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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Previous F1 competition doesn’t guarantee IndyCar success at COTA

Manor F1 Photo
Manor F1 Photo
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AUSTIN, Texas – Familiarity does not breed success, according to three NTT IndyCar Series drivers who have previous experience at Circuit of the Americas in the Formula One United States Grand Prix. Several other drivers, including IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward, competed in the LMPC IMSA race in 2017.

Although the course is the same – 20-turns and 3.41-miles – the cars are completely different. The highly-advanced, technologically-driven Formula One cars are advanced beyond the realm of anything allowed in the NTT IndyCar Series. It’s more about the driver in IndyCar, which uses an impressive, but simpler formula to help showcase driver skill more than technology in its races.

Money buys speed in Formula One, but an IndyCar team doesn’t need a $400 million budget to go racing. It can get by on $5 millions to $10 million a year and contend for plenty of race victories and championships.

Andretti Autosport star Alexander Rossi drove in five Formula One races with Manor in 2015. The above photo is from his only F1 contest at COTA that season. He was the first driver ever to turn laps at COTA shortly after it was constructed in 2012.

Rossi had his best F1 finish in the 2015 United States Grand Prix when he started 17thand finished 12th.

“When I’ve come here in the past, I came into the weekend fully knowing that there was no chance to ever really do anything from a results perspective,” Rossi said. “To could come here to a track that I’ve spent a lot of time at, not necessarily driven a whole lot, but spent a huge amount of time at. To come into this weekend’s race, competing on a level where we have as good a shot as any, to win the race would be pretty cool.

“There’s kind of an almost unfinished business box that we’d like to tick here in some way. I’m very excited to get the weekend started.”

Chilton raced the entire F1 season in 2013 and 2014 with Marussia. He started 21stand finished 21stin 2013. He started in the first 16 races during the 2014 F1 season but was out of a ride by the time F1 arrived at COTA that season.

Me and Alex probably had pretty similar experiences,” Chilton told NBC Sports.com “Obviously the more laps are better — but the car we were in, we weren’t doing much racing, so the sort of racing experience part isn’t going to help.

“It’s good to be back. I first came here in 2013 for the (United States) Grand Prix. I loved the track. I love the city. I really enjoyed the whole facility, the race track. It’s a pretty long track in an Indy car but it’s got lots of overtaking potential for us and hopefully we’ll put on a great show.

“It’s great to have an English band like Muse on Saturday night, as well.”

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden has the most experience at COTA of any driver in the field for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic. He competed in 97 F1 contests from 2014-2018 before becoming an IndyCar rookie with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season.

Ericsson was 15thin 2015, 14thin 2016, 15thin 2017 and 10thin last year’s USGP.

“I’ve been here quite a few times,” Ericsson said. “It’s one of the best tracks on F1 and I think it’s great we are going here with INDYCAR. It’s going to be a great weekend.

“The racing should be very good. It’s already good on F1 on this track and from what I’ve done in INDYCAR, it’s going to be a really good show from everyone and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Ericsson emphasized that the his F1 experience does not necessarily give him any type of advantage in an IndyCar.

“I think for me I was here a couple months ago in F1 doing the race in ’18. I had all my reference points and then I did the first run and realized that didn’t really work,” Ericsson explained to NBC Sports.com “So I don’t know that the experience — it’s good to know the track, but then the Indy cars are very different cars to the F1 (car) so you have to sort of drive it quite differently and in the end, I think it didn’t really help the maximum amount in my opinion.

“The problem is we had two days of testing already in IndyCar. If we had come here straightaway without any testing it would be an advantage of one hundredth approximate. But now, if you don’t get the track in two days, I don’t think you would be in IndyCar.

“I don’t think it’s a big advantage now going into the weekend.”

But every little bit helps and if all of those little “bits” of information are added up, previous experience can provide a benefit in the race.

“For sure there’s things I can bring from my experience there that helps in INDYCAR, but the Indy car to drive today is different than the Formula One cars with the power steering and everything,” Ericsson continued. “I think it’s two different cars and what I found here on the test; things that worked in the F1 car didn’t really work in the Indy car. I think both cars of very difficult to be fast in but in different ways.

“For sure my experience in F1, it’s helped me to get into INDYCAR.”

James Hinchcliffe, who has never driven in Formula One, or at COTA, believes he has the best experience of any driver in Austin this weekend.

“I know where the restaurants are, so that’s cool,” Hinchcliffe said.