Ericsson, Rosenqvist look to follow fellow Swede Kenny Bräck’s footsteps at Indy 500

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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.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

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.”

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Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.