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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NHRA 50th Gatornationals winners: Crampton, Hight, Butner, Hines

Gatornationals winners: Hines, Butner, Hight, Crampton. Photos and videos courtesy NHRA.
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Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) emerged as winners of the 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals Sunday at Gainesville (Florida) Raceway.

IN TOP FUEL: Crampton successfully defended his win in last year’s Gatornationals with a 3.769-second, 329.89 mph effort to defeat Clay Millican (3.756 seconds, 324.67 mph) in the final round.

Ironically, not only was Sunday’s triumph Crampton’s first win since last year’s Gators, he also finally got past the first round for the first time in the 2019 season’s first three events, going on to earn his ninth career NHRA national event win.

This is just a big race no matter what year you win it,” Crampton said. “There were not too many easy rounds this year. That goes to tell you how difficult this Top Fuel category is.

I think this win is going to take a while to sink in. I’m so lucky to have a team that puts me in a position to win like this. I’m just focusing to be a dependable driver.”

IN FUNNY CAR: Hight keeps rolling along. Not only has he been the No. 1 qualifier in each of the first three NHRA national events, Sunday’s win was the second of the season and 47th of his career.

Hight (3.867 seconds, 331.61 mph) took the win light after Tim Wilkerson (11.165 seconds, 92.63 mph) lost traction shortly after leaving the starting line.

Qualifying No. 1 at the first three races is really impressive,” Hight said. “It shows that we have a really good handle on this car.

We didn’t get the job done on the last day of the season last year (he failed to win the championship, losing to J.R. Todd) and my team worked really hard because they don’t want to be in that spot again.”

IN PRO STOCK: Butner, the 2017 Pro Stock champion, is off to a great season’s start, with Sunday’s triumph being his second of the young season.

Butner (6.505 seconds, 212.29 mph) defeated Alex Laughlin in the final round. Laughlin’s car broke, essentially giving Butner a free pass to the victory.

Butner’s win was all the more sweeter as his fiancee, Randi Lyn Shipp, won the Stock Eliminator class.

I had no shot of winning rounds today,” Butner said. “Second and third round we didn’t get down the track. The guys never gave up and I made the best run of the weekend in the finals. We were real ready for the final.”

IN PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: The two-wheeled guys kicked off their season with an outstanding final round battle between teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec.

Hines earned the 49th win of his career and first since the final race of the 2017 season with a run of 6.752 seconds at 199.17 mph to defeat Krawiec (6.762 seconds, 198.90 mph).

The motorcycle I had this weekend was phenomenal,” Hines said. “It was tracking straight down the track and it responded to all of the changes.

That made it so much easier to focus on going out there and racing, cutting good lights and not really worrying about what could happen the very next run.”

The next national event will be the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, April 5-7 in Las Vegas.

Here’s Sunday’s results and updated point standings:

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Richie Crampton; 2. Clay Millican; 3.T.J. Zizzo; 4. Doug Kalitta; 5. Steve Torrence; 6. Leah Pritchett; 7. Brittany Force; 8. Jordan Vandergriff; 9. Terry McMillen; 10. Dom Lagana; 11. Mike Salinas; 12. Austin Prock; 13. Antron Brown; 14. Scott Palmer; 15. Pat Dakin; 16. Chris Karamesines.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight; 2. Tim Wilkerson; 3. John Force; 4. Jack Beckman; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Matt Hagan; 8. Ron Capps; 9. Jonnie Lindberg; 10. Shawn Langdon; 11. Bob Tasca III; 12. Terry Haddock; 13. J.R. Todd; 14. Dave Richards; 15. John Smith; 16. Jim Campbell.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner; 2. Alex Laughlin; 3. Kenny Delco; 4. Rodger Brogdon; 5. Greg Anderson; 6. Shane Tucker; 7. Chris McGaha; 8. Deric Kramer; 9. Jeg Coughlin; 10. Jason Line; 11. Fernando Cuadra; 12. Matt Hartford; 13. Alan Prusiensky; 14. Wally Stroupe; 15. Erica Enders; 16. Val Smeland.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Hector Arana Jr; 4. Joey Gladstone; 5. Ryan Oehler; 6. Jerry Savoie; 7. Jim Underdahl; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Angie Smith; 10. Cory Reed; 11. Angelle Sampey; 12. Karen Stoffer; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Scotty Pollacheck; 15. Hector Arana; 16. Melissa Surber.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Richie Crampton, 3.769 seconds, 323.89 mphdef. Clay Millican, 3.756 seconds, 324.67 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.867, 331.61def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 11.165, 92.63.

PRO STOCK: Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.505, 212.29def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, Broke.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.752, 199.17def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.762, 198.90.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — T.J. Zizzo, 4.467, 287.84 def. Scott Palmer, 7.510, 92.54; Clay Millican, 3.713, 325.61 def. Austin Prock, 3.996, 311.63; Richie Crampton, 3.783, 318.77 def. Antron Brown, 4.376, 220.40; Brittany Force, 3.712, 304.12 def. Chris Karamesines, 8.179, 68.29; Jordan Vandergriff, 3.721, 322.34 def. Mike Salinas, 3.986, 275.28; Steve Torrence, 3.680, 327.27 def. Dom Lagana, 3.845, 264.18; Leah Pritchett, 3.724, 327.59 def. Pat Dakin, 7.999, 80.28; Doug Kalitta, 3.749, 325.30 def. Terry McMillen, 3.749, 325.22; QUARTERFINALS — Crampton, 3.785, 319.37 def. Pritchett, 3.739, 328.78; Millican, 3.701, 325.69 def. Vandergriff, 10.914, 71.66; Zizzo, 3.764, 325.92 def. Force, 3.751, 326.95; Kalitta, 3.703, 327.51 def. Torrence, 3.708, 329.91; SEMIFINALS — Crampton, 3.734, 326.56 def. Zizzo, 3.844, 297.42; Millican, 3.909, 313.73 def. Kalitta, 4.920, 145.97; FINAL — Crampton, 3.769, 323.89 def. Millican, 3.756, 324.67.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.759, 231.48 def. Dave Richards, Mustang, 5.240, 213.43; John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.892, 326.63 def. Jim Campbell, Dodge Charger, 8.295, 78.64; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.933, 326.56 def. John Smith, Charger, 5.306, 150.05; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.869, 331.94 def. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.234, 284.03; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.941, 322.58 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 3.950, 324.44; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.905, 326.79 def. J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.353, 255.53; Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.924, 325.22 def. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.966, 323.27; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.910, 324.59 def. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.969, 316.90; QUARTERFINALS — Wilkerson, 3.872, 329.50 def. Pedregon, 8.110, 84.77; Hight, 3.870, 330.88 def. Capps, 10.137, 77.38; Force, 4.471, 185.95 def. Hagan, 9.028, 77.04; Beckman, 3.898, 329.67 def. Johnson Jr., 3.892, 327.03; SEMIFINALS — Wilkerson, 3.896, 329.02 def. Beckman, 4.211, 267.27; Hight, 3.852, 331.20 def. Force, 3.942, 324.12; FINAL — Hight, 3.867, 331.61 def. Wilkerson, 11.165, 92.63.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.566, 210.97 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.751, 173.63; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.512, 210.83 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.527, 212.39; Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.533, 210.34 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.516, 212.53; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 212.46 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.549, 211.63; Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.593, 209.26 def. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.571, 211.13; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.504, 212.69 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.625, 208.07; Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.566, 211.23 def. Wally Stroupe, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.505, 212.33 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 12.777, 67.47; QUARTERFINALS — Brogdon, 6.513, 211.39 def. McGaha, 7.852, 127.58; Delco, 6.555, 210.01 def. Tucker, 6.610, 209.23; Butner, 6.552, 211.76 def. Kramer, 20.651, 37.89; Laughlin, 6.507, 211.00 def. Anderson, 6.506, 213.16; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 8.103, 115.58 def. Brogdon, Foul – Red Light; Laughlin, 6.531, 210.57 def. Delco, 6.550, 210.41; FINAL — Butner, 6.505, 212.29 def. Laughlin, Broke.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.916, 187.89 def. Hector Arana, 7.095, 196.93; Joey Gladstone, 6.873, 194.46 def. Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.884, 195.39; Ryan Oehler, Buell, 6.853, 196.36 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.901, 194.04; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.781, 198.67 def. Cory Reed, Foul – Red Light; Hector Arana Jr, 6.815, 197.62 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.916, 192.19; Matt Smith, 6.795, 197.36 def. Angie Smith, 6.850, 196.79; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.803, 198.17 def. Scotty Pollacheck, 6.964, 192.41; Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, Broke def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Arana Jr, 6.797, 197.08 def. Oehler, 6.886, 198.44; Krawiec, 6.920, 197.68 def. Underdahl, 7.184, 153.49; Gladstone, 6.811, 194.74 def. M. Smith, Broke; Hines, 6.756, 199.14 def. Savoie, Foul – Red Light; SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 6.819, 197.08 def. Gladstone, 6.850, 194.72; Hines, 6.758, 199.08 def. Arana Jr, Foul – Red Light; FINAL — Hines, 6.752, 199.17 def. Krawiec, 6.762, 198.90.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.Doug Kalitta, 246; 2.Leah Pritchett, 204; 3.Steve Torrence, 197; 4.(tie) Richie Crampton, 178; Billy Torrence, 178; 6.Terry McMillen, 166; 7.Mike Salinas, 161; 8.Clay Millican, 157; 9.Antron Brown, 150; 10.Austin Prock, 138.

FUNNY CAR: 1.Robert Hight, 330; 2.Jack Beckman, 225; 3.Matt Hagan, 215; 4.John Force, 200; 5.Tommy Johnson Jr., 191; 6.Tim Wilkerson, 165; 7.Bob Tasca III, 163; 8.J.R. Todd, 159; 9.Ron Capps, 146; 10.Shawn Langdon, 143.

PRO STOCK: 1.Bo Butner, 301; 2.Alex Laughlin, 229; 3.Jason Line, 189; 4.Erica Enders, 186; 5.Matt Hartford, 185; 6.Rodger Brogdon, 184; 7.Jeg Coughlin, 180; 8.Deric Kramer, 166; 9.Kenny Delco, 141; 10.Chris McGaha, 137.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.Andrew Hines, 124; 2.Eddie Krawiec, 106; 3.Hector Arana Jr, 76; 4.Joey Gladstone, 72; 5. Matt Smith, 63; 6.Ryan Oehler, 54; 7.(tie) Jerry Savoie, 53; Jim Underdahl, 53; 9.Angelle Sampey, 35; 10.(tie) Hector Arana, 32; Karen Stoffer, 32; Melissa Surber, 32.

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