Ganassi vs. McLaren headlines Indianapolis 500 title fight, some 300,000 fans expected

Jack Harvey, of England, talks with Katherine Legge, of England, during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Friday, May 19, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS — Four custom McLaren GTs lined the curb in front of St. Elmo’s Steak House, the see-and-be-seen spot in downtown Indianapolis, in a massive flex by the race team trying to win the Indianapolis 500.

The rebuilt, rebranded and rebounded Arrow McLaren organization has turned the buildup to the Indianapolis 500 into a battle with Chip Ganassi Racing, the reigning winning team, which, like McLaren, has four strong chances to win on Sunday in front of some 300,000 spectators.


It has become the best rivalry in IndyCar, the one between Ganassi himself and Zak Brown, the head of McLaren Racing. Their long-running feud is just one of many highlights from an emotional week ahead of the 107th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”:

— The cars of 1986 winner Bobby Rahal have been slow and his son, Graham, failed to make the race. But Graham Rahal received a reprieve when Katherine Legge, the only woman in the race and his teammate, ran into Stefan Wilson during practice, knocking him out of the race with a fractured back. Dreyer &Reinbold needed a replacement for Wilson and a deal was struck to get Graham Rahal into the Chevrolet-powered car despite his long association with Honda.

— A.J. Foyt came to Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he grieves the April death of his wife of 68 years, Lucy. The four-time winner of the race was rewarded with two fast cars and Santino Ferrucci starting fourth on Sunday.

— Callum Ilott was near panic ahead of qualifying when he felt his car was too dangerous to drive. Juncos Hollinger Racing made an emergency change to a different car and the British driver made the field. Agustin Canapino, his rookie teammate from Argentina, has been shockingly fast.

Then there’s the lingering contract situation between reigning Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and Ganassi. Ericsson wants to stay with the team and the Swede is not happy he hasn’t been re-signed yet.

That is where it gets good between Ganassi and Brown, who scheduled his Friday news conference to begin 15 minutes before Ganassi’s traditional availability on the Yard of Bricks. Brown, who poached 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan and a sponsor from Ganassi to run a fourth McLaren for him this Sunday, said his team has responded so well to four cars at Indianapolis that he’d consider running four full-time entries next year.

Who would he put in that fourth car? In Brown’s opinion, Ericsson is the top free agent on the market and is shocked he might be available. Brown, who only expanded McLaren to three cars this year, said he will decide by July if McLaren will run four cars next year; Ganassi holds the exclusive negotiating rights with Ericsson until August.

McLaren already is getting Alex Palou, who won the 2021 series title for Ganassi and starts on the pole Sunday, for next season. Brown also has signed NASCAR star Kyle Larson to race the 500 for him next year, and it was Ganassi who developed Larson in stock cars but had to fire him in 2020 when he was caught using the N-word in an online racing game.

Brown has now made it clear he’d like a shot at landing Ericsson, too. Ericsson actually entered IndyCar with the team that is now Arrow McLaren, but signed with Ganassi before Brown took over.

“Personally, I don’t think people steal things. I think people lose things. And yes, Marcus has done an outstanding job,” Brown said. “I’m a little surprised, given how strong things are commercially, that his current team doesn’t have the commercial confidence that they can sell the Indy 500 championship contender and sign him up.

“I understand they probably have a little bit of time, so I’m sure they’re working at it,” he said. “But I wouldn’t let him go if he was driving for me, and I would have the commercial confidence that I could get the sponsorship.”

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