Indianapolis 500

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

AUTO: MAY 30 IndyCar - The 106th Indianapolis 500 Marcus Ericsson
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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