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Palou eyeing Rolex win and 3rd IndyCar title as he remains unbothered by McLaren lawsuit

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Alex Palou has two IndyCar championships, a newborn daughter and a last-minute seat in Chip Ganassi’s star-studded Cadillac at the Rolex 24 of Daytona.

Life couldn’t be any better for Palou.

Even with a $23 million breach of contract lawsuit by McLaren hanging over his head.

The Spaniard is starting the season unbothered and ready to chase a third IndyCar championship with Chip Ganassi Racing. He wants to win the championship, and he's over the moon with new baby, Lucia, born in December. He has at last received the visa needed for mom and baby to join him in the United States perhaps as soon as next weekend when he makes his second career start in the endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.

He got the late call to drive the star-studded Cadillac lineup of IMSA regulars Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande, and IndyCar teammate and six-time champion Scott Dixon in next weekend's twice-round-the-clock endurance race.

Winning two titles in three seasons for Ganassi does wonders for a driver when the team owner's motto is “I like winners.” But the relationship between owner and driver appears genuine and it was Palou at Ganassi's annual start-of-the-season dinner who chose the seat next to the boss then spent the next two hours showing him photos of his new baby.

Palou said in an interview with The Associated Press that his relationship with Ganassi is “great, better than the first."

“I think this drama has made us a lot closer. Why? I don't know,” Palou told AP. “Now we just have a normal relationship. When you break one time with your girlfriend, then you are even better because you understand each other and all of the previous issues. Suddenly it's a better relationship.”

There technically never was a break between Palou and Ganassi, but there certainly was drama.

Palou won his first IndyCar title in his first season driving for Ganassi. Midway through his second season, Ganassi said he'd picked up the option on Palou's contract for 2023. Palou said no thanks, he planned to move to Arrow McLaren Racing.

Ganassi sued but mediation ended the spat with a resolution that Palou could be McLaren's reserve and test driver in Formula One, would finish his contract with Ganassi in IndyCar, and then start his IndyCar career with McLaren in 2024.

Except as Palou dominated the 2023 IndyCar season with five wins and a runaway route in winning his second title, he changed his mind and decided he didn't want to leave Ganassi after all. McLaren is now suing for an exorbitant figure Palou certainly can't afford, and Palou in his legal response admitted to breach of his McLaren contract in a bid for the legal wrangling to focus only on actual damages Palou owes McLaren.

So he sat before AP smiling and totally unbothered by this nearly two-year Ganassi and McLaren tug-of-war over his employment. With a water bottle sitting in front of him, he seemed surprised when asked how he wasn't freaking out about his financial future.

“Look, it all comes down to this. ‘Do I have to pay one water bottle?’” he asked as he pushed the bottle to the side. He then pushed the water bottler to the opposite side. “Or do I have to pay this many water bottles?”

One of the contentions Palou made in his legal response to McLaren was that he'd lost faith in McLaren's ability to land him a seat in Formula One. That was, after all, what he was chasing and was putting in the work with McLaren in hopes that his contract for an IndyCar seat would instead earn a promotion to the top series in the world.

Asked how he was so convinced that he’d never make it to F1, Palou said he did the tests — the simulator — and “there were no signs that anything was going to open for me in F1.”

He wasn't interested in seeing if an injury would open a spot for him.

“I am too old to wait and see if someone gets hurt and that is how I can get my chance,” Palou said. "Pato can wait for someone to get hurt.”

Since Palou's change of mind, McLaren has named Pato O'Ward, their 24-year-old IndyCar driver, as the F1 reserve.

For Palou, life could generally not be any better right now. He gets to race in Ganassi's storied entry at Daytona next weekend, a call he did not receive until after the team's test in December, and looks forward to chasing a third IndyCar title when the season starts in March.

He's vowed that there will be no more drama and that his long-term future is with Ganassi.

"We’ll try and get many championships if we can, and we’ll try and fight for as many championships and Indy 500s as possible," Palou said.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing