Marcus Ericcson finished sixth in last year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings and knows exactly the direction his 2022 needs to go to compete for the series championship.
He must go ‘round and ‘round better.
If Sunday’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway is an indication, the driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda is off to the right start. He finished third in the season’s second race, his best result to date on an oval track.
Last year, Ericsson scored only 90 points in four oval races, a figure that ranked 10th in the series. He accumulated only 29 points in the two races at Texas, six fewer than he earned Sunday.
Ericsson has already led 10 more laps on an oval track than he did all last year, which was none.
Suffice to say, he is pleased so far.
“I feel pretty comfortable on them,” Ericsson said of the ovals on the INDYCAR SERIES schedule, “but I haven’t really got any results on them until (this past weekend).”
It’s not like Ericsson had seemed uncomfortable on the ovals. He led two laps in his Texas debut in 2019, finishing seventh. Later that season, he came home 11th at Iowa Speedway and 12th at Pocono Raceway, then led a pair of laps at World Wide Technology Raceway despite finishing 16th.
Since joining Chip Ganassi’s team for the 2020 season, Ericsson has qualified in the top 10 for seven of the 11 oval races, finishing as high as fifth at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2020. He qualified sixth and finished ninth at that track last year.
Yet, he never raced as competitively as he did Sunday, which is why the team made it such an emphasis of his offseason work.
“To really analyze (and) for me to look at lots of data, onboards, trying to understand oval racing better so I could get some more results on the ovals,” he said of his focus since the end of last season. “To get to the first oval of the year, get my first podium on an oval, I think shows that work that I and my engineer and the rest of the 8 car group – (including) Dario (Franchitti) – did.
“All the work we put in is paying off.”
Ericsson isn’t the only Ganassi driver who appears to have benefited. The team placed all four of its drivers in the top seven of Sunday’s race, with six-time series champion Scott Dixon fifth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, Jimmie Johnson sixth in the No. 48 Carvana Honda and reigning series champion Alex Palou seventh in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda.
That Ericsson led the group was progress.
“I don’t know how many onboard videos of Scott Dixon (and the Indianapolis 500) that I’ve watched, just trying to understand the racing on the ovals,” Ericsson said. “I think that’s so much experience, being tactical, thinking ahead, being on top of your (in-cockpit) tools and all that.
“It’s been something, like I said, that I’ve been working on a lot, and it’s such a great feeling to see that work is paying off (by) getting this podium finish.”
Ericsson compared the satisfaction to winning his first INDYCAR SERIES race last year in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear. It likely was not a coincidence that he won his second series race, the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, four races after that.
Perhaps that momentum applies to oval-track racing, too.
“When I got my first win, it was a big relief,” said the Swedish driver in his fourth INDYCAR SERIES season. “You go on from there because you get a lot of confidence.
“I’m hoping and thinking it will be the same thing here: I get my first podium on an oval, build on that and go to Victory Lane next time.”
For the record, “next time” on an oval is the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Ericsson finished 11th in last year’s race. Because the “500” pays double points, performing well can be a big boost toward the championship.
“To come to Texas, a superspeedway, and to finish on the podium, we’re going to be (title) contenders, (and) we will be all year,” he said. “I’m feeling confident, ready to take that fight and get the championship.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to action April 10 with the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, an 85-lap street race won last year by Colton Herta in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian.