NASHVILLE, Tennessee – “The Sneaky Swede” isn’t that so much anymore, though the T-shirt heralding Marcus Ericsson as an NTT IndyCar Series star finally arrived at a racetrack this weekend.
Official event merchandise trailers at the Music City Grand Prix were carrying a red No. 8 emblazoned with “The Sneaky Swede,” a nod to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s penchant for excelling while lurking.
But Ericsson also noted in May that he sometimes felt a little too far out of the spotlight – a journalist from his Swedish hometown told Ericsson he’d been unable to locate any merchandise at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway featuring the driver.
That naturally began to change after Ericsson won the 106th Indy 500 and then led the championship standings for nearly two months.
🤯🤯🤯 2022 Indianapolis 500 champion🥛 #ME8 #INDY500 @HuskiChocolate @CGRTeams @HondaRacing_HPD pic.twitter.com/9rfaL1FVdS
— Marcus Ericsson (@Ericsson_Marcus) May 30, 2022
But really his emergence began with the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, which Ericsson stunningly won despite extraordinary circumstances that required seven pit stops.
Though his first IndyCar victory had occurred two months earlier, Ericsson gained a new level of exposure at Nashville – where he went airborne on the fifth lap, served a stop and go penalty and then sublimely executed a perfect strategy to leap-frog from the rear to the lead over pole-sitter Colton Herta (who crashed with five laps left while futilely chasing the lead).
“Yeah, it was a huge win for me,” said Ericsson, who re-signed with Ganassi’s team a few weeks later. “It was the first Music City Grand Prix in downtown Nashville and a lot of eyes on this event. So to be the first winner and create history was really cool and really helped me establish myself at the top of IndyCar. It was a really big win for me, and I’m looking at trying to attack that victory Sunday.”
Having lost the points lead after the July 30 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the No. 8 Dallara-Honda driver could use another momentum jolt, and he also will need to overcome adversity again Sunday in Nashville (3 p.m. ET, NBC) after qualifying 18th of 26 cars.
Ericsson has struggled to find the handle all weekend while lacking speed – which is unusual because he has viewed street courses as his biggest strength outside the Indy oval this season. He has been in the top 10 on every street circuit except Long Beach, where he was on track for a podium before a late crash.
“I’m still feeling like St. Pete and Long Beach, we were the fastest cars in both those races,” Ericsson said Thursday before his first lap on track. “St. Pete, we were running really well, and I got that pit lane penalty, which I still think was very harsh and put us at the back of the field and still managed to get a top 10. Long Beach, running P3 late in the race, and I did a mistake on a restart and stuffed it in the wall.
“Our package on street courses has been probably our best as a team, so that’s why I’m really excited about this weekend. I’m really confident we’ll be in the mix to win this thing Sunday.”
With four races remaining this season, Ericsson has fallen nine points behind 2014 series champion Will Power of Team Penske.
“He’s just a great driver, great competitor and been around a very long time,” Ericsson said. “He’s had an incredible season with his consistency and way of always getting back into races. Pretty crazy how many times it looks like he’s having a bad day, and he ends up in the top four somehow. He’s going to be tough to beat.”
But Power is expecting the same from Ericsson, whom he called “probably the best racer in the series” during the Iowa Speedway race weekend.
Nashville could be a major opportunity either way. Power will be starting eighth after a penalty kept him from advancing to the final round in qualifying, and even though Ericsson is starting 10 spots behind, he proved last year that anything is possible on the 11-turn, 2.1-mile layout.
Ericsson also is being advised by four-time IndyCar champion and Ganassi consultant Dario Franchitti on managing the title race. Ericsson has managed to stanch his points loss the past three races – at Iowa Speedway, he “took the fight” to the Penske duo of Power and Race 1 winner Josef Newgarden before his car faded to eighth after starting 12th. He finished sixth after qualifying 15th in Race 2, and he rebounded again last week at Indy by gaining 14 spots in a drive from last to 11th.
“We have to have that risk vs. reward calculation,” Ericsson said. “It’s a dangerous thing. You think too much of points and then not taking risks because then you’re going to put yourself in difficult situations. (At Indy last week), fighting from back of field and going wheel to wheel with guys for P15, it could be their highlight of the season. Then it’s hard for me to do the same risks because I need to not have a DNF.
“Things like that to keep in mind, but it’s a fine line there. The way to go is maximize every weekend. If we can win, we need to win. P5, be there. Then we’ll be in good shape to win this thing.”
Franchitti also is the most recent to win the Indy 500 and IndyCar series championship in the same season (2010) – history that isn’t lost on Ericsson, 31.
“Coming to America from European racing and Formula One, the championship was the biggest thing, but the more I’m here, the more I understand the 500 is the one you want to win,” he said. “What’s driving me now is to do the double. That’s not something that’s happened a lot in the history of IndyCar. It is hard to win both in same year.
“After the 500, there’s been great motivation for me to work extremely hard to win championship and the double. We have a chance to do it, and I’m really, really, really eager to try and do that double.”