NASHVILLE — Marcus Ericsson went for a wild ride on the way to becoming a stunning winner in the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, which will be remembered for airborne cars, massive traffic jams and controversial penalties.
Through the smoke and into the enveloping darkness, nearly three hours after the start of a race that featured two red flags and nine cautions (for 33 of 80 laps), Ericsson emerged victorious for the second time Sunday in IndyCar by leading 37 laps — holding off teammate Scott Dixon by 1.5996 seconds. James Hinchcliffe finished third, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal.
It was a shocking rebound by Ericsson, whose No. 8 Dallara-Honda’s front end was launched 6 feet into the air when he ran into Sebastien Bourdais on a Lap 4 restart, earning him a new nose and wing — as well as a penalty for avoidable contact that sent him to the rear on the restart.
RESULTS, POINTS STANDINGS: Full stats package from Nashville
But the Swede soldiered through the field and somehow into the lead on Lap 31 of 80 and controlled the second half of the chaotic event on the 11-turn, 2.17-mile circuit.
In his finishing kick, Ericsson held off the dominant car of Colton Herta while masterfully saving fuel.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ericsson, whose 2022 ride has yet to be confirmed, told NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider. “It just shows in IndyCar, anything can happen. You can never give up. If you have a good car and a good team, you still can get to victory lane.
“I can’t believe it; I just can’t believe it.”
PoleHerta led a race-high 39 of 80 laps but slammed the Turn 9 wall while trying to chase down Ericsson with five laps remaining, stopping the race for a second time and setting up the final shootout.
“I feel terrible,” Herta told NBC Sports reporter Dave Burns. “We had the car all weekend to win, and man, I just threw it away, so I feel really bad. I’m OK, though. I know that I didn’t get my hands off the wheel, but they’re OK.
“Congrats to Marcus. He drove a hell of a race there at the end. I didn’t think he was going to make it, and he just kept pulling away from me. Good job to him. I just feel terrible for the team and for Gainbridge and Honda. It was terrible on my part. … I was just pushing to try to get ahead of him as soon as I could and overdid it.
“I had fun. Thanks to everybody for showing up. It was amazing even with the COVID restrictions the place sold out so quickly. Everyone did such a fantastic job putting on this race. I couldn’t be more proud of the city for showing up for it and everybody for watching at home for everybody sticking with us through all those yellows. Next weekend will be a lot cleaner hopefully, and I’ll get my redemption there.”
Herta’s No. 26 Dallara-Honda led the first two practice sessions and won the pole position by more than a half-second.
“Colton was so fast, as we saw all weekend, so to keep him behind with a lot of fuel save was one of the best performances of my career,” Ericsson said. “I’m sorry he ended up in the fence there. He should be on this podium with us.”
The first new IndyCar street race in a decade had a clean start but soon turned very choppy — and wacky.
After Herta led the pack through Turn 9 (which serves as the first corner at the start) without incident, the caution flag flew for the first time on Lap 2 for a stall by Dalton Kellett.
On the Lap 4 restart, Ericsson ran into Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 14 Dallara-Honda at full speed, launching the No. 8 Dallara-Honda and sending Ericsson into the pits to replace a heavily damaged nose and wing and serve a stop and go penalty for avoidable contact.
Marcus Ericsson gets airborne!
Ericsson gets into the back of Bourdais, and the caution later comes out. TV: NBCSN
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) August 8, 2021
On his team radio, Ericsson said he was trying to avoiid the slowing car of Bourdais, who scoffed at that in an in-race interview with Snider (Ericsson later apologized to Bourdais in postrace interviews).
“I won’t even go there, but if that’s his answer he needs to get a real freaking hard look at it,” Bourdais told Snider. “It seems we always have that massive acceleration leading to starts and restarts, which if you’re not focused, you can get caught out real easy.
“That’s exactly what happened. We caught the tail of the pack, all of a sudden it goes first- and second-gear speed. Marcus just drove right over my car. Yes, I stopped because the cars were stopping in front of me.”
After a third yellow flag on Lap 16 for a spin by Scott McLaughlin (who was punted by Ed Jones), there was a 10-car pileup in Turn 11 on the Lap 19 restart (which was triggered by Will Power running into Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud).
After a 21-minute red flag, the race was restarted — but without Jimmie Johnson, whose No. 48 Dallara-Honda was disqualified for unapproved work during the stoppage.
With four more yellow flags in the next 30 laps, the race became so chaotic that Ericsson cycled into the lead by the midway point ahead of Herta, who had to give up the lead on a pit stop under yellow after getting caught out on the timing of so many yellow flags.