Marcus Ericsson’s day started off with a run-in with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Alex Palou. The two made contact with each other in Turn 5 on Lap 3 of Sunday’s Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America. Ericsson went low and had in my opinion the corner. Palou went wide to avoid him but just past the apex, Ericsson’s right rear tire and Palou’s left front made contact.
It broke Palou’s left front suspension ending his day with a last place (27th) result. Palou wasn’t too happy with his teammate after the incident.
The usual reserved Palou had some tough criticism of his teammate for the maneuver.
“He was trying to win the race on the 3rd lap,” Palou said. When asked if he was surprised that his left front suspension broke that easily, Palou said that he was “surprised my teammate hit me, not that my car broke. We can play this game as well.”
However, Ericsson felt like he didn’t do anything wrong and place the blame more back towards Palou instead. I don’t necessarily think Ericsson is wrong either.
On a track that’s difficult to pass on, Ericsson saw a gap and took it. He had the line and if Palou gave him more room at exit, the two would have been 3rd and 4th at the time behind Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden.
Instead, Palou felt like the spot and corner was his.
“Yeah, from inside the car, the door was open there,” said Ericsson of the incident. “I went for the move. Alongside him at the apex, made the corner. From my side he turns into me from the outside lane. You hate to see your teammate retire from a contact with you. That’s the last thing you want to do.
“I was surprised that we hit at the middle of the corner.
“I made the corner, didn’t go up on the curb. It was not like I was oversteering or anything like that. I was surprised to get the hit there. I don’t know what more to say.
“I don’t see I did anything wrong. It was a fully race move. Might have been early in the race, but this race is a track-position race. If you get an opportunity, you need to go for it.
“As I said, there was nothing wrong with that move. That was clear on the TV pictures. I don’t feel that was on me. I feel like it was more on his side there.”
Ericsson though put it out of his head and focused on an opportunity at hand. 4 laps later, points leader Will Power was punted by Devlin DeFrancesco. 40 laps after that point, Pato O’Ward stalled on track. That’s 3 of the top 4 in points with rough afternoons.
Palou would finish last in 27th. O’Ward would now be in 26th. Power limped home 19th. Ericsson was staring down the final restart from 3rd behind only Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi. His team was telling him to not take any unnecessary risks. He had to think points at that part of the race. He had evaded any troubles himself and had a car capable of putting him back in the points lead at the drop of the checkered flag.
Instead, he made a power move by Rossi for 2nd on the main straight and would stay there the rest of the way to score his 3rd top 4 in the last 4 races run including 4 on the season. That moves him from 3 points down to 27 up heading to Mid-Ohio in a couple of weeks.
“Obviously a lot of cautions and stuff. I knew you had to try to capitalize on that,” said Ericsson. “We lost the lead last weekend, but it was nice to get that back and get P2.
“Coming into the small break we have now with some good confidence. We’re in a good position for the second half.
“It was a really good race for us. We were strong all weekend. Already on Friday the car felt good. Had a good qualifying yesterday. Was my best qualifying of the year with P4.
“I think the race was pretty straightforward. Pretty good from our side. Obviously a lot of cautions that got you out of rhythm. Yeah, car felt good.
“Got some opportunities there in the end to try and get a better position. Alex had a bit of a slide out of the last corner so I got a run on him and managed to get by.
“Overall good day. P2 is a really good result for the championship, back in the lead. Super happy. The team did a really good job on pit stop strategy, so really thankful to the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda Ganassi crew.”
Good news for him, out of the last 6 years at Road America, at least 3 drivers would score a top 5 there and would later finish in the top 5 at seasons end in points. In fact, the eventual season champion has finished on the podium in each of the last 5 years here (2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 1st).
Newgarden, Ericsson and Rossi would be the ones to keep that theme going and Ericsson holds the points lead as we enter the halfway point of the season.
“It’s going to be tough all the way,” he said. “Like we talked about, it’s so competitive in the series at the moment. Any given weekend can be a new winner. It’s hard to be even in the top 10 if you don’t get everything right.
“I think it’s going to be a tough season, a long season. We put ourselves in a really good position now, leading. So we just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing. The last 12 months we were the top scorer in the championship. I think that says something about where we’ve been performing since Detroit actually last year, it was actually 12 months ago today.
“Yeah, I think we’re in a strong position, but it’s going to require a lot of hard work, keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
He’s got the skill and team to get this championship won. 2020 saw his teammate Scott Dixon take home the title. 2021 saw another teammate in Palou. 2022 is Ericsson’s turn and he’s making the most of his opportunities.