Jeff Pappone

Dear Marcus Ericsson,

Welcome to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

As the latest Formula One driver to move across the Atlantic to race full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series, I thought it might be nice to offer you a few tips on what the premier open-wheel series in North America is all about.

One of the first things that you'll learn is that your new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate, James Hinchcliffe, is a fantastic guide to have while finding your feet in the series. Like many of the drivers you'll be up against, he's fast and a proven winner, but he'll also keep you laughing when you need it.

Yes, he'll want to beat you at every track, but you'll find that if you perform well in practice, qualifying or a race, the first guy to congratulate you will be Hinch. He's also the most popular driver with fans, winning the 2018 Fan Favorite Driver Award. His experience in the series will come in handy as you learn about how things are done differently in INDYCAR.

One thing you'll immediately notice when you arrive for your first race in St. Petersburg next March is that there are many more fans in the INDYCAR paddock than you ever saw in F1. The INDYCAR paddock is a place where fans interact respectfully with their favorite drivers and teams and share their passion with the competitors. You can connect directly with the people who love the sport and appreciate your work, and they will certainly offer you all the support and encouragement you need.

When you return to Circuit of the Americas next year, the hustle and bustle of the INDYCAR paddock there may be a bit of a shock compared to the way it was in F1, but you'll learn to embrace it.

Like 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner and former F1 racer Alexander Rossi said this week: “The fans get up close to the cars and the drivers and interact on a different level and build a connection with the drivers and the teams, which is unique to INDYCAR and something we pride ourselves on.”

The same goes for the more relaxed media environment on both sides of the microphone. Don't get me wrong, the reporters in INDYCAR ask tough questions and can be critical when it's deserved. But with the increased access also a fact of life on the media side, building strong working relationships makes it much less adversarial. The series is also pretty open about drivers expressing their views. You can ask Hinchcliffe about that. He penned a column a few weeks ago for RACER that urged his fellow drivers to form an association to protect their interests and ensure they had a stronger voice.

On track, you'll go wheel-to-wheel with rivals, which I know you've done in F1, but it won't be the same in INDYCAR. You see, if you have the talent and can get the most from your car, you'll have the opportunity to be fighting for wins rather than 12th place. That's because the playing field is so level that your driving skill can make the difference on any race weekend.

Let me repeat that: Driving skill determines success in INDYCAR.

And speaking of skilled driving, joining the Verizon IndyCar Series means you can test your mettle against one of the best ever, Scott Dixon. Although Dixon may be the most successful driver of his generation, he's just the tip of the INDYCAR talent iceberg. There are experienced veterans, mid-career stars and up-and-coming youngsters. No matter where you line up on the grid, it's likely there will be a driver with at least one title nearby, since there were eight of them in the field in 2018.

And as they say in late-night commercials, “but that's not all.”

In May, you'll experience the thrill of taking the bump in Turn 1 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 220 mph. To that you can add going flat through the carousel at Road America, skating over the slippery concrete patches on the streets of Exhibition Place in Toronto, trying not to get tripped up by the Tricky Triangle of Pocono Raceway, experiencing the five-story drop in 450 feet through the corkscrew at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and feeling crushed by the huge lateral G-forces over an 18-second lap around Iowa Speedway. Need I go on?

The bottom line is that you're going to have lots fun racing in 2019. And isn't that why you got into the sport in the first place?

Once again, welcome to INDYCAR.