Indianapolis (AP) — Marcus Ericsson, once a Formula One backmarker, is now an IndyCar frontrunner.
And an Indianapolis 500 champion.
Ericsson became the second Swede to win the Indy 500 on Sunday when he stopped some of the biggest names in North American auto racing in front of the biggest crowd of his life.
“It’s the greatest race in the world,” said Ericsson, who called it his biggest win at “a million miles.”
The 31-year-old showed some mystery at IndyCar in 2019 after five impromptu seasons in Formula One. He worked his whole life to reach the top level of motorsports, then washed out without a win – not a single podium finish – over 97 starts.
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He didn’t exactly dazzle even in his first season in North America. Ericsson was spun off from its first IndyCar team after just a year, then bought a seat at Chip Ganassi Racing – he made sure to note this when he said “Winning the Indy 500, it’s not bad for a salary driver.” ” – and has made steady progress in his 36 races with Ganassi since 2020.
“It’s been tough. I did five years in Formula One, about a hundred grand prix, running for smaller teams, for the most part of it. You don’t get a lot of credit in the back. People think you’re not good enough are,” Ericsson said. “I came here, and people probably didn’t think much of it. I had to work my way up here too, learn American racing.
“Move here, put my whole life into IndyCar and mainly trying to be the Indianapolis 500 champion. It hasn’t been easy. It’s nice to show that hard work pays off.”
Ericsson took control of the race late – largely due to a sharp penalty from teammate Scott Dixon – and Ganassi won until a crash by teammate Jimmy Johnson, with four laps remaining, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Brought the rare red-flag stoppage.
IndyCar is one of the purest forms of motorsports and rarely uses artificial precautions or issues stoppages that could change results. But the crowd of more than 300,000 – just a few thousand shy and the biggest sporting event since the start of the pandemic – roared when IndyCar called the cars to the pit road.
Stoppage gave Pato O’Ward and the rest of the challengers about 12 minutes on Pitt Road to strategize how to pass Ericsson. Ericsson was troubled by his own plans.
“Those 10 minutes sitting in the pit lane during that red flag were some of the hardest 10 minutes of my life,” he said, “thinking what to do, thinking I could lead the world’s biggest race.” I’ve been, and I’m close to winning it.”
When the race resumed there were two laps left and Ericsson jumped on O’Ward. The Mexican got one last look for the lead Ericsson had defended and O’Ward knew not to force the issue.
“No, he was going to put me in the wall if I had gone for it,” O’Ward said.
Sej Karam crashed and brought up another caution on the final lap, allowing Ericsson to coast down to the victory podium under yellow. Karam was taken to the hospital to check for muscle pain.
“When that caution came to the fore, I thought it was going to be another restart. I was like, ‘I can’t believe this, one more,'” Ericsson said. “At first I was angry, then I realized he won me the race. It’s an explosion of emotions from that time.”
It was Ericsson’s third IndyCar win in 52 starts. But he arrived in Indianapolis, convinced he could win the 500 based on the work he put into learning the Oval and finished third in the warm-up for “the greatest spectacle in racing” at Texas Motor Speedway.
It is the fifth Indy 500 win for team owner Chip Ganassi, who rode Ericsson’s car on the side podium. Ericsson is the first Swede to win the Indy 500 since Kenny Brak in 1999 and the second in the race’s 106 runs.
Ericsson pours his jug of milk into his face, then hands the bottle to Ganassi so Boss can get his swig. Ganassi had not won the 500 in 10 years and sent five legitimate contenders to Indy to end the drought.
The victory went to six-time IndyCar champion Dixon, who went over 234 mph in qualifying to win pole. The New Zealander led 95 out of 200 laps, and his Honda was easily the fastest on the field—fast enough that Dixon didn’t slow down enough at his final pit stop.
The penalty took Dixon out of contention for the win.
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This left Ericsson and Tony Kanan still in the mix for Ganassi. Kanan, 47, who was the oldest driver on the field, thought he was in the right position at fourth on the restart.
O’Word, however, would not relent. He signed a contract extension with Arrow McLaren SP on Friday and wanted a win to celebrate his status as McLaren’s star. But O’Ward finished second, falling short as he tried to give Mexico a banner festival on the biggest day in motorsports; Sergio Perez started Sunday with a win at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Kanan was third, followed by Felix Rosenquist, another Swede, who drives for McLaren. Rosenquist is in a contract year with McLaren and is fighting for his job, but the McLaren group carried the Chevrolet banner at Indy as Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th.
American drivers Alexander Rossi and Connor Daly finished fifth and sixth, with Rossi for Andretti Autosport and Daly for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Last year’s winner, Hélio Castroneves, finished seventh and one place ahead of Meyer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud. Defending IndyCar champion Alex Palu finished 10th in another Ganassi entry.
Dixon dropped to 21st after a sharp penalty, and although the victory went to Ericsson on the podium, he was consoled by his wife on the pit road after the race. Johnson finished 28th on his Indy 500 debut.
“It’s a team, everybody roots for everybody, everybody works together and everybody’s an open book,” Ganassi said. “You’re going to have things happen in these 500-mile races and they’re not always going to get in your way. So, you know, we were lucky that we had five good cars and five good drivers.”