Jamie for five years, my team has.

“We'll be doing an ambassadorship role with her inside of the series, but more importantly outside the series.”

Asked if there would be opportunities for Chadwick at Andretti or even Ganassi in IndyCar in the future, Parra added “never say never” and “we'll see when we get there”.

There's plenty for Chadwick to do before that, of course. While she deserved a year of bedding in last year, learning tracks she had never raced on, a second year will demand better than a 12th-place championship finish.

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