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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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).