Race Weekend Central

Marcus Ericsson Is a Star in IndyCar

Marcus Ericsson belongs in the NTT IndyCar Series.

The 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner isn’t a one-hit wonder, he is a deserving driver that has earned a future in the American open wheel series.

This week, Ericsson is returning to the event in which he won his first race in 2021, and since that time has been on a string of consistency that rivals other top-notch drivers. His stats from the first win to now compared to his teammate and 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou in that same span:

Since Detroit 2021 (33 races)EricssonPalou
Wins44
Podiums912
Top 10s2726

Additionally, one has a championship (Palou) and the other an Indy 500 win (Ericsson).

The Swede came to the United States in 2019, competing with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (now Arrow McLaren), replacing the injured Robert Wickens and teaming with James Hinchcliffe. He didn’t set the world on fire with results that year, and then bounced over to Chip Ganassi Racing, with his current Huski Chocolate livery, advertising a product that’s not sold in the United States. It was a valid observation that he was a paying driver, which fit the history of the prior drivers in the No. 8 car.

But then he won at Detroit. At Mid-Ohio three races later, he had a runner-up finish. The following race, he defied Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity for a split second, ramped over a slowing Sebastien Bourdais and later leapt into the lead as well as victory lane for win number two. In 2022, he won the most important race on the calendar, the Indy 500, besting all his teammates which included Palou, Tony Kanaan, Jimmie Johnson and six-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon.

As the year progressed, it was expected one of the other Ganassi or Team Penske drivers with more consistent championship experience would quickly overtake Ericsson for the top spot in the points, but he fought them off and kept his advantage through the Iowa Speedway doubleheader. He lost the lead at the next race at the Gallagher Grand Prix of Indianapolis with five races to go in the season, falling to sixth place in the standings.

Now, what has he done this year? Only put together the second-best season on the grid. He and Palou are the only drivers to finish in the top ten for every race. He has more podiums than his teammate but less top fives. In this season, he’s handled races like the experienced Dixon, with a methodical and never giving up approach that aims to lock in a decent result if the win isn’t there or pounce on an opportunity if a driver has a mistake. For example, at the first race in St. Petersburg, he ran fourth to Scott McLaughlin, Romain Grosjean, and Pato O’Ward, but each one had a mishap and Ericsson capitalized for the win.

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Then at Indianapolis this past weekend he patiently hung around in the top 10, letting the race unfold. It’s a similar approach he used last year resulting in exceptional results. He didn’t lead until lap 133, and if not for the third red flag, he’d be a back-to-back Indy winner and cashing an even larger check than Josef Newgarden. Heading into Detroit, he comfortably sits in second in the championship, with no signs of his pace falling off.

These results speak for themselves and shows Ericsson is no fluke. He’s a proven driver and winner who has grown fond of racing in the United States in IndyCar, as his comments during the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix attest. It can be overlooked that he is in the same vein as Grosjean, a former F1 driver who languished in the back half of the grid with under-performing equipment. While Grosjean got the attention from only street and road course racing to a full-time IndyCar driver, Ericsson went about his business, grabbing trophies and a Borg-Warner. Currently Grosjean has none of those.

Where does he go from here? Possibly to a new team at the end of the year. Reports detail an on-going discussion between Ericsson and Chip Ganassi Racing management on whether the former paying driver should become a paid driver. Seems the leverage is in Ericsson’s hands due to his race wins and results, but its confusing the team hasn’t locked him up for the future. Some of the competition has even spoken up about the situation – including rival team owner Zak Brown with Arrow McLaren.

If he does hit the market, this will be similar to Alexander Rossi’s free agency last summer, when he left Andretti Autosport and put his resume with eight wins and the 2016 Indy 500 title up for bid. Arrow McLaren signed him quickly. Which team will look to target Ericsson? Let’s wait to see how the season progresses before sitting down to play that game of silly season.

Whatever unfolds, Chip Ganassi Racing team should try to make their young Swede feel wanted. He’s good for business. Ganassi has never had three consistent winners in IndyCar when fielding that many teams. It has been a lot of No. 9 and 10’s in victory lane, but not much else. In fact, the No. 8 team was winless before Ericsson came on board. Why risk losing that momentum?

It’s time to put aside this idea that Ericsson isn’t worth putting a budget around. He belongs in that No. 8 car. And he belongs in IndyCar for a long time.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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