INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Marcus Ericsson, once a Formula 1 underdog, is now an IndyCar favorite.
And an Indianapolis 500 champion.
Ericsson became the second Swede to win the Indy 500 on Sunday when he held off some of the biggest names in North American motor 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 “million mile” victory.
The 31-year-old showed up in IndyCar in something of a mystery in 2019 after five unremarkable seasons in Formula 1. He had worked his whole life to rise to the top level of motorsport, then fell short without a win – not even a single podium – out of 97 starts.
He didn’t really dazzle in his first season in North America either. Ericsson was split from his first IndyCar team after just a year and then bought a seat at Chip Ganassi Racing – he made sure to note that when he said “winning the Indy 500 isn’t bad for a paying driver” – and has made steady progress in his 36 races with Ganassi since 2020.
“It was tough. I spent five years in Formula 1, almost a hundred Grands Prix, racing for small teams, most of the time at the back. You don’t get much credit back. People think you’re not very good,” Ericsson said. “I came here, and people probably didn’t give it much thought. I had to work here too, learn American races.
“I moved here, I spent my whole life trying to become an IndyCar champion and mainly the Indianapolis 500. It hasn’t been easy. It feels good to show that hard work pays off.
Ericsson took control of the race late – largely due to team-mate Scott Dixon’s speeding penalty – and had victory within reach until a crash by Ganassi teammate Jimmie Johnson with four laps remaining caused a rare red flag stop at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
IndyCar is one of the purest forms of motorsport and rarely issues artificial warnings or trouble stops that could change the outcome. But the crowd of more than 300,000 – barely a few thousand sold out and the biggest sporting event since the start of the pandemic – roared as IndyCar called the cars onto pit road.
The stop gave Pato O’Ward and the rest of the challengers almost 12 minutes on pit road to strategize how to pass Ericsson. Ericsson was dying of his own plans.
“Those 10 minutes sitting there in the pit lane during that red flag was some of the toughest 10 minutes of my life,” he said, “thinking what to do, thinking I was running the biggest race in the world. world, and I’m so close to winning it.
There were two laps remaining when the race resumed and Ericsson took over from O’Ward. The Mexican had one last look for the lead that Ericsson 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.
Sage Karam crashed out and issued another warning on the final lap, allowing Ericsson to step onto the victory podium under yellow. Karam was taken to hospital for assessment for muscle pain.
“When that caveat came out, I thought it was going to be another reboot. I was like, ‘I can’t believe it, another one,'” Ericsson said. , then I realized that it had won me the race. It’s an explosion of emotions from that point on.
It was Ericsson’s third IndyCar victory in 52 starts. But he arrived in Indianapolis convinced he could win the 500 thanks in part to the hard work he’d put into learning the ovals and a third-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in the warm-up for “The Greatest Spectacle in racing”.
It was the fifth Indy 500 victory for team owner Chip Ganassi, who stood on the podium alongside Ericsson’s car. Ericsson is the first Swede to win the Indy 500 since Kenny Brack in 1999 and the second in 106 races.
Ericsson poured his jug of milk all over his face, then handed the bottle to Ganassi for the boss to take his own sip. Ganassi hadn’t won the 500 in 10 years and sent five legitimate contenders to Indy to end the drought.
Victory seemed to belong to Dixon, the six-time IndyCar champion who clocked over 234 mph in qualifying to claim pole. The New Zealander led 95 of the 200 laps, and his Honda was by far the fastest of the field – so fast that Dixon didn’t slow down enough in his final pit stop.
That left Ericsson and Tony Kanaan still in the game for Ganassi. Kanaan, 47, the oldest driver on the field, thought he was in perfect position coming fourth on the restart.
O’Ward would not back down, however. He signed a contract extension with Arrow McLaren SP on Friday and desperately wanted the win to celebrate his status as a McLaren star. But O’Ward finished second, falling narrowly as he tried to give Mexico a celebration of the banner on motorsport’s biggest day; Sergio Perez started Sunday with a victory in the Monaco Grand Prix.
Kanaan finished third, followed by Felix Rosenqvist, another Swede, who drives for McLaren. Rosenqvist is in a contract year with McLaren and fighting for his job, but the The McLaren Group carried the Chevrolet banner to Indy as Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th.
American Pilots Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly finished fifth and sixth, Rossi for Andretti Autosport and Daly for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Last year’s winner Helio Castroneves finished seventh and one place ahead of Meyer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud. Defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou finished 10th in another Ganassi entry.
Dixon moved up to 21st after the speeding penalty, and although he visited Ericsson on the victory podium, he was consoled by his wife on pit road after the race. Johnson finished 28th in his Indy 500 debut.
“It’s a team, everyone roots for everyone, everyone works together and everyone is an open book,” Ganassi said. “You’re going to have things happening in these 500-mile races and they’re not always going to come your way. So, you know, we were lucky to have five good cars and five good drivers.
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