The Indianapolis 500 may be an American institution, but the prestigious race is known worldwide.
For more than a century, drivers from around the world have come to Indy with 22 winners from 12 countries outside the United States in the race’s 102 previous editions.
This year, two open-wheel veterans from Sweden are making their first Indy 500 starts. Formula One veteran Marcus Ericsson is behind the wheel of the No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Dallara-Honda, and Formula E veteran Felix Rosenqvist is in the No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing.
With two Swedes racing in the series full time, the level of interest in their home country has not been this high since Kenny Bräck became the first Swede to win the race in 1999.
“To be honest, IndyCar was very big from the late ’90’s to the beginning of the 2000’s when Kenny was over here and doing very well,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “I remember watching on TV as a kid, and there was a lot of coverage of it in Sweden.”
Bräck competed in the Indy Racing League and CART full time from 1997-2003. The Swede was one of the most successful drivers at the time, with nine victories (including the ’99 Indy 500). He also won the 1998 IRL championship.
But in the final race of the 2003 IRL season at Texas Motor Speedway, Bräck would suffer serious injuries in a crash that nearly cost him his life when his car locked wheels with another, sending Bräck’s car into the catchfence.
Bräck would recover from his injuries and return to IndyCar one final time in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, but Ericsson said interest in the sport had evaporated in Sweden by then.
But with two Swedes making their debuts at the Brickyard, interest in IndyCar has been rekindled in the Scandinavian nation.
“Obviously, for me coming from Formula One, I had a lot of support from Sweden during my years in there and now I see pretty much all of the fans who followed me in F1 are following me in IndyCar,” Ericsson said.
“With Felix in the series on top of that, it just became super popular in Sweden now. I think all of the motorsport fans in Sweden are following the IndyCar Series now. It’s very good, and I’m very happy to receive that support from my country.”
Like Ericsson, Rosenqvist also has fond memories of watching Bräck race, and he could not be happier finally to have the chance to follow his footsteps.
“It’s something that I always strived to do. IndyCar is always something I’ve loved and followed very closely from Europe,” Rosenqvist said. “It’s definitely been a dream to go to IndyCar.”
“It almost seems like not only are there fans who used to follow Kenny, but there are also a lot of younger, new fans that are really into IndyCar as well. We have a very big following in Sweden.”
Ericsson will start Sunday’s race from the 13th position while Rosenqvist will start 29th. Though Rosenqvist would have liked to qualify closer to the front, he still is enthused to compete in his first Indy 500.
“It’s such a huge spectacle to be a part of,” Rosenqvist said.
“I think as the month goes on, you realize more what it’s all about. You have guys who have been telling you for weeks what it’s going to be like, what you have to pay attention to, and other things. But as you go on you realize you kind of experience everything yourself. It’s one of those races you’ve always wanted to take part of, and now it’s only a couple of days away.”
After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.
Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.
Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.
Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.
Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.
After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.
The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.
Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.
It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.
Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.
Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.
Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.
Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.
Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
Max Anstie – E
Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
Haiden Deegan – E
Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
Mitchell Oldenburg – W
Michael Mosiman – E
Jeremy Martin – E
Tom Vialle – E
Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
Chance Hymas – E
Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
Max Vohland – W
Cullin Park – E
Chris Blose – E
Derek Kelley – W
Enzo Lopes – W
Pierce Brown – W
* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.