Once Again, the Plot Thickens

I missed something a couple of weeks ago. Amid all of the hoopla surrounding Tony Kanaan last week, and whether he had already been signed by Arrow McLaren SP (AMSP) for the 2023 Indianapolis 500 or another team – somehow I missed the fact that NTT Data was moving from Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) to AMSP. If there is drama, McLaren has to be involved. By the way, Tony Kanaan confirmed on Tuesday that he will be driving for AMSP in next year’s 500.

I am trusting my memory here, which is a very dangerous thing – but I believe that NTT Data and CGR go back as far as 2013, when NTT Data sponsored a car for Ryan Briscoe in Ganassi’s No. 8, for the 2013 Indianapolis 500. I also seem to remember that when it was announced that Tony Kanaan would be moving to CGR for the 2014 season, NTT was going to be his sponsor in the No. 8 car. That was before Dario Franchitti suffered a career-ending crash late in the season. Once it was determined that Franchitti would not be returning to the No. 10 in 2014 – Kanaan was bumped up to the Target-sponsored No. 10 and Briscoe was signed to drive the No. 8 car with NTT Data sponsorship.

When Target downsized to one car for the 2016 season, Kanaan assumed the NTT Data sponsorship he had originally been slotted for. By the time Kanaan left Ganassi and joined the Foyt team for 2018, he was still carrying NTT Data on his helmet visor as a personal sponsor. He still does to this day. Of course, the following year, their parent-company, NTT, became the title sponsor of the series.

I must say that I was more than just a little surprised that NTT Data is making the move to AMSP, after ten seasons at Ganassi. Normally when a primary sponsor has been around for a decade or so, they stay where they are or they drop out. They don’t normally make a switch after spending that much time with a team.

Once again, the plot thickens. Apparently, when Alex Palou was making his shady deal to move to McLaren in 2023, he got NTT Data involved with the scheme. Once Ganassi made it clear he was not going to let Palou out of the contract, it sounds like NTT Data had more freedom to move than Palou. They chose to move in the coming offseason, where they will be the primary sponsor on the No. 6 of Felix Rosenqvist for ten races, including the Indianapolis 500. They will also be a “supporter” of Tony Kanaan’s effort next May.

Two things sort of struck me with this announcement. With Tony Kanaan moving from Ganassi to AMSP, that’s three drivers that McLaren CEO Zak Brown has poached from Chip Ganassi since the end of the 2020 season. First, he plucked Rosenqvist away from Ganassi just two seasons into his tenure with the team. This past summer, McLaren thought they had a deal for 2023 with Palou before Ganassi pointed out he was still under contract for one more year. Now Kanaan has crossed over to the dark side.

To further rub Ganassi’s nose into it, Brown has also stolen away a primary sponsor after ten seasons with the team. Ouch! I know businesses don’t operate on emotions and vendettas, but this seems more than just a coincidence. It has the appearance that Brown is purposely targeting the Ganassi properties in the series. I’m sure that’s not the case, but it does seem more than a little weird.

The other thing that struck me is why NTT Data might be going to the No. 6 of Rosenqvist. I’m connecting some dots here, so bear with me. Between Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Rosenqvist – who would you say is the most vulnerable or expendable? In other words, who would be most likely to be released due to poor performance? The obvious answer is Rosenqvist.

Many people seem to think that Palou’s future is now in Formula One, since he participated in a Friday Practice at COTA a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure I’m buying that. I think when the dust settles for 2024, Alex Palou will be driving in IndyCar for AMSP, in the No. 6 sponsored by NTT Data – which was the grand plan for 2023, before Palou learned that contracts actually do mean something. I think that once it was obvious that Palolu would be back at Ganassi in 2023, Felix Rosenqvist suddenly looked a lot more appealing to them in an Indy car instead of in Formula E.

Unless McLaren has plans to expand to four fulltime cars for 2024, I think Rosenqvist’s time in the No. 6 car is limited to next season. Four races into the 2022 season, Rosenqvist had finishes of seventeenth, twenty-first, eleventh and sixteenth. The only question to most fans was if Rosenqvist would last the season before being dropped by the team, or if he would be a mid-season casualty. By now we know that Rosenqvist had a strong second-half to the season and was re-signed by McLaren, without any clarification which series he would be driving in for next season. Once the Palou mess was settled, there was suddenly room at AMSP.

It’s cruel to say, but I don’t think Felix Rosenqvist is anything more than a place-holder. He is simply keeping the seat warm for Alex Palou, until Palou is free to drive for McLaren. As awkward as it will be for a lame duck Palou at Chip Ganassi Racing next season, I think it will be even more awkward for Rosenqvist at AMSP. Personally, I don’t think there is a thing Rosenqvist can do to keep driving in IndyCar for McLaren in 2024. If he wants to continue driving in IndyCar beyond next season, it will be with another team. If he wants to stick with McLaren, he will probably be found on the Formula E grid for 2024.

I hope I am reading way too much into this, and I would love to be very wrong. Unfortunately, based on what we’ve seen from McLaren – I don’t think it will play out very different from the scenario I just laid out. Felix Rosenqvist will have a seventeen-race audition for other potential teams in 2023, which is much better than most drivers get. I hope he gets a car that can make the most of this chance. He belongs in the series.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Once Again, the Plot Thickens”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    It does seem like Brown has it out for Ganassi, but it’s also worth considering that a team with McLaren’s resources is largely going to target top-level drivers and sponsors… which are mostly clustered at Penkse or Ganassi. Ganassi may simply have the misfortune of having the loosest fist between him and the guy who owns the series.

    Rosenqvist is all but assuredly keeping the seat warm for Palou, I expect that isn’t a secret to him given how last year went. Another top 10 points performance could be enough to keep him in Indycar. A win or two should be enough.

  2. So I’m thinking the perfect way to wrap up this crazy saga would be for Rosenqvist to return to the 10 car at Ganassi next year when Palou takes over the #6 at AMSP right?

  3. I know Zach Brown rubs people the wrong way, but I keep hearing Chip referred to as “Cheap” Ganassi. So I would assume that as long as you don’t pay well, you’ll lose drivers to those willing to pay more.
    I could be totally off base but it’s my take. Grab some popcorn and watch the fireworks next season!

  4. you present an excellent case for an Indycar
    “gossip” show similar to F1’s DTS.

  5. It seems that both Juncos and Rahal are interested in Rosenqvist. Maybe other teams as well however it does all depend on his 2023 performance and trying to keep the same team of engineers and mechanics around him. As you say he knows the situation.

  6. I thought NTT and Arrow were competitors in their main business of electronics and software. They wouldn’t let each other’s logos on the same race car if they still were competitors. I’m more curious about what this means for these companies’ core markets than what it means for the IndyCar teams involved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: