DETROIT ( Associated Press) — Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson’s milk has barely washed away Firesuit and IndyCar season has gone wild.
Sweden is the leader of the new issue, free agency has picked up on a spurt and the defending IndyCar champions have said they have been wrongly named in the rumor mill.
And it’s the last race on Belle Isle to boot.
Ericsson returned to the makeshift road route on Friday looking to defend his first career IndyCar win and take charge of the championship fight. Slow down, warned Pato O’Ward, who is also back at the Detroit Grand Prix to defend his first IndyCar win and take the championship lead from Ericsson.
Belle Isle was a double-header in the last eight years and Ericsson won last season on Saturday, With a win for O’Ward on Sunday. It’s just a Sunday race this weekend, the last time the event will be held on Belle Isle. The Detroit Grand Prix will be moved to the Downtown Street Race next year.
So it’s only fitting that The Hangover from the Indy 500 held last week and all the drama from the IndyCar Series — remember, there are still 11 more events on the schedule ending September 11 — marks the conclusion of Belle Isle.
The ink has just dried up on O’Ward’s contract extension with Arrow McLaren SP And he’s thinking the big picture everywhere. He let go of the gas on the last lap at Indy, challenging Ericsson to victory, and on Friday also thought it was the right decision.
O’Ward believed he could not complete the winning pass and crashed – an unforgivable result in a double-digit run. Ericsson shot first from eighth in the standings with the win, while O’Ward moved from seventh to second and was 13 points behind.
“I made the call 100% right,” O’Ward said Friday. “I don’t think trying to be a hero will help us win the championship. I think it was a huge blow to the championship and didn’t deserve it.”
Other drivers disagreed, with IndyCar champion Alex Palu insisting that he would have gone on to win the Indy 500 no matter what.
O’Ward was supported by his team, however, as Arrow McLaren took major steps towards becoming one of IndyCar’s top outfits. The team announced this week that it has signed 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi for next year, O’Ward signed an expansion last week and is the centerpiece of the organization, and McLaren’s plans to build a state-of-the-art Indianapolis shop Is. Because it prepares to expand to three cars next year.
“I am proud of Pato’s maturity to understand us as an organization,” said team president Taylor Keel. “He made a move that was wise beyond his years by taking into account the bigger picture. I know in his heart he wanted to lay flat, look what happened. But something was running through his mind like, ‘Let’s go to the championships’ Pay attention.’ That’s a big deal for me.”
What about Dixon?
The Indy 500 was Scott Dixon’s loser, and he did.
A sharp penalty on the pit road destroyed Dixon’s shot at a second Indy 500 victory when he dominated almost the entire build-up in the race. He went over 234 mph in a record-setting pole-winning run and then led 95 of 200 laps.
Dixon made winning another Indy 500 a top priority and the six-time IndyCar champion “was definitely devastated after the race,” said Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Palu.
The New Zealander insisted on Friday that he was fine.
“We’re in Detroit right now. I feel wonderful,” said Dixon, who said he often doesn’t despair for long periods of time. “I’m very quick with that stuff. For me, it’s more about how everyone else feels. I think the saving grace was one of the Ganassi cars (Ericsson) that still won the race.”
Andretti Autosport and McLaren both announced possible driver changes for 2023. Kyle Kirkwood will complete his rookie season with AJ Foyt Racing and will then replace Rossi at Andretti.While Andretti is going for the car that has yet to be decided at McLaren.
Kirkwood, who is driving an IMSA sports car for Vassar Sullivan Racing on Saturday, was fastest in Friday’s lone IndyCar practice and is looking to close out his lone season with Foyt Strong.
“I just want to win for the team because they worked really hard for it,” Kirkwood said.
Rossi said he had decided last summer to join Andretti for this seventh season. will be his last. Andretti held an exclusive negotiating window with Rossi but let him sign him early with McLaren to facilitate the Kirkwood move. Rossi is approaching the three-year mark of his last win.
“It was clear that I was going to look at different options and figure out what’s out there,” Rossi said. “I have driven for Andretti Autosport for a long time. Sometimes you need to change things up, be it the personal side, the professional side or the two combined. I think it was time for a change.”
But what about that third McLaren seat next year?
O’Ward made a strong case for retaining his current teammate Felix Rosenquist, who is in a contract year and is still being evaluated by the team. He finished fourth in the Indy 500.
However, the name most associated with the ride has been Palu. The Spaniard won the IndyCar title in his first season driving for Ganassi – second in IndyCar – and has become a hot commodity in the paddock.
Palu was thrilled to be part of the rumor mill on Friday, but said he doesn’t know why his fellow contestants think he is leaving Ganassi for McLaren.
“I’m fine. I’m not talking to other teams,” Palu said. “I mean, my name is around, but because someone’s interested doesn’t mean I’m interested.”
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