Ericsson’s path from F1 backmarker to Indy 500 winner ‘shows hard work pays off’


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Two wins and a strong run in the 2021 IndyCar championship proved to avid race fans that Ganassi driver Marcus Ericsson was worth more than the results of his journeyman-like Formula One career.

But winning the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 has forever redefined his racing legacy. It’s the culmination of what Ericsson described as a difficult process of reinventing himself after transitioning out of F1.

“It’s been tough,” said Ericsson. “I did five years in Formula 1, almost a hundred grands prix, running for small teams, towards the back most of it. You don’t get a lot of credit running in the back in Formula 1. People think you are not very good.”

“I came over here (in 2019), and people probably didn’t think much of that.” Ericsson arrived in IndyCar with the former Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team (now McLaren SP), before transferring to Ganassi the following year.

“I had to work my way here as well, learning American racing. I moved here, put my whole life into trying to become an IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion.”

“It’s not been easy. But I’ve been working extremely hard. It feels good to show that hard work pays off.”

Big-time sponsors and financial backers from Sweden helped get him to F1 in 2014 and secure his place in the sport for five years, despite meagre results initially at Caterham and later Sauber. Another prominent Swedish sponsor arrived when he joined Ganassi, which did nothing to dissuade his critics who had long ago labelled him a ‘pay driver’.

But his third and by far his biggest IndyCar win of his career rewrites that narrative. “Winning the Indy 500, it’s not bad for a pay driver!” he quipped.

“It’s going to take a while to take that in,” said Ericsson in victory lane. It’s just incredible. I worked so hard for a moment like this, and to win ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ the biggest race in the world, with all of my family here, my girlfriend, my backers… it couldn’t be better!”

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“We had a really good race car, and we had some bad luck in the middle of the race with our pit stop,” Ericsson said, recalling the round of yellow flag pit stops after his fellow ex-F1 racer Romain Grosjean crashed out of the race.

“I was just trying to be running up front, and wait ’til the end, because I knew we had a car to win. But then we dropped back to eighth with that mishap in the pits.

“I still knew we had a chance, and was sort of working my way there. The strategy guys and girls did a great job around that last pit stop, and I pushed like crazy around there to make sure we could get a good sequence.”

Ericsson’s earlier pit lane misfortunes reversed after his final stop on lap 177 when team mate Scott Dixon was caught going too fast in the pit lane, and had to serve a drive-through penalty. Ericsson, as Ganassi’s last remaining front-runner at the time, didn’t waste his opportunity.

“I managed to overtake both of the McLarens, and then the Honda power was just blowing me away!” Ericsson said of his drive to the lead.

“I thought I had it, but obviously, this place never lets you get it easy,” he said. Team mate Jimmie Johnson’s crash in the dying laps led to a red flag which erased a three-second advantage to Pato O’Ward and set up a nail-biting, two-lap sprint to the finish.

“I was just praying for that yellow not to come, because I knew it was a big risk in the end. I couldn’t believe it when the yellow came because I had to do it all over again.”

Ericsson weaved from side to side, doing all that he could within the bounds of sporting decency to keep O’Ward at bay. The McLaren SP driver attempted a pass on the outside as the final lap began, but Ericsson held his nerve to seal the biggest win of his life.

“That’s why we do it,” Ericsson reflected. “It’s not supposed to be easy. We made it.”

During his post-race press conference, Ericsson was given a fine surprise when he was joined by the only other Swedish racing driver to win the Indianapolis 500: 1999 victor Kenny Bräck, who helped Ericsson during the early stages of his junior formula career in the UK and Japan.

“Marcus has done a great job. I helped him in the beginning. I think I did a little bit to help him along the way with tips and driving and so forth,” said Bräck via a video call.

Addressing Ericsson directly, Bräck added: “You’ve obviously honed your skills in a big way since then, so it’s good to see that it pays off – all the hard work you must have done. It’s great to see. So a big congratulations.”

“I don’t think you realise yet what this means for your career, but you will find out in time.”

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RJ O'Connell
Motorsport has been a lifelong interest for RJ, both virtual and ‘in the carbon’, since childhood. RJ picked up motorsports writing as a hobby...

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31 comments on “Ericsson’s path from F1 backmarker to Indy 500 winner ‘shows hard work pays off’”

  1. So happy for Marcus. To bloke, very deserved.

    1. Hard work does pay off! He won $3.1million, the pace car and many other prizes for winning. He totally deserves it.

  2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    30th May 2022, 15:26

    The red flag at the end could have robbed Ericsson unfairly. In that sense I’m glad he won.

    Surely a virtual safety car system which allows the drivers to bunch up initially (for track worker safety) and then enforces the original gaps between the cars after would be much fairer. F1 too. Don’t anyone tell me it couldn’t be done.

    It would also put the lapped cars back in the same places so there would be no advantage to those cars that had not already passed them.

  3. Touching.. congratulations to Ericsson

  4. London Lotus
    30th May 2022, 15:57

    Or does it show that the Indy 500 is essentially a lottery?

    1. More or less.

      You have to be lucky to be a talented driver, be lucky to be in a good team, be lucky that during the practice days you stumble upon a fast car setup, be lucky over two days of qualifying to secure a top starting position and then be lucky over 200 laps and three hours you do not make a mistake and that everybody else is slower than you.

      Of course, if you have so much luck, that also means you are lucky enough to be leading the championship after six races.

    2. It shows that you haven’t been paying attention to his Indycar career, specifically this season where he’s vastly improved and been in the top 10. Ericsson started 5th and was very much in the reach of winning the Indy 500. What it shows is the quality of F1 driver is significantly dependent on the engineering of the car. Wherein the spec nature of Indycar showcases the driver’s development. It has allowed Marcus Ericsson to evolve and move behind just a terrible backmarker.

      1. London Lotus
        30th May 2022, 22:50

        And yet if he hadn’t won the Indy 500 he would be 15th place in the standings which is kinda average.

        If a 47 year old who is doing badly in Brazilian stock car racing can come third then I think it’s safe to say the race is a lottery.

        You can’t take an average or poor driver and stick them in one of the best F1 teams and expect them to come third (ask RedBull).

        1. You are looking at it way too negatively. Imagine yourself driving at 22ph for 500 miles wheel to wheel. You have to be a great driver to win. It happens that there are many great drivers in indycar

        2. London Lotus, that’s an interesting way to describe Tony Kanaan. As in the 1997 Indy Lights champion and possibly the most competitive junior season of motorsports ever (beating out Helio Castroneves and Cristiano Da Matta). Also the 2004 Indycar Champion. The 2013 Indy 500 winner. And he has competed in top-level open-wheel motorsports in the USA since 1998, or quite literally half of his life. And between 2003 and the 1st race of 2020, he only missed one race and that was due to the reunification of Indycar and the 2008 Long Beach & Motegi races being on the same weekend. If he was rubbish, chances are he wouldn’t have had employment for 20+ years.

          And if age is your issue, might I remind you that Helio was 46 last year when… he won the race. Tony was pretty competitive on Sunday and had a realistic shot at the win.

          As for his performance in Brazil, he’s been there for 3 seasons at most? Not a given that you can switch racing formats and be competitive immediately – see Dario Franchitti’s season in Nascar.

          As you’ve said below, you didn’t watch the race. Fine, but it also implies that you don’t know what you’re talking about. I saw TK win the 500 mile race in Fontana back in 2014 and that’s not for the faint of heart to watch (averages there are similar to Indy, and indeed the fastest single lap on a closed course was set there). One caution in that race, fastest 500 mile race ever with an average winning speed over 196mph. Not something anyone can do.

          So to say the race is a lottery… just wrong on so many levels. Luck is part of the draw, but name a sport in which is isn’t?

      2. Or it shows that the quality of the driver field just isn’t as high as in F1. I will probably get some resistance when writing down this opinion, but I’m fairly adamant that if you put Ericsson next to Norris, Verstappen, Hamilton, Russell, and some other guys, he wouldn’t be even close to them. We did see him in a spec series in Europe, remember? He was in GP2 for four seasons. He didn’t do too badly, but he didn’t rise to the very top either.

        I mean, a guy like Sato won the Indy 500 twice, aged 40 and 43. At or near his prime he was obliterated by Button in F1. So when someone like him is a dual Indy 500 winner at that age, either it’s somewhat of a lottery, or the driver field isn’t up to the standards of an F1 driver field, or a bit of both.

        1. Mark in Florida
          31st May 2022, 15:37

          (@mattds)Think of it this way. If you took the entire Indy Car field and swapped them for the F1 field of drivers you would still have a race. The F1 drivers wouldn’t even be able to come near the performance of the average drivers speed at Indy. Most don’t want to do it, Ericsson didn’t run ovals at first it was too terrifying. Alonso said he wanted to mash the accelerator in the corner but he couldn’t at first. Indy drivers could still run the F1 road courses and have a race on. Also the reason older drivers do well at ovals is precisely because of their age. They have developed the patience and skill that it takes to run a race like the 500. The skill level in Indy is really high in my opinion. You have a few that are questionable but doesn’t F1 have their share as well?

    3. You should give it a try and actually watch it :)

      1. London Lotus
        30th May 2022, 22:18

        Fair point, I didn’t watch it (well deduced!).

        The monotony of F1 interspersed with the odd exciting race is what keeps me going back. I might be wired wrongly, but somehow guaranteed excitement with a fairytale winner every time doesn’t do it for me.

        1. “i didn’t watch the race, be here is my opinion i am stating vehemently”
          in 2022 put monaco and the indy 500 next to each which race was better????
          monaco was just the same glamorized procession with some controversy, wow so riveting
          just because you don’t know the winner from the start of the race that is somehow a bad thing???
          so you would rather have unflinching regularity and expected winners
          it’s sad that because of the you can’t actually be happy for someone for such an accomplishment
          i was there in attendance it was dixons race for 85% of it
          trust me the crowd went crazy for Erickson when he won
          most indy fans aren’t salty just because “their” driver had a bad day or the “expected” driver didn’t win

    4. No, it isn’t a lottery. It shows that if the cards fall right for you, you are in a good car and you run a good race, you can win. All those things happened for Ericsson.

      The Ganassi cars were the quickest all month. Ericsson ran at or near the front all race and he made no mistakes. He fully deserved that win.

  5. It shows that when you fail in F1, you can always try your luck at Indy. It has been the cesspit of F1 for many years now.

    1. If driving a Caterham equals to “failing in F1”, then yes… By the same token Fernando Alonso has been failing in F1 for the last 10 years, whereas a guy like George Russel has just – miraculously – stopped failing in F1.

      1. …and Fernando Alonso failed in Indy 500

        1. He couldn’t even qualify for the race one year.

    2. Charming

    3. did that feel good to get an opinion that only you share off your chest?
      cesspool??? i guess that’s what you call it when a driver gets chewed up and spit out by the F1 grinding machine
      and finds other series’s to race in
      i would say that Formula E is true cesspool it just hoovers up drivers and spoils their trajectory
      most good sports car and single seater drivers end up there and go nowhere else after that

  6. Lot of reported sentences start with “I”. None mention the “we” as in the team, none mention Ganassi Racing. Maybe the “we” got cut from the report?

    Will he last in a team focused on the the collective not the individual?

  7. no, this just shows the gap in talent between indycar and f1. i hate how the presenters kept saying that this is the “pinnacle of racing”. like come on they’re doing 200 laps in an oval.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      30th May 2022, 21:43

      It does take some different skills though. there are less strict rules about defences, so drivers can learn and use their skills to benefit from very aggressive defending. It may not be to everybody’s liking and I’m not saying F1 isn’t harder, but both will be challenging in different ways.

    2. The last time a double F1 champion (who used to beat Michael Schumacher twice to a championship) competed in Indianapolis 500, he qualified 26th and finished 21st. It was in 2020. This shows the gap between IndyCar drivers and F1 drivers.

      1. Yeah given Alonso qualified fifth on his first ever Indy 500, and first Indycar and Oval race to begin with, and was running at the front until late in the race when his engine gave up the ghost, I’m gonna go with Alonso not being the issue for the failed 2019 and 2020 attempts.

        In 2019 Zak Brown himself admitted being woefully unprepared (the whole farce being described as “a comedy of errors” elsewhere).
        Much of the same in 2020, with a clutch problem hindering him for most of the race but generally also a team that just isn’t running as well as a full-time effort doing the entire season.

        If you want to “show the gap”? Sato won 2 Indy 500’s over the last few years. At his age and with his history in F1, that pretty much sums it up.

        1. And Mansell did back to Back F1, Indy Championships. However, It seems to re build these guys confidence and they can win again.

  8. Nell (@imabouttogoham)
    30th May 2022, 23:07

    There seems to be extra motivation for the Indy haters in the comments section

    I wouldn’t say the Indy 500 is a lottery but a lot of things would have to fall your way to get a sniff at that win. Also need to keep it together for 800km, nearly 2.5 F1 race distance.

    1. I wouldn’t say the Indy 500 is a lottery but a lot of things would have to fall your way to get a sniff at that win. Also need to keep it together for 800km, nearly 2.5 F1 race distance.

      In other words, quite the opposite of a lottery really @imabouttogoham :-)

      With so many things having to align, including off course a solid dose of luck, it certainly is not a lottery. As many wrote above, the Ganassi team really was on top of Indy with the speed of their cars and setup and preperations, which is key for their drivers having had the best shot at winning. Marcus has been gradually working and over the years has shown improvement that brought him where he is now. He showed sparks of it a few years back, last season he was quite solid and now he shows he is in the mix.

  9. Congrats Marcus! Great drive, win totally deserved. Hard work does pay off.

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