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.”

Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)