McLaren’s Zak Brown: Palou outlook unclear, but Felix Rosenqvist will stay in IndyCar

Palou Rosenqvist IndyCar
Dan Mullan/Getty Images

MONTEREY, California – While the future of Alex Palou remains very uncertain (and perhaps far from resolution), there seems little doubt Felix Rosenqvist will return to the NTT IndyCar Series next year.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told a small group of reporters Sunday morning that the team will make a decision by the end of September on who will drive alongside IndyCar teammates Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi in 2023.

McLaren has signed Palou and Rosenqvist for next year. Palou is embroiled in a contract dispute with Chip Ganassi Racing, which has filed a lawsuit against the defending series champion that maintains the team retains rights to the Spaniard.

Rosenqvist, who is in his second season at McLaren after two years with Ganassi, initially signed an extension in June that had him ticketed for IndyCar or Formula E depending on where McLaren had room.

PALOU HINTS AT RETURN: After win, Palou left door open to remain at Ganassi

But with Palou’s situation still undecided, the team has until the end of September to keep Rosenqvist or allow him to leave for another IndyCar ride. Brown said McLaren no longer would hold Rosenqvist, who has been courted by multiple IndyCar teams for 2023, to keeping him in Formula E.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Brown said, about six hours before Palou won the season finale and then hinted he might stay at Ganassi. “What I would say is I’m very happy with Felix. He’s done an excellent job this year. He’s been strong all year. We’ll see how that works out. I’d be very happy to have Felix in our car again.

“We need to make a decision, because I think he would be picked up by another (IndyCar) team.”

Though Rosenqvist’s outlook has some clarity, Palou’s situation remains hazy. Ganassi and Palou reportedly have been working through arbitration to attempt to reach a settlement and avoid court.

Asked what the likelihood of Palou’s situation being resolved within the next three weeks, Brown said, “hard to tell. I’d say the ball’s in Chip’s court.”

Brown demurred when asked whether McLaren would walk away from its deal with Palou but indicated the organization (which has entries in Formula One, IndyCar, Formula E and Extreme E) could keep Palou occupied if he wasn’t racing in IndyCar next year.

“Ultimately, we need to make a decision to be prepared going into next year, so I think by the end of the month, we’ll know what we’re doing,” Brown said. “I’m very happy to keep (Palou) testing in a Formula One environment, but that would be something that Alex and Ganassi would have to agree on between them.”

This is the second instance this season in which McLaren has been embroiled in a high-profile contract dispute. The team recently won the rights to Oscar Piastri over Alpine in a case decided by Formula One’s Contract Recognition Board.

Here are highlights of what Brown had to say about both disputes Sunday morning in a 30-minute sitdown before the IndyCar season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca:

Q: Are you surprised how you got involved in similar issues in multiple series?

Brown: “They were two totally separate issues that just came together at the same time. I’m pleased with the outcome, obviously, not just the outcome but what then became clear of what happened. Because we didn’t comment on it. We knew we had a contract. I think as the CRB ruled, it was unanimous. They gave their commentary. So that was good to get that done. Unfortunate to have two at the same time.

Q: Is there any scenario where it wouldn’t be Rosenqvist or Palou next year in the third car? Is there any scenario of another driver as the teammate to Pato and Rossi next year?

Brown: “Sitting here right now, no. But who knows what happens tomorrow sitting here right now.”

Q: What happens if you’re face to face with Chip (Ganassi) today. Do you talk?

Brown: “I haven’t spoken with him since this has all happened, but yeah, I certainly would.

Q: Would he speak to you?

Brown:  I don’t know. You’d have to ask him (laughs). I spent some good time with Mike Hull (managing director at Ganassi). Mike Hull and I get along very well.

Q: Are you surprised there was a perception of McLaren poaching drivers after the Oscar Piastri situation?

Brown: “I think before people saw the CRB ruling, they didn’t know what they didn’t know, and we kept our mouths shut deliberately. Now that ruling has come out in good detail, it’s clear what happened there. We recognized there was a lot of noise, but we knew the truth would come out eventually, and we just need to kind of ride it out as opposed to giving a running commentary. So at the time, not oblivious to the noise and some of the direct message notes that I got from fans. But now we’re very comfortable the CRB has come out, and that’s very clear there, and I’m sure we’ll get this resolved here shortly.

Q: Did the decision to stay mum on Piastri come from how Palou transpired?

Brown: “No, they were two totally separate issues that unfortunately came together at the same time, so it was very noisy, but we really haven’t commented on anything over here, either. I think it was better just to let things play out and give a little bit of color afterward. I think if you look at all of the comments by Otmar (Szafnauer, the team principal of Alpine), he was giving a little play by play of the CRB and how confident they were, and now I think he looks a little silly. I think that’s why it’s best to keep your mouth shut, and we can talk about it after the fact when there’s something concrete to say.

Q: Does IndyCar need a Contract Recognition Board?

Brown: “It worked really well in Formula One. It was a one-day hearing. Got back to us the same week. It was unanimous. The CRB has only been tested three times in its existence, and I think this is the first time of this situation in IndyCar. So I don’t know if you need one because one thing happens. Another might not happen for another 20 years, but the CRB worked well in Formula One.”

Q: What happened with Felix and the alternative plan to put him in Formula E?

Brown: “There’s been a lot of speculation about that, so it’s better to clear that up. At the time we made the announcement, Felix was happy to continue in IndyCar and was also very happy to go into Formula E. So at the time, we had an agreement between us and said I’m happy wherever you put me. Hence we made the announcement to give him comfort and us that we’re going to be racing together. After that time, he decided he wants to stay in IndyCar, and that’s what happened. So instead of me going this is what we agreed, I’d never hold a driver back from what they want to do. So I told Felix I understand you want to be in IndyCar. Let’s see what happens. There’s other activity that came out post-that. We’ve announced Rene Rast (for Formula E), we’re finishing up who’s in the second car. So ultimately released (Felix) from our verbal agreement. We had a handshake, and post-that, he wanted to do IndyCar, and I understand that. I don’t think it would have been right to say, Yeah, but we’ve agreed to this.

Q: If you’re not a part of the Ganassi-Palou lawsuit but want to help move things along, how’s that work?

Brown: “I think everybody wants resolution. We do. Alex does. Ganassi will. So whatever we can do to help make people make decisions, we’re willing to help to a certain extent. But the last race of the year here, we need to get on with our planning for next year.”

Q: So it’s virtually 100 percent certain Felix Rosenqvist will race in IndyCar next year, whether your team or somebody else?

Brown: “It’s 100 percent certain that’s what he wants to, I couldn’t comment if he didn’t race here, would he definitely get a ride (in IndyCar). I think he would. But I don’t know that for sure.”

Q: Did the level of acrimony with the Palou situation surprise you?

Brown: “No. It’s not what I thought going in, because I understood he was free and clear.

Q: Did he mislead you?

Brown: “I don’t want to get into any commentary on our conversations.”

Q: Is your ultimate ambition to put Alex Palou in F1?

Brown: “My ultimate ambition is Alex is a McLaren Racing driver, and we have the benefit of having a variety of teams. Certainly he’ll have opportunity that we can provide him. The possibility of Formula One, I think that’s what is attractive to him.”

Q: Do you have any contact with Alex Palou after the IndyCar season ends, or do you wait until it all plays out?

Brown: “We wait. I think they need to resolve the situation.”

Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”

Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”

Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).