Attorneys representing Alex Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing filed responses regarding the speed with which their civil lawsuit case should play out. The most eye-opening revelations included new insight into how Palou says he notified CGR officials of his plans to leave the team after 2022 and a proposed schedule from Palou’s attorneys to settle Ganassi’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would take until the end of October to complete. Ganassi’s attorneys scoffed at the idea.
“Contrary to the defense advocacy, time is of the essence, as defendants continue in breach of critical contracts with plaintiff and irreparable harm continues daily,” Ganassi’s attorneys wrote in their latest filing. “Such a delay is unacceptable to the team.”
Palou’s attorneys have alleged that it has been CGR slowing the process to decide whether Ganassi or Arrow McLaren SP has Palou’s racing rights in 2023 and which team will be left scrambling to fill a seat they thought was locked down.
“There is no dispute that Mr. Palou intends to finish the 2022 season with (Ganassi)," Palou's lawyers wrote, "and thus no need to resolve (Ganassi's) preliminary injunction motion before the 2022 season concludes.”
Here’s what we learned:
Palou's lawyers: Driver told Ganassi June 15 he wanted out
When Palou was asked June 3 about fast-growing rumors that he was searching for a new team, he unequivocally stated his love for Ganassi and denounced the idea he was in search of a larger salary or potential opportunities to race in Formula 1.
“I’m happy where I am, and just because somebody is interested doesn’t mean that I’m actively looking for a place for the future,” he told IndyStar two days before the June 5 Detroit Grand Prix. “I’m making more money than I ever thought I would when I was a kid growing up, so making a lot of money, or a lot more money (than I am now) doesn’t drive me.
“And if I won the (IndyCar) championship last year in my first year with a big team, and I’m not in F1 now, why should I be next year or in two years? As I always have said and will continue to say, I’m not giving away fighting for a championship to be part of a bigger series.”
According to his attorney’s latest filing in U.S. District Court, that attitude changed within the next 10 days. “(Ganassi) has known since at least June 15, 2022 that Mr. Palou wished to race for another team that would provide him the ability to pursue a Formula 1 opportunity (and the return to Europe that would accompany such opportunity) after the 2022 IndyCar season,” they wrote.
“The parties discussed the possibility of (Ganassi) reverting with a revised contract proposal that would include an exit clause for same.”
The latest on the Palou-Ganassi lawsuit saga:
So Palou’s contract with Ganassi did not include a clause that would’ve allowed him to get out of his IndyCar contract if he was given an opportunity to compete in F1 and, typically, paid a buyout. It’s unknown what contract language Palou believes gave him the ability to leave CGR after the 2022 IndyCar finale at Laguna Seca, but he believes he had a timeline to notify Ganassi of such plans.
“On July 7, 2022, having not received any revised proposal … Mr. Palou informed (Ganassi) in writing that, having further considered the matter in the interim, he did not intend to drive for (Ganassi) after the 2022 IndyCar season,” his attorneys wrote.
Just after 3 p.m. five days later, CGR announced in a release – which contained a quote attributed to Palou that he says he did not provide nor approve – that Palou's team option had been picked up, locking him down for 2023. Just after 7 p.m., Palou disputed the validity of the release, and a separate one from McLaren announcing Palou had signed on to join the program in 2023 followed within minutes.
According to Palou’s attorneys, CGR formally informed Palou of their intent to exercise the option on July 11. Shortly after, Palou’s attorneys wrote to CGR “reiterating Mr. Palou’s intent not to drive for (Ganassi).” This week’s filing also states his attorneys “further informed (Ganassi) that (Palou) did not approve any press release suggestion otherwise, or any proposed quote from Mr. Palou regarding the matter.”
The release of the statement, Palou’s attorneys state, was “in violation of Mr. Palou’s contractual and common law rights.”
Filing of the lawsuit came 13 days later. Palou’s lawyers insinuate that because CGR knew of Palou’s plans to leave in mid-June, that waiting 40 days to file a lawsuit to prevent Palou from leaving after the 2022 season isn’t an example of the “expediency” Ganassi now seeks.
As additional evidence, Palou’s lawyers mentioned that CGR initially fought the notice to move the lawsuit from Marion County Superior Court to U.S. District Court before agreeing to it on Aug. 3, costing the process five days.
As additional evidence, Palou’s lawyers mentioned their notice to move the lawsuit from Marion County Superior Court to U.S. District Court on July 29 – a change CGR’s attorneys initially fought, but then eventually agreed to allow on Aug. 3. Those five days lost, ending in CGR’s lawyers succumbing to the now assumed court-change, did nothing to move the trial along in an expeditious manner, according to Palou’s side.
Ganassi says Palou was informed of the team's plan to enforce the option – which IndyStar understands was from a sit-down conversation with managing director Mike Hull – as well as their plans to send out a release the day prior to the public announcement.
“(Palou) did not object,” CGR’s newest filing states. “But then shortly after the team’s release, a competing racing organization announced that (Palou) would join them in 2023. Counsel for (Palou) followed this with a letter indicating (Palou) ‘does not intend to drive for Ganassi after 2022.’”
Ganassi’s side in neither addressing nor disputing Palou’s lawyers’ timeline and manner of informing CGR of his plans not to return ahead of the release is curious. Palou very well may have been courteous during in-person conversations, and his lawyers may have used a very different tone and message officially in writing. The discovery process will, in the end, determine how both sides went about communicating their intentions.
What followed, according to Ganassi, included silence from Palou and his lawyers about whether, despite the McLaren release, he would “comply with the parties’ contracts.”
Drastically different definitions of 'expedited'
One thing for certain in the nearly three-dozen filings over less than two weeks is that these sides have different definitions for the word expedited. Palou’s lawyers believe a complete halt until after the season is a must so Palou can focus on trying to become the first driver to repeat as IndyCar champion in more than a decade.
“Given the inherent and very real dangers of race-car driving, as well as the well-recognized effects of distracted driving, defendants believe that (our) proposed expedited schedule … is preferable." they wrote. "Since Mr. Palou is presently driving for (Ganassi), preserving his ability to focus on the task at hand is in the best interests of both parties."
Palou's attorneys' proposed schedule would begin Sept. 14 and conclude by the end of October.
This schedule, however, results in Ganassi potentially losing Palou’s rights in October and being left with few options for a long-term driver for the No. 10 car. Ganassi’s contracted sportscar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay is often mentioned as a possible stop-gap for 2023, if his responsibilities in the other series would allow him to return to IndyCar.
The list of free agent candidates has already shrunk considerably with the re-signings of Callum Ilott and Rinus VeeKay to their respective teams. Felix Rosenqvist – also caught in the middle of this winding road of court filings – is mentioned as a potential returnee in what would amount to a driver swap between CGR and AMSP. Importantly, Rosenqvist is known to have left CGR following his two-year stint with the team in 2019-20 on less-than-stellar terms – bolting for a considerable jump in compensation during a time when Ganassi was weathering the fallout from the lawsuits involving its former NASCAR sponsor DC Solar.
In IndyCar, Rosenqvist is only locked down to his current home by a team option McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown holds through a few weeks after the end of the season. If that option timeline runs out before the trial (or mediation) is complete, Rosenqvist could sign elsewhere in IndyCar or relent and join McLaren’s Formula E team. The former option – should Rosenqvist not land at Ganassi – would leave both IndyCar teams more desperate to land Palou for 2023.
In other words, Palou will come away from this driving for one of these teams. Whether he and Ganassi would attempt to push through another season if a buyout couldn’t be agreed to is unclear, but it’s clearly in CGR’s best interest for this to be decided quickly – as it stated this week – so it can figure out who will be driving the No. 10 Honda in 2023.
“Drivers are not the only component of fielding a racecar,” Ganassi’s lawyers wrote. “Indeed, there are multiple team members/employees, sponsors and other coordination that are at the forefront now. (Palou's) breaches and continuing failure to self-correct those breaches impair the team now as it finishes this season and plans for the next.”
Before last week’s move to federal court, the court was working toward a hearing on the preliminary injunction for the week of Aug. 22. Ganassi proposed Palou be deposed Aug. 15 and limited discovery pertaining to Palou’s at-odds contracts and communications surrounding them be surrendered by Aug. 13 – this coming Saturday, or nearly two months earlier than proposed by Palou’s lawyers.
With two other Ganassi drivers even closer to the front of the title fight, the team clearly sees a benefit of having an answer from the court that outweighs any interference in Palou’s on-track performance. The Spaniard has weathered four formal interviews with members of the media, on top of other one-on-ones IndyStar and others have conducted since July 12. Three of those large-group sessions, done during bullpen availabilities, were at the direction of the CGR PR team.
This past weekend’s race in Nashville was the first since July 12 that the team decided Palou had done enough interviews and did not have him attend the Friday bullpen. Two days later, Palou secured his first podium since the controversy erupted.
“The driver has been performing well, despite his breaches of contract and resultant issues he has created for himself,” Ganassi’s lawyers wrote. “And he has been responding to multiple media questions regularly. A brief deposition poses no risk.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Alex Palou's lawyers propose timeline in Ganassi lawsuit through October