Arrow McLaren SP’s present and future will be on display today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when the green flag waves for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ Gallagher Grand Prix.
NTT P1 Award winner Felix Rosenqvist and teammate Pato O’Ward will start first and third, respectively, in the 85-lap road race (noon ET, NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network), with Alexander Rossi, who will leave Andretti Autosport for Arrow McLaren SP at season’s end, lining up in the second position.
Rosenqvist will start from the top position for the third time in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career. He and Rossi will strive for their first series race wins of the season. O’Ward is a two-time winner this year.
SEE: Starting Lineup
“We tested here like a month ago, which I think really helped,” said Rosenqvist, who drives the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. “We kind of got here with a good starting package, so we knew that this was going to be (a race) that we had to really extract everything in qualifying.”
Pole winners on this 14-turn, 2.439-mile permanent road course have gone on to win the race five times. Five races remain in this championship pursuit, and every point matters.
The spotlight also will shine brightly on series points leader Marcus Ericsson, who will start from the last position – 25th – after he shut off his engine out of precaution at the start of his qualifying run Saturday. Stopping on the track as Ericsson did drew a red flag and prohibited any further runs by him in the session.
But Ericsson, whose team replaced the car’s Honda engine Friday afternoon, has a history of strong performances. He has improved his position in 18 of his past 22 races, including the past nine, at an average gain of 4.1 positions per race.
Ericsson has finished in the top 10 in 19 of the last 22 races dating back to winning last year’s first Detroit race. Consistent production is part of what led his nearest challenger, Will Power, the describe him as “probably the best racer in the series.”
Ericsson, who leads Power by eight points, was flattered by the comment made last weekend at Iowa Speedway.
“To hear that from a guy like Will means a lot,” the driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda said. “He’s obviously one of the best of the last 20 years in INDYCAR and one of the fastest. He’s one of the toughest competitors on the grid, so to hear him say that means a lot. I was happy to hear that.”
According to Trackside Online research, Ericsson has gained 700 points since last year’s “500,” which leads all drivers. The 30-year-old Swede leads the road course and oval point standings this season, and he might be in the top five of street circuits, too, if not for finishing 22nd at Long Beach and failing to finish the race for the only time this season.
Ericsson has led the point standings after six of the 12 races. In the GMR Grand Prix here in May, Ericsson finished fourth after starting 18th, another example of how he has driven through the field on numerous occasions.
Rosenqvist even joked about it Friday.
“Every time I talk to him and he’s had a bad qualifying, it’s just like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to drive up through the field,’” the pole sitter said.
Said Ericsson: “One of my strengths has always been my race craft and ability to pick the right situations to fight. That is the reason we are leading the championship because we are so good at transferring from where we start to good finishes. We need to keep doing that for the last five (races). That’s the key, and I think we can.”
It starts with a good run Saturday. He certainly has a long road ahead of him. Others do, too.
In addition to Power, who drives the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, there are four former NTT INDYCAR SERIES champions in hot pursuit of the season title. Josef Newgarden (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet) and Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing) are third and fourth, respectively, both 34 points out of the lead. Newgarden has the edge due to his four victories. Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) trails by 36. O’Ward, who is chasing his first series championship, is 44 points out of the lead, making it the closest top six this deep in the season since the current point structure was implemented.
After today, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES rolls to Nashville for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Sunday, Aug. 7.