As Marcus Ericsson chased down Josef Newgarden for the win in the closing laps of The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline on July 4, one thing became clear: It’s a new era for Chip Ganassi Racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The organization put two of its four drivers on the podium behind Newgarden’s No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet, and neither of them were six-time and defending series champion Scott Dixon. The organization also left Mid-Ohio with one of its drivers as the championship leader, and it’s not six-time Mid-Ohio winner Dixon, either.
Ericsson led the day for Ganassi in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, while teammate Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda followed him on the podium. Dixon followed his younger teammates in fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda.
Ericsson led two laps on the day and closed the gap between himself and Newgarden to just .8790 of a second when the checkered flag flew on Lap 80. Ericsson scored his third career podium finish and second in the last month.
“We had a great day,” Ericsson said. “The whole team to get two, three, four there was a great result. I’m really proud of the whole team. Everyone has done a great job, and it was a true team effort.
“The No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda was feeling great out there. We were pushing very, very hard there in the end to catch Josef. A couple more laps and we could have challenged for it, but overall P2 was a very good result today.”
Since scoring his first career win in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on June 12, Ericsson said he has been a new man. That win, which was his first trip to Victory Lane in eight years when he won a GP2 race at Nurburgring in 2013, has given him the confidence he needs to succeed in the ultra-competitive NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
After the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, which was the race before Ericsson won at The Raceway at Belle Isle, the Swedish driver has catapulted from 10th in the championship standings to fifth. He is 104 points back of his Spaniard teammate Palou.
“Confidence is a beautiful thing when you have it,” Ericsson said. “I think I have some good confidence going now. Obviously, I’ve been working very hard with my engineer and then the rest of the No. 8 car team. But also Dario (Franchitti), me and Dario have been working hard.
“We worked hard to get to where we are now. I think that's the bottom line. Especially in a series like this, when you go up against such great competition, you need to be perfect to be out there and fight for wins and podiums. I definitely feel like we've taken a step this year. I feel pretty good.”
Ericsson should feel good. Not only did he lead the four-car team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, arguably the organization’s best track on the schedule, but he easily beat teammate Dixon, who holds the all-time record for wins at the track with six.
Although he led the organization today, Ericsson is third of his four teammates in the championship standings in fifth – a great problem for team owner Chip Ganassi to have. Not since 2011 has the organization had more than one driver in the top five in points, when Dario Franchitti won the championship and Dixon finished third.
Ericsson isn’t the only Ganassi driver thriving. Points leader Palou grew his championship lead to 39 points over second place Pato O’Ward.
The success from Ganassi’s young drivers isn’t a detriment to six-time champion Dixon. He is one of eight different race winners this season, having captured the first race of a doubleheader weekend in early May at Texas Motor Speedway. He’s third in the championship standings, 56 behind Palou.
What it does mean is that for the first time since Franchitti retired from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES following the 2013 season, Dixon probably will have strong, season-long competition coming at him from within Chip Ganassi Racing’s shop.
As the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season got underway, it was immediately clear Dixon, 40, was going to have to fight a teammate for the Astor Challenge Cup when Palou scored the season-opener at Barber Motorsports Park.
Palou, 24, has kept that going all season long by leading the standings at points throughout the season. He won the previous NTT INDYCAR SERIES race June 20 at Road America, becoming the first Chip Ganassi Racing driver other Dixon to earn at least two victories in a season since Franchitti in 2011.
Clearly, Chip Ganassi Racing is at its best performance-wise in a decade. Several aspects have helped the organization be one of the best week after week. Specifically, Ericsson pointed to the driver coaching by three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Franchitti.
He added that Chip Ganassi Racing’s extremely diverse driver lineup helps each athlete learn different perspectives of driving. Ericsson is a five-year veteran of Formula One, from 2014-18, while Dixon is a legendary INDYCAR SERIES champion, Palou has a single-seater background from Super Formula in Japan, Jimmie Johnson is a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and Tony Kanaan is an expert on ovals, having won the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in 2013.
“With all our experience, it really helps me to become a better driver,” Ericsson said. “I feel like we all push each other to be better. I think that's been one of the things this year that we are so strong because we have drivers with very different backgrounds but push each other forward. It's been great so far. We need to keep on for the rest of the season.”
Palou was the first surprise of the season when he showed everyone at Barber Motorsports Park he was going to give quite a fight to Dixon. Now, Ericsson, 30, is the new surprise of the season. He has seven top-10 finishes in 10 races, with an average finish of 8.5 heading into the summer break.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has four weeks off before heading to the streets of Nashville, Tennessee, for the inaugural Big Machine Music City Grand Prix Sunday, Aug. 8 at 5:30 p.m. ET (live on NBCSN and INDYCAR Radio Network).