Monday, October 2, 2023

Ericsson Mitigates IndyCar Points Lead Loss at Indianapolis

Marcus Ericsson at the 2022 Gallagher Grand Prix.
Marcus Ericsson at the 2022 Gallagher Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment.

INDIANAPOLIS — After starting last, Marcus Ericsson was only focused on damage limitation in Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix. Climbing from last to 11th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a badly-timed caution period was sufficient.

Ericsson stopped his car on track in Friday’s first round of qualifying after a technical failure. With a new engine in the No. 8 Honda, Ericsson was 11th fastest in Saturday morning’s warmup.

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With 24 cars in front of the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner, the strategy called for a long first stint on the black sidewall primary compound tires. That allowed the Swede to run on new red sidewall alternate compound tires for the rest of the race.

Per IndyCar rules, every driver must run a minimum of two laps on each tire compound. The alternate compound gives more grip, but at the expense of tire longevity. However, the alternates last on the IMS road course surface, leading to teams favoring them in the race.

Because of Ericsson’s abbreviated qualifying session, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had extra new sets of the alternate tires. Running longer on primaries made the stints on the alternates shorter so falloff would not be a factor.

“We wanted to go long on that first stint on blacks,” Ericsson said. “I think that worked really good. We had really good pace and managed to do that long first stint. We knew because of what happened yesterday, we had three sets of sticker reds to use for the rest of the race. We didn’t have to do full 25 lap stints because we had done such a long first stint.”

Ericsson was in 20th place after an early caution period for Dalton Kellett’s stalled car. After the Lap 5 restart, Ericsson stayed on track while almost everybody else made their first pit stops. The Formula 1 veteran climbed to second place for a handful of laps before his Lap 23 pit stop dropped him to 19th. Ericsson climbed to 16th before the Lap 36 caution for Simon Pagenaud being out of fuel and stopped trackside.

“We were just sort of starting to gain from that strategy when that yellow came, very badly timed for us,” Ericsson said. “It was not ideal. It sort of hurt our race quite a bit. I think without that yellow, we could have been probably top seven or top eight today.

“But after the yellow, everyone was on the same page on the same strategy from then on. So all the work we did in the beginning of the race, you know, we didn’t get any of that gain for the second half.”

Ericsson restarted 16th and moved up to 12th before the final pit stop sequence. Ericsson leapfrogged Pato O’Ward for 11th place in the pit cycle, remaining there for the rest of the race.  By finishing 11th, Ericsson lost the points lead he has had since winning the Indianapolis 500 in May. The good news is that Ericsson is only nine points behind new points leader Will Power, who finished third.

“Overall, we’ve got to be quite happy with starting 25th and finishing 11th,” Ericsson said. “I was hoping for top 10, but 11th is close enough. And we’re still very much in the mix in the championship.

“We need to maximize every race now in the stretch to the finish. And I think after yesterday, obviously that was the goal today to try and get back and get a top 10 and get as many points as possible. And 11th is still a decent amount of points and they’re all going to count by the end of it. So I’m decently pleased with it and looking forward to Nashville now.”

Ericsson won last year on the streets of Nashville which is where the next IndyCar Series race will be. The Big Machine Music City Grand Prix will air live Sunday August 7th on NBC starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.

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