Marcus Ericsson pulls stunner to win a wild IndyCar Music City GP debut in Nashville


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.

Nashville winner
Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson of Sweden celebrates winning the Music City Grand Prix (George Walker IV / Tennessean/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“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.

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.”

A 10-car traffic jam occurred in Turn 11 during the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville (George Walker IV / Tennessean/USA TODAY Sports Images).

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.

Will Power says IndyCar field toughest in world: ‘F1’s a joke as far as competition’


DETROIT – With the 2023 Formula One season turning into a Red Bull runaway, Will Power believes the NTT IndyCar Series deserves respect as the world’s most difficult single-seater racing series.

“It’s so tough, an amazing field, the toughest field in the world, and people need to know it, especially compared to Formula One,” the defending IndyCar champion told NBC Sports during a media luncheon a few days ahead of Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. “Formula One’s a joke as far as competition, but not as far as drivers. They have amazing drivers. And I feel sorry for them that they don’t get to experience the satisfaction we do with our racing because that is the top level of open-wheel motorsport.

“I think Formula One would be so much better if they had a formula like IndyCar. I love the technology and the manufacturer side of it. I think that’s awesome. But from a spectator watching, man, how cool would it be if everyone had a Red Bull (car)?”

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It probably would look a lot different than this season, which has been dominated by two-time defending F1 champion Max Verstappen.

The Dutchman won Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix from the pole position by 24 seconds over seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. It’s the fifth victory in seven races for Verstappen, whose 40 career wins are one shy of tying late three-time champion Aryton Senna.

Along with being a virtual lock to tie Senna’s mark for titles, Verstappen is poised to break his own record for single-season victories (15) that he set last year.

“You simply know Max is going to win every race if something doesn’t go wrong,” Power said. “Imagine being a guy coming out as a rookie, and you probably could win a race. It would be really cool to see. But you know that would never happen with the politics over there.”

Verstappen’s F1 dominance has been a stark contrast to IndyCar, where Josef Newgarden just became the first repeat winner through six races this season with his Indy 500 victory.

Team Penske (with Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Chip Ganassi Racing (with Palou and Marcus Ericsson) and Andretti Autosport (with Kyle Kirkwood) each have visited victory lane in 2023. Arrow McLaren (which has past winners Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist) is certain to join them at some point.

Meanwhile, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez (two wins) have won every F1 race this season with the two Red Bull cars combining to lead more than 95% of the laps.

The primary differences are in the rulesets for each series.

While F1 teams virtually have complete autonomy to build their high-tech cars from scratch, IndyCar has what is known as a spec series in which the cars have a large degree of standardization.

IndyCar teams all use the Dallara DW12 chassis, which is in its 12th season. The development of the car largely has been maximized, helping put a greater emphasis on driver skill as a differentiator (as well as other human resources such as whip-smart strategists and engineers).

Alex Palou, who will start from the pole position at Detroit, harbors F1 aspirations as a McLaren test driver, but the Spaniard prefers IndyCar for competitiveness because talent can be such a determinant in results.

“Racing-wise, that’s the best you can get,” Palou said a few days before winning the pole for the 107th Indy 500 last month. “That’s pure racing, having chances to win each weekend.”

Of course, F1 is the world’s most popular series, and the 2021 IndyCar champion believes its appeal doesn’t necessarily stem from being competitive.

Though the ’21 championship battle between Hamilton and Verstappen was epic, F1 has grown its audience in recent years with the help of the “Drive To Survive” docuseries on Netflix that has showcased their stars’ personalities along with the cutthroat decisions of its team principals (IndyCar started its own docuseries this year).

“I don’t think the beauty of F1 is the race itself,” Palou said. “I’d say the beauty is more the development that they have and everything around the races, and that they go different places. But when we talk about pure spectacle, you cannot get better than (IndyCar).

“You can feel it as a driver here when you first come and jump in a car. When I was in Dale Coyne (Racing), we got a podium my rookie year. It wasn’t the best team, but we were able to achieve one of the best cars at Road America (where he finished third in 2020). It’s not that I was driving a slow car. I was driving a really fast car. I think we can see that across all the teams and the drivers.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start second at Detroit, is in his third season of IndyCar after winning three championships in Supercars.

The New Zealander said recently that IndyCar has been “the most enjoyment I’ve ever had in my career. I had a lot of fun in Supercars, but there were still things like different uprights, engines, all that stuff. (IndyCar) is spec. Really the only things you can change are dampers and the engine differences between Honda and Chevy.

“I have a blast,” McLaughlin said. “Trying to extract pace and winning in this series is better than I’ve ever felt ever. I’m surprised by how satisfied it feels to win an IndyCar race. It’s better than how it ever has felt in my career. I’ve always liked winning, but it’s so satisfying to win here. That’s why it’s so cool. There are no bad drivers. You have to have a perfect day.”

Qualifying might be the best example of the series’ competitiveness tightness. The spread for the Fast Six final round of qualifying on Detroit’s new nine-turn, 1.645-mile downtown layout was nearly eight 10ths of a second – which qualifies as an eternity these days.

Last month, the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course produced a spread of 0.2971 seconds from first to sixth – the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history since the format was adopted in 2008. Three of the seven closest Fast Six fields have happened this season (with the Grand Prix of Long Beach ranking sixth and the Alabama Grand Prix in seventh).

While the technical ingenuity and innovation might be limited when compared to F1, there’s no arguing that more IndyCar drivers and teams have a chance to win.

“The parity’s great, and no one has an advantage, basically,” Power said. “The two engine manufacturers (Honda and Chevrolet) are always flipping back and forth as they develop, but we’re talking like tenths of a second over a lap. There’s not a bad driver in the field, and there are 20 people all capable of being in the Fast Six every week. Maybe more. It’s incredibly competitive. There isn’t a more competitive series in the world. I’m sure of that.

“If you want the ultimate driver’s series, this is it I’m from a big team that would benefit massively from opening the rules up, but I don’t think (IndyCar officials) should. I think this should always be about the team and driver getting the most out of a piece of equipment that everyone has a chance to do so. That’s the ultimate driver series. Who wants to win a championship when you’re just given the best car? It’s just ridiculous.”

Power believes the talented Verstappen still would be the F1 champion if the equipment were spec, but he also thinks there would be more challengers.

“There’s got to be a bunch of those guys that must just be frustrated,” Power said. “Think about Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, Lando Norris, (Fernando) Alonso. Those are some great drivers that don’t get a chance to even win. They’re just extracting the most out of the piece of equipment they have.

“All I can say is if everyone had a Red Bull car, there’s no way that Max would win every race. There are so many guys who would be winning races. It’d just be similar to (IndyCar) and different every week, which it should be that way for the top level of the sport.”