Marcus Ericsson rekindles his love of racing with Sebring test

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

“I’d never seen these cars live before,” Marcus Ericsson said at earlier this week after watching some of the other cars take to the track for a test at Sebring International Raceway. “It was cool to see the other guys go out. The car looks really cool. I’ve watched a lot of clips on the internet to prepare myself for this. To be here today and also have (Team) Penske here is a perfect spot for me.”

Slightly more than a week after he climbed out of a Formula 1 following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – a race he failed to finish after losing power on Lap 24 – Ericsson’s passion for the sport was rekindled.

“This sort of gets me back to why I fell in love with racing,” Ericsson said. “F1 is always going to be F1, you know? But it’s sort of a bit artificial in some ways. You always go to these perfect places, and that’s not racing, I would say. This takes me back to the passion of racing.”

Sebring International – run partially on airport tarmacs and partly on worn road surfaces – is far from the “perfect” purpose-built courses Ericsson has contested during the past five years.

Ericsson will run the complete schedule for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in their No. 7 Honda while remaining a reserve driver for Sauber in 2019. Last year, he finished in the points six times in 21 races while never earning a result better than ninth. He expects more from his IndyCar experience.

“I feel like I definitely have stuff that I can bring from my F1 experience to help us as a team to move forward, but I also think the team is really at a high level,” Ericsson said. “I’ve been impressed with the way they work and the preparation they do before a test with all the prep on the setup side. That’s been quite impressive.”

And while the learning curve is likely to be much steeper than he can fully appreciate, with grid sizes that are comparable and a team that is much closer to its competition than Sauber was to the F1 leaders in 2018, bettering a ninth-place finish is well within reach. Ericsson will first have to become accustomed to heavier cars with much less braking.

Last year, the team scored a victory at Iowa for James Hinchcliffe and earned 12 top fives in 33 starts.

“To the layman, this car looks similar to an F1 car, but it’s such a different animal,” said Taylor Kiel, general manager for Schmidt Peterson. “There’s no power steering, there’s way less downforce and the brakes coupled with the downforce are not as good in an Indy car. So there are a lot of things that he needs to get used to and that he’s working on doing today. So far, so good. The learning curve is going to be steep, but he’s very well-prepared mentally to attack that right now.”