Ericsson back to Indy as defending ‘500 champion, his thoughts in my feature on the Swede

INDIANAPOLIS — Life is good for NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Marcus Ericsson. A wedding ring is donned on his left hand as he just recently tied the knot last month. An Indianapolis 500 champions ring is on his right. His image is found all over town as the defending Indy 500 champion. While Ericsson has been back to the circle city multiple times since that fateful day last May, this is the first time he’s been back in the Month of May.

The annual summer trip is a shared weekend with NASCAR. The open test in the spring is just that, a test. When the calendar turns to May and the gates are swung open on the westside of town, this place, this town, comes alive.

No matter which direction you drive into the track from, you’re more than likely to see Ericsson’s face on a billboard. Going to the race next weekend? You’ll see Ericsson’s milk splashed face on the ticket. You can’t avoid it and it’s something that Ericsson loves the feeling inside of.

“It feels amazing to be back here and be the defending winner,” Ericsson told me. “It’s definitely a very special feeling. Driving in through the gates there, see the big banner, all those things, it’s very, very special.

“Just going to try to enjoy this month as much as possible, then really, yeah, just take in everything it gives me. Very excited to be here. Even before winning, it’s always so special to be in Indianapolis and at this place with all the history that goes into this.

“To be here as defending winner is extremely special.”

Ericsson enters the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (May 28) third in points. He’s had a top 10 finish in literally every race run this year including P8 in the GMR Grand Prix two weeks ago.

“I do believe in that,” Ericsson said on if he believes in momentum. “And I think you know, it’s not by coincidence that people that’s been like strong leading up to a 500 usually have a good race. You know, I finished fourth last year on the on the road course and went on to winning. And I think there’s something about momentum.

“I think I’ve had a really strong start to the year you know. So hopefully that momentum we’ve got from the start of the year is going to help us these next few weeks.”

Chip Ganassi Racing has won five Indianapolis 500’s. That ranks in a tie for third most all-time with Lou Moore (1938, 1941, 1947, 1948, 1949). Only Team Penske (18 wins) and Andretti Autosport (6 wins) have more. Three of those five triumphs in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for Ganassi came in a five-year span between 2008 and 2012.

However, entering last year’s 106th edition, that 2012 win by Dario Franchitti was their last. That drought has since ended with Ericsson sipping the milk last May.

Now, the Ganassi foursome is hopeful of a second straight win on May 28.

“Obviously last year the Ganassi’s were the different benchmark. They’re the ones that we’re chasing,” said last year’s runner-up finisher, Pato O’Ward.

MORE: 10 storylines for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500

He’s not wrong. Even though a Ganassi driver didn’t win in 2021, it’s not like they didn’t dominate. If not for an early race caution, Scott Dixon likely would have. Alex Palou had a chance in the end but Helio Castroneves took the second-year driver at the time to school in picking up his record tying fourth Indy 500 crown.

A year prior, Dixon led 111 of 200 laps in 2020 but was beat in the end by Takuma Sato. Last year even, Dixon led 95 laps but was speeding on pit road for his final stop while leading. Palou had the same thing that happen to Dixon in 2021 happen to him while he was leading. He led 47 laps last year. Ericsson ended up winning and Tony Kanaan in third. They combined to lead 163 of 200 laps (82%) last year.

“Marcus (Ericsson) out of nowhere just came out with insane speed,” O’Ward said last year when he finished second. “Got by me like I was standing still. Got up to Felix (Rosenqvist) I think within two laps, passed him like he was standing still, left him. I got to Felix finally. I passed him. I had nothing for him. I said, I need a yellow to try and have a shot.

“Tony was also really quick coming behind me. I know he was catching me faster than what I was catching Marcus. When the restart happened, I said, I have one shot, I have to go flat, and still wasn’t enough.

“Too fast in the straight. Maybe if I would have timed it a little bit better. I really don’t think I could have done it much better. I did enough to what we had been doing all race.

“But, yeah, at the end I was surprised with how much more pace they had in a straight line with quite a bit more downforce. I was just trying to time it as good as possible.”

They even qualified 1-3-4-6-12 a year ago and 1-3-7-9 in 2021. This year, all four cars qualified in the top 10 again too.

That’s why they’re the ones to beat after being 1-2 in all but one practice session which saw them go 2-3-4 instead.

“I think last year we were super good all practice, the whole week as well,” said Ericsson. “I think we are as good this year for sure.

“I think the team has done a really good job of trying to improve the package that we already had last year very strong. I definitely feel we’re in a very, very good spot.

“We feel strong. We feel better than last year, and last year we were pretty good.

“We feel better. We worked hard in the winter already to improve on a strong package. Testing is testing, it’s hard to make conclusions. But of course we feel we’re going to be fighting up front. From what we’ve seen so far, we should be up there.

“We don’t want to underestimate our competition because there’s a lot of good teams that work really hard to improve. We can’t underestimate that challenge going into this weekend and the next one.”

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