Marcus Ericsson will soon defend last year’s victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, and he is this year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader through three races.
Ericsson also is a new husband, recently confirming he married his longtime girlfriend, Iris Jondahl.
Put all those things together, and the driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda said it required a mental reset in preparation for this weekend’s Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park.
“Yeah, I guess it’s a bit of a challenge,” Ericsson said on NBC’s Peacock broadcast of Friday’s practice. “For me, it was very special coming back (to Indianapolis Motor Speedway) last week (to test), the first time I drove on the Speedway since that day in May last year, so that was pretty cool.”
Ericsson’s fastest lap of the April 20 test was 18th of 33 car-and-driver combinations, but he said his program was stronger than that.
“(It) was a nice way to show that we’re here to try to win it back-to-back,” he said.
Ericsson said he expects Chip Ganassi Racing to again be “very strong” at IMS. Three drivers qualified in last year’s top five, with teammate Scott Dixon winning his fifth career “500” pole and Alex Palou earning the second starting position. The five CGR drivers combined to lead 163 of 200 laps.
“I know we’ve worked really hard to improve that package even more, and it felt like we definitely weren’t worse (in the test),” Ericsson said. “We should be in the mix (to win), but we also know our competition is going to be very tough this year. I’m sure (Arrow) McLaren, Penske and Andretti are going to be up there, along with other teams, as well. It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to be in the mix.”
Ericsson will look for his first Barber Motorsports Park victory this weekend. He was seventh as a rookie in 2019 – ‘’One of my best races of the year,” he said. He posted the fifth-fastest lap in Friday’s practice, conceding that it felt “very strange” to be on a road course after prepping for the “500” on the high-speed oval.
“But it’s a super-important race,” Ericsson said of Sunday’s race (3 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network).
Ericsson said Iris is not attending this race as she is finishing her business degree in Denmark.
Next Leg of PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge
This weekend’s race might only be the fourth race of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but it is the latest step in the pursuit of the $1 million PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge. After a pair of street course races and an event on an oval track, this is the first permanent road course race of the year.
To win the massive bonus, a driver must be the first to win on all three types of tracks used by the series. Last year, Josef Newgarden did that – wins at Texas Motor Speedway (oval), Long Beach (street circuit) and Road America (road course) – which enabled him to share PeopleReady’s money with Team Penske and two selected charities (SeriousFun Children’s Network and Wags and Walks of Nashville).
Newgarden (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet) has already won one stage of the challenge, April 2 at Texas. Ericsson and Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood (No. 27 AutoNation Honda) have street circuit victories this year in St. Petersburg and Long Beach, respectively. Who’s next?
Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) is the defending champion at Barber Motorsports Park, having held off Alex Palou (No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda) last year.
In addition to the $1 million bonus, each race winner this season receives $10,000 to share with his team and designated charities as part of the PeopleReady program. The 17-race season is comprised of five oval races, five street circuit races and seven road course races.
NBC Debuts Indy 500 Top 10
Through a panel of experts, NBC is rolling out a collection of the best Indianapolis 500s in history. Nos. 9 and 10, which were announced Friday on the network’s social media channels, were 2006 and 1967.
The 2006 race culminated with Sam Hornish Jr.’s historic pass of 19-year-old rookie Marco Andretti just ahead of the finish line. Andretti and his famous father, Michael, each led the race in the final four laps before Hornish chased them down. The Andrettis drove for Andretti Green Racing.
Hornish’s last-lap pass for the win was the first of its kind in the 90-year history of the event. His advantage at the finish was .0635 of a second, the second-closest finish ever.
The win was the 14th in the “500” for team owner Roger Penske.
The 1967 race was the 51st edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and saw Parnelli Jones’ commanding bid for a second “500” victory in Andy Granatelli’s four-wheel drive, gas turbine machine spoiled by gearbox failure after leading 171 of the race’s first 196 laps. Jones was passed on the backstretch by A.J. Foyt, who soon after had to endure a dose of high drama.
As Foyt drove through Turn 4 for the final time, four cars spun out of control.
Foyt won his record-setting fourth “500” in 1977, a feat later matched by Al Unser in 1987, Rick Mears in 1991 and Helio Castroneves in 2021.
NBC will announce two members of its Top 10 each Friday until the 107th Running on Sunday, May 28.
Kanaan Preparing for Finale
Tony Kanaan noted Friday the countdown toward a final start in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and it will come in 30 days in the “500” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Kanaan, the 2013 race winner who finished third last year, will make his final start in a No. 66 car fielded by Arrow McLaren. That will be his first and only race of the season, and he is spending the buildup to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” hanging around the Indianapolis-based team.
Kanaan was on Alexander Rossi’s pit stand for Friday’s practice, and he will rotate to the stands of teammates Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist through the rest of the weekend.
Kanaan said he is “at peace with my decision” to no longer race in this series, although he expects it to be a difficult moment when the checkered flag waves. This will be his 390th career start, which ranks second only to Mario Andretti’s 407. Kanaan holds the sport’s record with 318 consecutive starts.
“Although it’s sentimental,” Kanaan said of the month ahead, “I have a job to do.”
Kanaan expects to have a good chance to earn a second “500” victory as Arrow McLaren has four drivers who finished in the top five of last year’s race, including O’Ward, who finished second.
VeeKay Wants on Camera
Not long after MMA superstar Dustin Poirier was named as this weekend’s celebrity rider in the Fastest Seat in Sports, INDYCAR SERIES driver Rinus VeeKay, who enjoys boxing, took to social media to make a plea to those in charge.
“Dear @IndyCar,” the driver of the No. 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing wrote. “Can I please take a photo with him.”
The response: “We’ll see.”
Former INDYCAR SERIES driver Davey Hamilton will drive the car in the lead-up to Sunday’s green flag.
Rasmussen Leads INDY NXT Practice
Christian Rasmussen paced Friday’s first practice of the weekend for the INDY NXT by Firestone. The HMD Motorsports driver posted a lap of 1 minute, 11.4618 seconds, which was under the series’ track record.
Danial Frost of HMD Motorsports, who had the fastest lap for most of the 45-minute session, won the season-opening race March 5 in St. Petersburg. He finished 10th on Friday’s speed chart after late mechanical problems.
Sunday’s 35-lap race is at 12:55 p.m. ET on Peacock, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Odds and Ends
- Romain Grosjean expects an engine change in the No. 28 DHL Honda after an incident in practice. He said Andretti Autosport had planned to change out the engine after this weekend’s event.
- NBC cameras caught Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Good Ranchers Team Penske Chevrolet) giving disparaging hand signals to rivals in Friday’s practice. McLaughlin sheepishly laughed it off. “Don’t take it personally,” he said mentioning that O’Ward and Ericsson were around his car at the time. “We’re all good.”
- Ericsson told WISH-TV in Indianapolis that he learned something watching the first episode of “100 Days to Indy,” which debuted Thursday on The CW. “Josef Newgarden looks like a Greek god without his shirt on,” he said, noting that it made him feel as if “I need to go to the gym tomorrow.” The six-episode show also can be viewed on the The CW’s app.
- What competitors face at Barber Motorsports Park can’t be understated. Said Felix Rosenqvist, “It’s probably the biggest physical challenge for us drivers.” The driver of the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet finished 16th in last year’s race, one of 21 drivers on the lead lap.
- Abel Motorsports, a regular team in INDY NXT by Firestone, recently announced it will compete in next month’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge with driver RC Enerson. Said team manager John Brunner on INDYCAR LIVE, “We’re going to go for it and see what we get.”
- Nicolas Giaffone won the first USF Juniors race at Barber Motorsports Park on Friday to take the series points lead. He is the son of former INDYCAR SERIES driver Felipe Giaffone.