Marcus Ericsson wasn’t always crouched in front of the Borg-Warner Trophy, eyeing his sterling silver likeness on the iconic Indianapolis 500 winner’s trophy as he did last week. In fact, just two years ago, the depth of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was challenging him in an unforeseen way.
In Ericsson’s first two INDYCAR seasons – a span of 30 races – he led a mere 10 laps and stood on the podium just once. As a series rookie in 2019, he finished 17th in the point standings for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, then was only 12th the next season for Chip Ganassi Racing, one of the best teams in the sport.
Ericsson hadn’t figured out Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s oval track, either, finishing 23rd and 32nd in his two Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge starts, his bid in the latter ending on Lap 25 with contact against the Turn 2 wall. Clearly, learning this series was taking time.
“I wouldn’t say I underestimated INDYCAR, but I thought I would be a bit stronger a bit earlier than I was,” said Ericsson, a veteran of five Formula One seasons. “My first two seasons were pretty tough, and the first year was really tough. I guess you could say the second year I thought I was sort of finding my way a little bit, but it was still a bigger challenge than I think I expected.”
Ericsson, 32, acknowledged that veterans of the series were outpacing him for a reason – experience matters, he said – but still, shouldn’t it have been an easier transition for someone with 97 career F1 starts? He has pondered that question.
“But when you think about it, you’re up against guys who have been racing here for 10, 15, up to 20 years, and they know these cars and these tracks,” he said. “You know naturally it’s going to take a bit of time to get on top of that.”
It does, and it has for Ericsson. His first true breakthrough was in the seventh race of the 2021 season, the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, when the third-year series driver stormed from 15th place on the starting grid to grab the lead and victory when Will Power’s engine wouldn’t start following a late red flag. Ericsson then won the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville four races later.
Last year, Ericsson led nearly five times as many laps as he had in his first two NTT INDYCAR SERIES seasons combined, and he won the biggest race in the world. The gratification was real, especially considering he had gone seven seasons without winning a race (2014-2020).
As a reward for winning the “500,” the Borg-Warner Trophy will soon go to Sweden – with stops in the capital Stockholm and Ericsson’s hometown, Kumla – as the driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda celebrates his ascension as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver. In addition to winning three races, he has become a consistent frontrunner, finishing sixth in the point standings each of the past two seasons and leading this year’s championship pursuit through most of the summer.
“Years 3 and 4 here have been really, really strong for me, and I’ve been running up front,” Ericsson said. “And this is a great series; I love it. It’s so competitive now with so many good cars and drivers, and you know every time you go out there it’s going to be a fight. I love racing in a series like that.”
Ericsson expects Sweden to embrace the Borg-Warner Trophy with immense pride, so much so that he expects their sight of it will be even more special than when he saw his likeness on it for the first time last week.
“I’ve always had great support from Sweden since my F1 days, but when I came here to INDYCAR I didn’t know what was going to happen with that (support),” he said. “Well, winning the ‘500’ was such a huge thing in Sweden, and the fact I get to bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to show them is unreal. It will be super special to share the victory with my family, friends and all of the fans.
“Since (winning Indy), it’s been different for me at home being on all of (Sweden’s) big news channels and doing different things in the public. Also, I feel the people talking about (NTT INDYCAR SERIES), and that’s really cool. You never dream something like that is going to happen.”