IndyCar emerges as an attractive midcareer destination for Formula One drivers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Ericsson considered racing the NTT IndyCar Series in America even before his Formula One contract expired.

The 2017 Indianapolis 500 debut of Fernando Alonso intrigued the young Swedish driver, and when he started watching, he saw a tight, entertaining open-wheel series where anyone could win.

So when Ericsson, 30, became a free agent, he moved from F1 to IndyCar for the 2019 season with Sam Schmidt’s team. He wasn’t retained after McLaren became a partner but landed at powerhouse Chip Ganassi Racing.

Today, Ericsson couldn’t be happier, and he sees growing interest from other Europeans. Romain Grosjean moved to IndyCar this year. In his third start, he won the pole and finished second.

“I think Europe is more interested in this series with me, Alonso and Grosjean coming here,” Ericsson said. “More people are talking about it, watching it. There are still some questions in the paddock about the ovals, but the interest is definitely growing over there.”

It’s showing up at the races, too.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson answers questions from a young fan during the Indy 500 qualifying (Marc Lebryk/USA TODAY Sports).

Eight of the 33 starters in last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 had F1 experience, including Ericsson (who logged 97 starts overseas) and Simona de Silvestro, a former test driver. The list also includes two-time Indy 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Takuma Sato, 2016 race champ Alexander Rossi and Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time Indy 500 winner and two-time world champion Emerson Fittipaldi.

The younger Fittipaldi first raced in IndyCar in 2018 when he started six times for Dale Coyne’s team. Fittipaldi spent the next two seasons working for Haas F1 alongside Grosjean and eventually replaced his injured teammate for the final two races last season. So when Coyne offered Fittipaldi a chance to reunite with Grojsean and drive IndyCar’s oval races this season in the No. 51 car, Fittipaldi quickly signed up.

“It’s a very pure form of racing, very raw racing,” he said. “In testing Indy cars during the preseason, you have to find things in the suspension to make better, and there are so many different strategies, you just race.”


Grosjean seems right at home in the U.S., too.

After claiming the Indy Grand Prix pole in early May, his first on a major circuit in 10 years, the French driver told reporters he was thinking about moving his family to the U.S. The next day, Grosjean made his first major podium appearance since 2015.

Interest in American open-wheel racing waned after the 1995 split between CART and the IRL, with many thinking the two competing series had become watered-down versions of an already inferior racing product, despite the attractiveness of winning Indy.

For most of the next quarter-century, F1 drivers came to America because they were out of options.

Not anymore.

“In my opinion, and you’re never going to get a clear or satisfactory answer, but I think everybody – whether it’s F1, IndyCar or NASCAR – the top talent is the same,” two-time IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden said. “Yes, we do different disciplines, but I think the talent level is the same.”

Alonso’s results helped change the image, too.

International race fans weren’t surprised when the two-time world champ from Spain qualified fifth in 2017 and contended for the race win until an engine failure knocked him out with 21 laps to go. Alonso then failed to qualify for the 2019 race and he finished 21st in last year’s race.

“I am a racer, and the Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world,” he said afterward.

Still, his participation was a reminder of the long, rich tradition of drivers shuttling between the two series.

From 1950 to 1960, the international governing body awarded points toward the world championship based on their Indy performances. Though many declined, Alberto Ascari and his Ferrari-powered entry in 1952 and five-time world champ Juan Manuel Fangio at Indy in 1958 emerged at the forefront of a new trend to race at Indy.

Over the next decade, F1 stars became a prominent feature each May.

Two-time F1 champ Sir Jack Brabham finished ninth in 1961. The march included Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Sir Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt – all world champions. Clark drove to victory in 1965, and Hill followed suit in 1966. Hill remains the only driver to win auto racing’s triple crown – the 500, Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix.

A new generation of attempts began in earnest after the elder Fittipaldi won at Indy in 1989. Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell each made two starts between 1992 and 1994, and when Fittipaldi picked up his second Indy win in 1993, Mansell, the 1992 F1 champ, finished third and was named the Indy 500 rookie of the year.


Occasionally, the migration has gone the other way.

Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indy winner, made 131 F1 starts and won the 1978 world title. His son, Michael, made 13 starts with McLaren’s F1 team in 1993 before returning full time to Indy cars the next season.

Other Americans who competed in F1 include Dan Gurney, who is credited with starting the champagne celebration after spraying A.J. Foyt following their win at Le Mans in 1967; two-time Indy winner Rodger Ward and 1972 Indy winner Mark Donohue, Roger Penske’s first Indy winner; and 1985 Indy champ Danny Sullivan.

AUTO: MAY 22 INDYCAR - The 105th Indianapolis 500 Qualifying
Marcus Ericsson poses for a photo after qualifying ninth for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Alonso’s attempt to match Hill’s triple-crown feat helped make IndyCar seem cool in Europe again.

“I think when Fernando came over was when they started watching,” IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti said. “I think they enjoy what they’re seeing because when you’re a racer, you know what good racing is. In F1, it’s mostly about the car and if you’re behind, it’s hard to catch up. But here you can be 25th one week and still win the next. They see that.”

Grosjean and Fittipaldi acknowledged they know of other F1 drivers who might make the jump.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more F1 drivers looking to come here,” Ericsson said. “I prefer racing an Indy car. But if I had an empty track on a test day, I prefer an F1 car because the speeds in the corners are just crazy.”

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500