Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson seeks maximum points to win IndyCar championship

AUTO: MAY 30 IndyCar - The 106th Indianapolis 500 Marcus Ericsson
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MONTEREY, California – Though he is mathematically eligible in the battle for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship, Marcus Ericsson of Sweden realizes he is a long shot to win the title.

He is fourth in points, 39 points behind the leader, Will Power, in a title battle with a maximum of 54 points per race.

“We go into this weekend with the aim to win the race, maximize the points, and if we do that, that’s all we can do to try and win it,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “We can’t do more than that. That’s our mindset to go in here and win and see how things shake out.”

Facing long odds, the driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Dallara-Honda is still in the fight in the last race of the season, Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.

“We’re still in it,” Ericsson said. “It’s a bit of a long shot. Things happen. We’re still in the mix. In IndyCar, anything happens and so much happens all the time. We go into the weekend, want to win the race, and see what happens. If anything happens to the other guys, we can still win this thing.

“I’m positive, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Even if the likable driver from Kumla, Sweden, does not deliver the 2022 IndyCar championship to Chip Ganassi Racing, he already has won the biggest prize of the season.

Ericsson won the 106th Indianapolis 500 on May 29, holding off a charging Pato O’Ward in the closing laps of the race to give team owner Chip Ganassi his first Indy 500 win since Dario Franchitti in 2012.

“The 500 is the biggest race obviously and to win that is bigger than anything,” Ericsson said. “It’s been a tremendous year since then. To be in the fight going into the final race is great. I have a bit of a feeling that I have nothing to lose now and I’m already a winner this year.

“It’s a good way to go into the final race of the year.”

Ericsson came to the IndyCar Series in 2019 after a five-year career in Formula One. He had 97 F1 starts but never finished on the podium.

The term “team orders” has been widely used this week because of the five drivers left in the fight for the championship, three are from Team Penske and two from Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ericsson’s teammate, Scott Dixon, is 20 points out of the lead and Ericsson may have to serve as Dixon’s wingman in the race.

But Ericsson is comfortable with the concept from his experience in F1, where team orders more widely are used.

“In a way, F1 is even more in the hands of the team,” he said. “Quite a few races they would swap positions and let your teammate go. That was a common thing even in Race 1 of the season. Let him by or whatever.

“Here in IndyCar, it’s a lot more everyone for themselves. Every team within teams, they have their own sponsors, their own groups. It’s a lot more for yourself. F1 is a lot more about team performance. In a way, that’s why I’m probably more used to that anything.”

In the 2017 race at Baku, Ericsson was ordered to give up a spot to Sauber teammate Pascal Wehrlein — sacrificing the only point he would have scored during that season.

“I’m not very happy about it still,” Ericsson said. “I was in P10 and gave it up to my teammate because the team said it and said they’d swap it back, and they didn’t swap back, and he finished 10th, I finished 11th.”

Tired of the F1 politics and enticed by the tremendous competition of IndyCar, Ericsson joined what was then Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2019. In just his eighth race of his rookie season, Ericsson finished second to race winner Scott Dixon in the 2019 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race No. 2.

Beginning in 2020, Ericsson and Dixon were teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing. He scored his first career win in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix and claimed Indy win No. 2 in wild fashion in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville on August 8, 2021.

This year, he became just the second driver from Sweden to win the Indy 500, joining Kenny Brack, who won the 1999 Indianapolis 500.

“Coming in here, after five years I wasn’t super successful in Formula One,” Ericsson said. “It took a while for me to establish myself in IndyCar. But I think my progression throughout the year has been very good. I’ve taken steps every year. That’s one of the big reasons I wanted to come here, to show what I could do. I developed a lot in Formula One.

“The problem in Formula One, if you’re not on a team to show that. If you show the same results your first year as your last year, that’s all people look at. I believe I developed and was a better driver.

“That’s the biggest reason I wanted to come to IndyCar to show that I can compete at this level, and I can be fighting for wins and championships. It’s been good to do that the last few years.

“We’ve been in the mix. Especially this year, it’s been an incredible year.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”