‘We see racing and life the same’: Deep bonds tie Marcus Ericsson, engineer Brad Goldberg


INDIANAPOLIS – When Marcus Ericsson picked up his Corvette Z06 for winning the Indy 500, he wanted to share with family – so he immediately went to the home of Brad Goldberg.

Ericsson tooled around the neighborhood with his pace car prize, giving rides to his lead engineer’s two sons, Oliver, 9, and Noah, 7.

“The first stop was their house to show the boys the car, and they loved it,” Ericsson, who also took Goldberg’s mother for a spin, told NBC Sports with a broad smile. “They’re amazing. I love going over and hanging out with the kids and Brad and (wife) Julia. We’ve built a very strong relationship over these four years.

“We’re similar in many ways how we see racing but also life. I think that’s one of the reasons we get along so well.”

As the engineer for Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 8 Dallara-Honda, Goldberg played a major role in the biggest victory of Ericsson’s career and in his development into an NTT IndyCar Series star who has become a championship contender since last season.

The “Unleashing the Dragon” documentary about the Indy 500 win details the countless hours Ericsson and Goldberg invest in meticulously breaking down every performance aspect to improve their results (they spend days debriefing on each race weekend of the previous year during every offseason).

Marcus Ericsson and Brad Goldberg celebrate their Indy 500 victory (Chip Ganassi Racing).

But their bonds off the track might be just as important to their success.

At least once a month, Ericsson is at the Goldbergs’ house to throw a football around or play lacrosse and miniature golf with the kids. Many times, he’s there to sit on the back porch and just talk racing (or perhaps their shared love of hockey).

“The kids adore him,” Goldberg told NBC Sports. “He’s become an integral part of our family. And our families are very important to him and I.”

A few weeks, ago, the Goldbergs’ house hosted a party with a bounce house that had a surprise guest of honor.

Ericsson and his wife, Iris, stopped by and spent a few hours jumping around with kids who had no idea they were playing with the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner – though he didn’t go unrecognized.

“We had parents picking them up their kids saying, ‘Hey, I think I know that guy,’ ” Goldberg said with a laugh.

Ericsson and Goldberg had no prior relationship before being paired by Chip Ganassi Racing when the driver joined before the 2020 season.

Goldberg was coming off a successful stint with Ganassi’s 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning GT Ford Mustang program. Ericsson had spent one season in the NTT IndyCar Series with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after a nondescript five seasons and 97 starts as a Formula One backmarker.

Meeting for the first time over coffee, they “clicked straightaway,” which was important to Ericsson.

Brad Goldberg and Marcus Ericsson share a moment FaceTiming with Goldberg’s family after their victory in St. Petersburg to open the 2023 season (Chip Ganassi Racing).

“I’ve always in my career tried to build more than just a working relationship with my engineers and my core people,” he said. “In F1, it was hundreds of people and it’s hard to build that relationship. It’s bit easier in IndyCar. It’s a bit smaller group, and obviously, the driver-engineer relationship is so important, and I think you watch some of the most successful drivers, they are usually the ones that have been with the engineer a long time, so I think it’s extremely important.

“With Brad, we sort of think of racing the same way. We’re both very hard workers, and we want to make sure that no one works harder than us. We are very similar like that, and it was a good match from the get-go.”

After finishing 12th in points in their pandemdic-disrupted first season together, Ericsson jumped to sixth in the 2021 standings with his first two victories at Detroit and Nashville. Last year, he led the points after six races on the heels of his breakthrough at the Brickyard and was in the championship hunt through the season finale.
In each season with Goldberg, Ericsson has improved his average finish — from 12.1 to 9.1 to 8.1 to 6.0 through five races this year.

It’s a relationship built on a strong work ethic and being willing to face hard questions and self-criticism while challenging each other.

“We always look at ourselves and ask, ‘What could we have done better?’ without blaming each other,” Ericsson said. “We can very openly talk about things without getting offended or taking it personally. I’ve been doing it all my life in racing, and you can’t do that with a lot of people. Me and Brad, we can be very open about things, and that’s why we’re making so much progress every year. Because we dig deep into everything, all the details.”

For the past two years during each week of the IndyCar offseason, Marcus Ericsson and engineer Brad Goldberg have spent hours dissecting their results in every race the previous season (Chip Ganassi Racing).

There also are few boundaries. Late at night before their Indy 500 victory, Ericsson and Goldberg were exchanging messages on setup tweaks.

“It happens quite often in the evenings when everything slows down,” Ericsson said. “I always think about racing, and have all these things spinning in my head. Me and Brad we’re good for each other to bounce off ideas and thoughts.”

Ericsson did it again at 10:45 p.m. last Monday, less than 12 hours before his car was scheduled to be on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval for the first time this May.

“I said to my wife, Iris, I need to call Brad,” Ericsson said with a sheepish grin. “She’s like, ‘It’s 10:45, you can’t call him!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think he’ll be all right.’ So I sent him a message, ‘Can I call? Are you awake?’ ‘Of course.’ We were talking for 15 minutes about spring rates or something. She’s looking at me like, ‘Oh my God, you two.’

“His wife and my wife, they probably think we’re complete numb-nuts, but that’s just how we are. He can do the same to me anytime and call and send a random message like, ‘What was your feeling in Turn 8?’ We’re both like nerds like that. It’s just a good match. I haven’t had that experience before in my career. It’s fun.”

Family was at the center of their Indy 500 triumph.

Goldberg, who lost his father to lung cancer when he was 9, was looking at Ericsson’s mother, father, brother and Iris when he radioed his driver to “think about your family” after taking the checkered flag (a moment documented in “Unleashing the Dragon”).

A few hours later, Goldberg left the track and stopped at home to put Oliver and Noah to bed (“they were bouncing off the walls”) before rejoining Ericsson and his family in downtown Indianapolis for a celebratory dinner.

Goldberg sends an annual Christmas card to Ericsson’s family in Sweden and keeps close tabs on Ericsson’s youngest brother, Hampus, a 21-year-old who is leading the points in the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia.

“It’s a very personal relationship,” Goldberg said. “We both have the same principles and values when it comes to family on and off the track.

“His mother and father have put so much time into his career, and he spends so little time with them. We travel 130 days a year. My wife, Julia, she gets the short end of the stick. I don’t get to see my siblings very often. Luckily, my mother lives 3 miles from me and will watch the kids.

(Chip Ganassi Racing)

“But we travel so much, we don’t get to spend very much time with family. That time away is hard. I can’t even imagine Marcus doing it as a child and trying to become an aspiring Formula One or IndyCar driver and the time away he spent.”

Ericsson gets home to his native Kumla a couple of times a year. His parents were at his season-opening victory in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and will be in his pit stall for the 107th Indy 500 this year.

“I have to sacrifice in some ways seeing my family and friends back home,” he said. “But now for me home is Indianapolis.”

That’s why the Goldbergs have become a surrogate family for Ericsson here.

“I always invite him over and give him some sort of grounded-ness,” Goldberg said. “His mother, father and Iris are a huge part of his life, and it’s the same with mine. All the sacrifices we’ve made.

“This is such a big deal for our families and our careers.”

(Chip Ganassi Racing)

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment
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DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

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

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and six red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500