Marcus Ericsson likes that the inspiration for the new movie about his 2022 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge victory came from a newspaper.
Ericsson said his fellow Swede, movie director Erik Stenborg, was reading The Indianapolis Star on a post-race flight back to Sweden when a headline about the driver’s winning, zig-zag “dragon” move to fend off challengers caught his attention.
“Erik just loved that,” Ericsson said Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as his “500” defense began with the first day of oval practice. “He said, I’ve got to make a film using that.”
The movie, “Unleashing the Dragon,” made its debut this week on NBC Sports’ YouTube channel.
To say Ericsson is a fan of the 63-minute film is an understatement. He has watched it three times, wiping back tears of joy each time. He is particularly fond of the fact it features Chip Ganassi Racing engineers Brad Goldberg and Angela Ashmore, a nod to the team effort it took to win “the biggest race in the world.” Goldberg got emotional thinking about his late father’s love of the race; Ashmore was overwhelmed to have become the first woman to help engineer a winning car in the “500.”
“You might see the driver driving over the (finish) line, but it’s such a team effort,” Ericsson said. “Their feelings and emotions were really, really important to the story, and you can feel how important this race is to them and the others who were a part of it.”
The film was shot earlier this year as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES gathered for the preseason open test at The Thermal Club in Southern California. James Hinchcliffe meets Ericsson at a local theater to watch the entire broadcast, the first time Ericsson had viewed it in its entirety.
The interaction between Hinchcliffe and Ericsson, who were teammates in Ericsson’s first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season in 2019, feels authentic as they sat alone in the theater and relived Ericsson’s unforgettable day. Hinchcliffe’s experience as a former driver allows him to ask the right questions while giving special moments the quiet space for Ericsson to fill them with emotions.
“It was very natural in that way,” Ericsson said of the dialogue with Hinchcliffe. “There were hardly any (second) takes. It was just two guys watching a race together, and then, when they’d pause the video, we’d talk about why things happened the way they did.”
One of the movie’s first highlights was Ericsson describing his near contact with teammate Jimmie Johnson on pit road. Ericsson was trying to leave his pit box and had to slam the brakes to avoid hitting Johnson as he entered for service. The brief delay dropped Ericsson from third to eighth.
“I was just mad, so mad,” Ericsson told Hinchcliffe. “That would have been my real chance gone.”
Later, Ericsson described the intensity of the race heightening, with “elbows up.”
“It’s starting to get a bit dicey out there,” he said.
About Lap 150, Ericsson conceded that Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, the pole sitter, and Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward were “looking strong.” When Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin hit the Turn 3 wall two laps later only to slide into the wall in Turn 4, Ericsson winced at the super slow-motion impact. “It hurts just watching that, and the second (hit) is brutal.”
Of crashes like that, Ericsson said the thrill of racing masks the dangers involved.
“It’s addictive that feeling of being on the edge at those speeds,” he said.
Ericsson and Hinchcliffe both felt bad for Dixon, who said in the movie that he was six-tenths of a mile per hour over the speed limit when he came to pit road on Lap 175. The penalty that ensued dropped the 2008 Indy winner, who had led 95 laps, from the lead to 21st place.
“There’s no words – there’s no words,” Hinchcliffe said.
Replied Ericsson: “It’s tough watching it even now.”
There are similarly revealing moments throughout the movie. Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist admitted to “flirting with the thought of drinking the milk” as he led Laps 182-184. O’Ward also thought he was positioned to win the race “and two laps later Marcus is passing me like I’m standing still.”
Once Ericsson got the lead for the final time, on Lap 190, Goldberg told him the McLaren drivers “weren’t as confident” running behind him. That, Ericsson said, was a big confidence boost.
For the anger Ericsson described in the pit road incident with Johnson, he was angrier with the second. History might not spotlight that it was that Ganassi car that brought out the caution on Lap 195, wiping out Ericsson’s comfortable lead. Race Control called for a red flag stoppage that set up the breathtaking duel for the win, with Ericsson holding off O’Ward approaching Turn 1.
“(That) should not have happened,” Ericsson said of Johnson’s Turn 2 accident. “Your team is leading the biggest race in the world by three-plus seconds. No risks, right?”
Hinchcliffe noted that Ericsson appeared calm on the team’s two-way radio, but the driver said the timing of pushing the talk button was key there.
“I remember myself screaming,” he said. “I was definitely upset at this point.”
How did he calm himself down?
“It just clicked in my head that, ‘OK, it’s the biggest race in the world, (and) it’s not supposed to be easy (and) this is just another challenge I had to overcome to become an Indianapolis 500 champion,’” he said. “So, I started to think that to myself in the car there, and I think that really helped me focus and sort of get back in the bubble and get ready.”
Dario Franchitti spoke of how detailed Ericsson is as a driver, so much so that he asked the three-time “500” winner how he’d handle the end of the race if a situation like the one that occurred presented itself. That’s where Ericsson’s plan to snake down both long straightaways came from.
Ericsson said the move didn’t have a name until The Star gave it one.
“That was perfect,” Ericsson said. “The dragon was unleashed.”