INDIANAPOLIS – When faced with the reality two months ago that he would soon be without a Formula One ride after this season, Marcus Ericsson inevitably started looking at the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The 28-year-old Swede, announced Tuesday as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ driver of the No. 7 Honda in 2019, admittedly didn’t know much about the series. But he knew drivers who did.
He’s friends with Alexander Rossi, who finished second in the points this past season and won the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in 2016. Rossi made five F1 starts before his successful transition to INDYCAR.
Ericsson also consulted with fellow countrymen Kenny Brack and Stefan Johansson. It was Brack who, along with manager Eje Elgh, gave Ericsson his start and was an invaluable mentor in the transition from go-karts to cars in Europe at the age of 15. Brack, a longtime Indy car driver, won the 1999 Indy 500. Johansson had 12 career podiums in F1 and four third-place finishes in five years in CART.
Ericsson also talked with two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who made a much-publicized start in the 2017 Indy 500, in which he led 27 laps.
“It looked really cool,” Ericsson said of watching Alonso race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “That also started to make me think more about INDYCAR as well and potentially for me to come here in the future. He definitely opened a little bit of my mind when he did that jump. I spoke a bit with him as well and he said he loved it here.”
That’s what Rossi told him, too.
“He told me that I would love it 100 percent, that the racing is great and the atmosphere between the drivers is really, really good and everybody is enjoying it,” Ericsson said. “He said I shouldn’t have any questions in my mind if I get the chance to come over.”
What resonated the most from these conversations is that Ericsson, after enduring five winless seasons in F1, would have a realistic chance to win in INDYCAR.
“That’s one of the most exciting things about next season for me,” Ericsson said Wednesday at the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports shop. “I’ve done five years of F1 and not once have I ever thought about winning because it’s not realistic. It’s super hard. Mentally, it’s super hard. That’s why now I’m just so excited to get this chance and have an opportunity to fight for wins again and podiums. That’s something that really gets me going.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series had eight different race winners in 17 events last season. The year before that, 10 different drivers celebrated victories.
Ericsson’s best finish in 95 career F1 starts was eighth in the 2015 Australian Grand Prix. Although 17th in points with two races remaining for Alfa Romeo Sauber this season, he’s had his most productive run with six of his career 11 top-10 results coming in 2018.
Ericsson actually initiated the INDYCAR process with SPM by calling co-owner Sam Schmidt.
“I met him in Texas at the F1 race a few weeks ago,” said SPM co-owner Ric Peterson, “and that was one of the first things he said, ‘It will be exciting to go out there knowing I have a chance to win.’
“He’d say F1 is about more of a manufacturer’s championship than a driver’s championship. He will have a chance to win here. We’re going to make sure of it. He’s got the right attitude, he’s ready to go, he’s excited about the ovals and says all the right stuff.”
Ericsson concedes he’s got so much to absorb in a new series and new country.
“Everything is pretty much new: new cars, new teams, new competitors, new tracks, every track apart from (Circuit of the Americas in Texas) will be new for me,” he said, “and also oval racing. I’ve never driven on ovals. It’s going to be a lot of things to learn.
“I have a great team around me and I’m sure everyone will help me get up to speed, and also with my teammates (James Hinchcliffe and Jack Harvey), they’re great drivers. I think I have all the tools, but I’m humble enough, I know it will be a lot of hard work required by me but I’m ready to do that. I’m ready to get into it and work really hard to do as good as I can.”
He recalls watching Indy car races as a kid and keeping track of Brack’s career. Ericsson was 9 when Brack won his Indy 500, but didn’t see that race.
“I don’t think I did, but I remember watching some Indy car racing on late nights with my dad when I was really young,” he said. “I was definitely following (Brack) in Sweden back when I was a kid. It’s cool to go in his footsteps in a way.”
Ericsson smiles when asked about having the opportunity to race in the Indy 500.
“I don’t know that much, to be honest, but it looks like one of the greatest events in the world and especially for racing, obviously,” he said. “Just looking at the pictures and the videos and stuff, it looks unreal. To experience that in May, yeah, it will be unreal to be honest, but I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t wait.”