Alex Palou was ‘ready’ for Ganassi lawsuit as ‘way you resolve conflicts as grown people’

Alex Palou Ganassi sued
Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports Images

INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou learned Tuesday night that he was being sued by Chip Ganassi Racing, but the defending NTT IndyCar Series champion wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit.

“I was ready for it obviously,” Palou told NBC Sports in a Thursday interview at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Everybody knows that there’s a conflict, and that’s the way you resolve conflicts as grown people, so yeah. I was ready for it.”

Aside from legal proceedings that seem virtually unprecedented in auto racing history, Palou said little has changed since the contract dispute that has left him being claimed by two teams for 2023.

Hours after Ganassi announced it was exercising an option on Palou’s contract for next season, McLaren Racing announced that Palou had signed to join its organization without specifying which racing series (the team fields cars in Formula One, IndyCar, Formula E and Extreme).

Palou still hasn’t talked to team owner Chip Ganassi in nearly three weeks, and he has yet to talk to any Chip Ganassi Racing executives since the lawsuit became public Wednesday morning after being filed Tuesday afternoon in an Indiana commerical court.

But Palou still maintains it’s business as usual for his No. 10 Dallara-Honda team. He worked on the driving simulator Wednesday to prepare for Saturday’s race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and he still believes he can defend his title in part because communication remains “normal” with his crew.

“I’m trying to keep them as focused as possible on the work we have now, which is try to perform on track,” he said. “And try to block as much as possible the noise around us. I just try to communicate as much as possible and keep everybody that works on the 10 car as focused as possible.

“To be honest, I haven’t asked for opinions (about the lawsuit). We’ve been maybe three weeks into this environment. We know that our job is to perform on track. They know I have no idea how these things work. I’m not a lawyer or anything like that. Never been on any lawsuit. They never ask me anything on that aspect.”

Palou’s lawyer issued a statement Thursday about the lawsuit.

“We are disappointed that Chip Ganassi Racing would attempt to keep Alex from an opportunity to compete in Formula One, and even more so with CGR’s public court filings and continued commentary to the press on this matter,” Rachel E. Epstein of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP. “Alex has consistently given his very best effort to CGR and it is unfortunate that CGR would attempt to deny Alex this opportunity. We would hope the parties can resolve this amicably, but if not, we look forward to resolving this matter in a private arbitration, as CGR has requested.”

Asked by NBC Sports if pursuing an F1 ride was the root of the conflict, Palou said “it’s what the lawyer said.”

Did he agree with it?

“I’m not a lawyer, I’m just a racing driver,” he said. “That’s why I have management people and lawyers office and they know how to manage all that stuff, so yeah, I have full confidence and trust in that people that works with and for me.”

Though Ganassi told the Associated Press this week that he expects Palou will be driving for the team in ’23, Palou reiterated that he would be part of “the McLaren family for next year.”

For the third consecutive race, Palou’s car will be wrapped in colors and company logos other than NTT Data, his regular full-time sponsor, but he said the contract dispute hadn’t affected his sponsors.

“That was the plan ahead of the season,” he said. “We have really sparkly bright American Legion car this weekend, which looks really good. It’s all good.”

Palou will make laps in practice Friday after answering questions for about 30 minutes about his status Thursday.

“I know it’s a topic for this weekend and probably for the next one,” he said. “I completely understand it.”

So how will he keep the attention from affecting him?

“I’m here,” he said. “I’m at the media center with 25 people that for sure are going to ask me the same question over and over for an hour. I’m ready. On my crew, I don’t think they’re going to ask or want to know. They want to win. That’s all that matters.

“The only thing I have in mind is to win. I just try to focus. It could be a lot worse, to be honest. I could be a kid that doesn’t have a seat and seeing that from TV. But I have probably one of the best seats and a chance to win this title for the second time in a row. Yeah, man. I’m ready for it. It could be a little worse.”

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”


James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”