Swedish driver Ericsson lands hot chocolate company sponsor

Joe Skibinski / IndyCar
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A hot chocolate company led by Hollywood stuntman and occasional racer Stanton Barrett has signed as primary sponsor for Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson at Chip Ganassi Racing.

This is the first entry into IndyCar for Huski Chocolate, a company headquartered in Stockholm that already does business in Formula One with McLaren and with the English soccer club Millwall.

Marcus Ericsson’s 2020 Huski Chocolate livery. Photo: Chip Ganassi Racing

Huski Chocolate is primarily located in ski resorts and touts its brand as using all-natural ingredients combined with real cocoa, cocoa butter and secret spices. The company expanded into North America two years ago and launched a chocolate milk in Europe last year.

The pairing of a Swedish company with a Swedish driver seems like a natural fit, but the connection is actually between Barrett and team owner Chip Ganassi. Barrett is the son of former stuntman Stan Barrett and the godson of the late Paul Newman.

He became interested in racing through his father and Newman, which led to a friendship with Ganassi. Although Barrett still dabbles in racing – the Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen last year is among the 249 career NASCAR starts Barrett has made since 1992 – his focus is on his other entrepreneurial ventures and his stunt work. Barrett also ran four IndyCar races in 2009.

“Motorsports is a really great platform to get a brand out there and develop a loyal customer base so IndyCar is a great fit because it is picking up aggressively and they are in good markets and has a positive global platform,” Barrett said.

Barrett said he’s known Ganassi at least 30 years, and flew with him late last season to discuss potential partnerships. Ganassi was in the process of shutting down his two-car sports car team, but he reallocated the personnel to create a third IndyCar entry to avoid heavy layoffs.

The talks were preliminary and Ganassi was not sure who the driver would be, but Barrett was adamant he wanted to be tied to a top-tier team. Ganassi teams have won 19 championships and more than 220 races, including four Indianapolis 500s, a Daytona 500, a Brickyard 400, eight Rolex 24 At Daytonas, the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Chip had the choice in driver, he is pretty savvy in who he picks and I think it is a really great fit that Marcus was available,” Barrett said. “For us, it just fell in line that he is a Swedish driver for a Swedish brand, and we will be able to market him quite well. But this was more about the program and being in IndyCar and the partners we could find.”

Ericsson spent five years in F1 before moving to IndyCar last season to drive for Sam Schmidt. When McLaren came on as a partner with Schmidt for this season, the team replaced the two-driver lineup and Ericsson’s contract was not renewed. He had one podium finish in 16 races.

He joins a Ganassi team that includes five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist, a fellow Swede.

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.