INDIANAPOLIS (AFP) – Marcus Ericsson, once a backstory in Formula One, is now the frontrunner in IndyCar.
And the Indianapolis 500 champion.
Ericsson became the second Swede to win the Indy 500 on Sunday when he dumped some of the biggest names in North American motorsport to the biggest crowd of his life.
“It’s the biggest race in the world,” Ericsson said, calling it his biggest victory “by a million miles.”
The 31-year-old debuted in IndyCar with a bit of a mystery in 2019 after five unremarkable seasons in Formula One. He worked his whole life to reach the highest level in motorsport and then lost over 97 matches without a win – not even a single podium.
He wasn’t quite impressed in his first season in North America either. Ericsson parted ways with his first IndyCar team after just a year, then bought a seat at Chip Ganassi Racing – and he made sure to write it down when he said “winning an Indy 500, it’s not bad for a hired driver” – and has made steady strides in his 36 races with Ganassi since 2020.
“It was tough. I’ve had five years in Formula 1, close to a hundred grand prix, ran for small teams, mostly towards the back. You don’t get much credit in the back. People think you’re not very good,” Ericsson said. “I came here, and people probably didn’t think much of it. I had to work my way up here too, learning about American racing.
“I moved here, and put my whole life into trying to be an IndyCar champ and basically the Indianapolis 500. It wasn’t easy. It’s nice to show that the hard work pays off.”
Ericsson dominated the race of late – largely because of teammate Scott Dixon’s penalty kick acceleration – and a win was on hand until Janassi’s teammate Jimmy Johnson crashed by four laps. What remains is a rare red flag stop at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
IndyCar is among the purest forms of motorsport and rarely throws up artificial warnings or downtime that might alter the outcome. But the crowd of more than 300,000 people — just a few thousand shy of selling and the biggest sporting event since the pandemic began — took off when IndyCar called the cars to the road.
The layover gave Patou Award and the rest of the competitors nearly 12 minutes on the pit road to strategize how to get Ericsson through. Erickson was agonizing over his own plans.
“Those 10 minutes sitting there in the pit lane during that red flag were some of the hardest 10 minutes of my life, thinking about what I should do, thinking I’m driving the biggest race in the world, and I’m close to winning it,” he said.
There were two laps left when the race resumed and Ericsson got the jump on O’Ward. The Mexican got one last look at the lead that Eriksson had defended and Oward knew not to force it.
“No, he would have put me in the wall if I had gone for it,” said O’Ward.
Sag Karam crashed and sent another yellow on the final lap, allowing Eriksson to take the podium victory under the yellow. Karam was taken to hospital to evaluate muscle soreness.
“When that warning came up, I thought it was going to be another restart. I was like, ‘I can’t believe it, another one,’” Ericsson said. It’s an explosion of emotions from that point on.”
This was Ericsson’s third IndyCar victory in 52 games. But he arrived in Indianapolis convinced he could win the 500 based in part on the work he put into learning the ovals and finishing third at Texas Motor Speedway in preparation for “the greatest spectacle in the race.”
This is the fifth Indy 500 win for team owner Chip Ganassi, who rode the podium on the side of an Ericsson. Ericsson is the first Swede to win the Indy 500 since Kenny Brake in 1999 and second in 106 races.
Erickson poured his jug of milk over his face, then handed the bottle to Ganassi so his boss could take a big gulp of it. Ganassi hadn’t won a 500 in 10 years and sent five legitimate contenders to Indy to end the drought.
The win appears to belong to Dixon, the six-time IndyCar champ who clocked more than 234 mph in qualifying to win the pole. The New Zealander drove 95 of the 200 laps, and the Honda was easily his fastest car in the field – so fast that Dixon didn’t slow enough on his last stop.
The penalty kick kept Dixon out of the competition for the win.
This has left Ericsson and Tony Kanaan in a state of merging with Janassi. Kanaan, the oldest driver on the field at 47, thought he was in perfect position sitting fourth at the start of the second half.
O’Ward won’t relent, though. He signed a contract extension with Arrow McLaren SP on Friday and desperately wanted to win to celebrate his status as a McLaren star. O’Ward finished second, but failed in his attempt to give Mexico a grand celebration on motorsport’s biggest day. Sergio Perez opened Sunday with a win at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Canaan came third, followed by Felix Rosenqvist, another Swede who drives a McLaren. Rosenqvist is on contract year with McLaren and is fighting for his job, but the McLaren group carried the Chevrolet banner in Indy where Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th.
American drivers Alexander Rossi Conor Daly finished fifth and sixth, Rossi for Andretti Autosport and Daly for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Last year’s winner, Helio Castroneves, finished seventh, one place ahead of his Mayer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud. IndyCar champ, Alex Palou, finished 10th in another Ganassi entry.
Dixon faded to 21st place after the quick penalty kick, and although he visited Ericsson on the podium, his wife credited him on a pit road after the race. Johnson finished 28th on his debut in the Indy 500.
“It’s one team, everyone is root for everyone else, everyone works together and everyone is an open book,” Janassi said. “Things will happen in these 500 mile races and you won’t always fall in your way. So, you know, we were lucky to have five good cars and five good drivers.”
More AP Indy 500 coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/indianapolis-500 and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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