until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Ganassi can’t let Palou distract it from real IndyCar priority

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

With three wins from the last four races, Alex Palou is delivering the kind of IndyCar season that must make his Chip Ganassi Racing team feel untouchable.

But the team can’t let this run initiate a period of complacency, because while its present is as glittering as any IndyCar team’s ever is, its future is filled with uncertainty.

Let’s start with Palou. Even if he wins every race for the rest of the season, the paddock is convinced that his move to Arrow McLaren is a foregone conclusion.

The 2021 champion can’t talk to other teams until September as per his contract, but the result of the end of the war over where he’d race in 2023 was Palou getting a reserve F1 role with McLaren that he’ll initiate properly once the IndyCar season is finished.

You have to believe he’ll make good on his initial stated intention to join McLaren when the opportunity arises, thanks to a big expected salary increase and more time to play in F1 cars.

So while this period is incredible for Ganassi, it has to try to put the current success aside and focus on how it’s going to replace a driver capable of such a run of form, an almost unique and unthinkable situation.

When a team gives a driver a championship-winning car, it’s rare they’ll look elsewhere. This is more uncharted territory for Ganassi.

Alex Palou And Chip Ganassi Sonsio Grand Prix At Road America By James Black Largeimagewithoutwatermark M85197

While all of this winning is happening, the battle to keep Marcus Ericsson looks as precarious as ever, too.

The Swede has always helped to bring sponsorship or budget throughout his career, but now he wants a new deal that reflects his value after winning the 2022 Indianapolis 500. His next contract will be his first since that win.

Historically, winning that race ensures you are paid a significant sum as one of the top drivers in the series. Partly because you’ve proven you can win the race everyone wants to win, and partly because of all the PR and media work lasting 12 months that the driver has to do puts a strain on their time. That promotion in turn benefits the team and makes it more appealing to sponsors because of the increased publicity. Having multiple Indy 500 winners on the team furthers that, too.

Marcus Ericsson Sonsio Grand Prix At Road America By Travis Hinkle Largeimagewithoutwatermark M84870

Chip Ganassi himself hasn’t got to where he is with his incredible team by not being a fantastic businessman. That much is for certain.

But you can see why Ericsson would be frustrated that a host of other teams are waiting in the wings to give him what he feels he deserves, and all he wants is to stay with the team he’s built around Ganassi’s #8 car over the last three and a half seasons.

Few drivers have the same bond with their engineer and behind-the-scenes team as Ericsson does with this crew.

Marcus Ericsson Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented By Lear By Joe Skibinski Largeimagewithoutwatermark M84352

If Ericsson’s contract is the same as Palou’s then we can expect Ganassi to have exclusivity over Ericsson until September, but if it waits until then to satisfy his desires, the damage is likely to have already been done.

Ericsson is not likely to be willing to wait until then to have his future decided and making the whole thing drag out that long would likely encourage some animosity on Ericsson’s side as to why he’s had to wait, unless there’s a good reason for it such as arranging alternative sponsorship.

He has earned the right to be paid for his services, and all he wants is his performances to be reflected in the deal he gets from Ganassi. Not just for the Indy 500 win, but for the championship contender he has become.

Ericsson might be some way off Palou in the championship – who isn’t? – but he’s also 60 points ahead of last year’s champion, Will Power, and is a race winner in 2023 unlike Scott Dixon or his other team-mates outside of Palou.

There isn’t an Indy 500 winner in the field who isn’t paid a strong salary. One of them, Simon Pagenaud – also a series champion – is 24th in the points after eight races. This feature isn’t about Pagenaud and his team’s struggles, but it’s just another example that whatever Ericsson is asking for is surely very, very reasonable.

Especially when you consider that, The Race believes, at least 15 drivers in the series are paid by their teams. Clearly Ericsson is better than the 16th-best driver in the field in every measurable statistical category.

He’s finished in the top 10 in 41 out of 55 races at Ganassi so far. He’s won four races across the last three years.

Ganassi also should be afforded some leniency in the sense that he’s lost Jimmie Johnson’s sponsor Carvana from the full-time set-up this year, and Palou leaving would engineer some extremely big shoes to fill. He has to weigh up three versus four cars and, even if he keeps Ericsson, who, if anyone, will replace Palou?

Marcus Ericsson Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented By Lear By James Black Largeimagewithoutwatermark M83940

But surely, losing the team’s most recent Indy 500 winner and its best championship hope in 2022 would not be the way to cope with losing this year’s champion elect, too?

Especially as Dixon is likely to compete for another three seasons or so as he approaches his career’s twilight years, despite his performances still being so good.

Of course, going from having Ericsson help with his salary to having to fund Ericsson’s wages is not easy. But with Palou set for the exit, there’s a salary that should be freed up.

Previously, Indy 500 winners’ deals have been sorted quicker than this.

Teams including McLaren – Zak Brown publicly declared his interest in Ericsson if it expands to four cars next year and chastised Ganassi for not believing it could find the sponsorship to support Ericsson – and Andretti Autosport are just a couple that would be waiting to snap Ericsson up.

Of course, Ganassi is running a business and he has to protect the interests of everyone in his team, not just Ericsson. A huge number of people count on Ganassi for a livelihood.

It just seems that Ericsson is a driver Ganassi can’t afford to lose, and risking annoying him through the negotiation process won’t help anyone. Especially as Ericsson’s request is a reasonable one.

Another side effect of letting this impasse continue is that it’s all Ericsson is asked about at the moment. It’s reasonable to suggest that he and Ganassi are not performing in optimal conditions with all of these questions hanging over them, and getting the deal done now would allow everyone just to focus on the championship.

Palou might be giving the team prosperity but the focus has to be sealing the continued success of one of IndyCar’s best teams, especially in light of Arrow McLaren’s growth and Andretti’s threatened resurgence.

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