IndyCar

Marcus Ericsson plans for a long, successful stay in IndyCar

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Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson doesn’t necessarily seem like a trailblazer, but there’s a good possibility he may eventually wind up becoming one.

Ericsson is leaving F1 after the current season and has already signed with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to race full-time in the IndyCar Series in 2019.

To hear Ericsson talk about it during a Wednesday morning media teleconference, he very likely could be the first of several current or former F1 drivers who may be IndyCar-bound in the next few years.

“IndyCar as a series is really on the up at the moment,” Ericsson said. “It gets more and more attention also in Europe. I think more and more drivers (are) looking towards IndyCar because it seems from the outside like a great series where you can really show off your capabilities as a driver. I think that’s what is very appealing for a lot of the drivers over in Europe, as well.

“Also when Fernando (Alonso) went over and did the (2017) Indy 500, I think that also opened some doors, sort of made more people think about IndyCar. Also, you have seen guys like Alexander Rossi, okay he’s an American, but he was racing a lot in Europe, he went over to IndyCar, has been doing extremely well.”

Ericsson became available just after mid-September when the Sauber F1 team announced its 2019 driver lineup of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, leaving Ericsson the odd man out.

“For me, very early IndyCar was the most appealing series where I think was going to fit me the best,” Ericsson said. “That’s what I’ve been sort of focusing on and trying to find a seat in IndyCar.

“That’s why I’m so happy that it will happen, that I found such a great team. Getting picked by SPM is very, very special. I feel very proud of that.”

The 28-year-old Ericsson wasted little time working on his next move after F1. Just days after Sauber’s announcement about 2019, Ericsson reached out to SPM team co-owner Sam Schmidt, had a good initial conversation, and things just went from there.

“We had a really good chat,” Ericsson said of his conversation with Schmidt. “We were also speaking to some other teams in the series, in different series, as well, to see what options there was out there.

“But for me, straightaway after that first initial talk with Sam, it really felt right for me.”

Ericsson also spoke to former F1 and current IndyCar competitor Alexander Rossi and 2017 Indianapolis 500 competitor and 2-time F1 champ Fernando Alonso to get their take on IndyCar.

“I know Alex quite well, he’s a good friend of mine,” Ericsson said of Rossi. “He actually came and visited me at COTA (Circuit of the Americas for the U.S. Grand Prix) in F1 a few weeks ago.

“He told me, ‘if you get the chance, you have to come over, the racing is great, the atmosphere between the drivers and the fans is just really, really good.’ That’s also the sort of feeling you get from the outside, as well, looking at IndyCar. It looks like such a fun series to be part of.”

Ericsson meets the Indianapolis media on Wednesday morning.

As for Alonso, while he has passed on racing full-time in IndyCar in 2019, he potentially could make a return for a second shot at winning the Indy 500.

“Fernando said it was just an amazing experience doing the Indy 500, that he had so much fun,” Ericsson said. “So he was saying only positive things, that it’s really a fun series.

“Everyone I speak to, they only have good things to say about IndyCar and the racing over here. So that for me made it even more clear that this is the right thing for me to do for my future.”

Ericsson still has two more F1 races – Nov. 11 in Brazil and the season finale Nov. 25 in Abu Dhabi. From there, Ericsson hopes to begin testing with SPM before Christmas.

Ericsson wasted little time getting acclimated to SPM. He was in the shop Tuesday to get fitted for the cockpit in his No. 7 Honda.

He also spent considerable time talking to and getting to know several SPM officials and workers. He can’t wait to get behind the wheel and begin his new racing career.

While he’s not discounting any future possibilities in other seriesx, Ericsson made it clear that he was in IndyCar to stay.

“I see myself being here for many years,” he said. “I want to come over here and do well, make myself a career over here.

“But with that said, I don’t close any doors. I don’t know what happens in the future. As I see it now, I see it as a long-term project. I want to be here and do well and be successful.”

Ericsson is wrapping up a fifth full season in F1. With opportunities for another ride iffy at best for next season, IndyCar became a very viable alternative, one that he had thought about for the last few years.

Now, all that thinking has become reality.

“For me, the fact that the racing is so good in IndyCar was the biggest factor, and the fact that also in IndyCar every driver and every team have a chance to win,” Ericsson said. “I think that’s some of the parts that I’ve been missing a lot in Formula 1 the last few years. I think that was the most appealing thing with IndyCar.

“Also, I think that the competition is super high. There’s some really good drivers and teams in the series. Yeah, those were some of the biggest reasons why I was looking strong at IndyCar for next year.”

Another thing that pretty much sealed the deal for Ericsson is the chance to win almost immediately in IndyCar. That’s as opposed to his Formula One tenure, which to date includes 95 starts without a win, podium finish or pole. He’s on pace to finish a career-best 17th in the final F1 standings.

Also, IndyCar, which has been on the upswing while F1 has been on a downward trajectory in terms of popularity the last few years, gives Ericsson a great opportunity to be competitive right from the March 10 season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.

“I want to be winning races and scoring podiums, do well for the team,” Ericsson said. “I know it’s a massive challenge because everything will be new for me, new cars, new tracks, oval racing, new competitors. I’m very humble and I know it requires a lot of hard work from me to be successful.

“But I have no doubt that with my experience and my abilities I can be up there and fight for wins and score wins, especially racing for such a great team as SPM. That will be my target for next year.”

Ericsson will not only be going against IndyCar stalwarts such as five-time champion Scott Dixon, 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power, past champions Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden, he’ll also be part of perhaps one of the strongest IndyCar rookie classes in a long time.

Other rookies Ericsson will compete against include former Formula E driver Felix Rosenqvist (Chip Ganassi Racing), as well as former Indy Lights stars Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing).

Ericsson is prepared for the challenge not only of racing in a new series, but also the pressure of how a soon-to-be former F1 driver will fare in IndyCar.

“Definitely there will be high expectations on me, I would expect nothing else,” Ericsson said. “I come from almost 100 races in F1, five years there. I’ve built up a big experience which I think will benefit me making this step.

“That comes with pressure, as well, but that’s something I’m used to. Being in F1 for five years, you always have that big pressure on your shoulder to deliver, so that’s nothing new.

“I come over here, expect myself to be up there on fights, getting to it quickly … because everything will be new. The competition in IndyCar is extremely tough, as well. It’s very important to not underestimate it. It’s going to require a lot of hard work.

“But I’m sure that I will do all that homework and be able to be successful.”

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”