Marcus Ericsson

Marcus Ericsson is as polite and professional as NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers come, but there was a moment following his victory last Sunday in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding that showed a fire burning within him.

A reporter asked Ericsson if he needs to defend his record in the series, which now includes an Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory and three additional race wins. The driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda quickly responded.

“Yeah,” he said.

Ericsson was pressed on when he anticipates the perceived notion fading.

“You tell me,” he said.

That all four of Ericsson’s wins have come in races that have been red-flagged likely is just a coincidence, the veteran of five Formula One seasons said.

“It seems whatever I do, people are thinking maybe I don’t deserve it or stuff like that,” he said. “I don’t know, I’ve won a lot of races – four now in INDYCAR – and been at the top of the championship the last couple years, so I’m just going to keep to that.”

Fact is, Ericsson’s INDYCAR SERIES record is beginning to stack up with some of the best drivers currently in the sport. Only eight drivers in last weekend’s race have won more series races than Ericsson, and three of those – Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta and Graham Rahal – have only a few more. The other five – Scott Dixon, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud -- have been in the series more than a decade each. Ericsson is one race into his fifth season, and this begins his fourth season with Chip Ganassi Racing, one of the top teams in the sport.

Ericsson was one of six drivers in the St. Petersburg field with a “500” victory, and he could be primed for more series wins if he continues to qualify as he did last weekend. As difficult as this is to believe, Ericsson’s fourth-place starting position was only the fourth time he has reached the final round of road course or street circuit qualifying, known as the Firestone Fast Six, in 43 career opportunities.

Last year, Ericsson remained in championship contention until the season finale despite having an overall qualifying average of 11.6, and his career series average is 12.8. His race days have averaged a full two positions better, proof that they have been well executed, so improving his starting positions should go a long way to putting him in position to win more.

Do that and Ericsson will have to “defend” his standing less.

“One-lap pace has been one of our weaknesses the last few years,” he said. “I think on race day we’ve been super strong on every type of track, but many times our qualifying average is a bit too low – or high – for us to really be able to win races. So, that’s something we focused a lot on this offseason.”

Last weekend, Ericsson benefitted from the last-restart hiccup of Pato O’Ward’s engine, but as team owner Chip Ganassi noted, Ericsson had put himself in position to capitalize. Through the first three-fourths of the 100-lap race, Ericsson fell out of the top five only to pit, and he was in the top two from Lap 74 on.

“You have to put yourself in position to take advantage of luck – I say that all the time – and that’s what we did with Marcus,” Ganassi said on the NBC broadcast. “He was right there, pressuring and pressuring (O’Ward).”

Ganassi said he has noticed an even better Ericsson since last May.

“Since Marcus won at Indianapolis last year, he’s stepped it up a lot, OK?” Ganassi said. “He’s always asking questions, always working with his engineer (Brad Goldberg), always working with his team. Fitness-wise, he’s always in the gym.

“The guy has stepped it up, and it shows. It shows in his performance.”

Ericsson wasn’t a popular name among preseason title picks -- that honor went to the likes of Dixon, Newgarden, Alex Palou and Scott McLaughlin – but he shouldn’t be counted out. He has finished sixth each of the past two seasons and already has a race win this season. There are two more tracks ahead where he has won a race – Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the street circuit in Nashville – and no one has raced the new downtown layout in Detroit, a city where Ericsson earned his first series victory in 2021 at the Belle Isle circuit.

Ericsson is driven to continue his rise in this sport.

“I’m here to win,” he said. “I want to win a championship. I want to win another ‘500.’ That’s our goals, and what other people say doesn’t really matter.

“But I think we’ve proven last year and the year before that we can be up front and run, fighting for a championship. We just need to keep doing that, and what people say I don’t really mind too much.”

NTT INDYCAR SERIES action resumes with the PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 2.