Marcus Ericsson winning last year’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge put an exclamation point on Scandinavia’s invasion into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The presence of Denmark and Sweden, in particular, has swept through North America’s premier open-wheel championship and taken it by storm.
A native of Kumla, Sweden, Ericsson brought home the celebration of winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” with the heralded Borg-Warner Trophy part of the festivities that included a ceremony in front of 8,000 fans packing in the town square. He also made appearances on national television morning talk shows, magazine photo shoots, autograph sessions and multiple dinners that spanned from close friends to Swedish officials and sponsor Huski Chocolate. A trip to the largest mall in Scandinavia was part of the to-do list, along with dropping by the statue of Swedish Formula One legend Ronnie Peterson in Orebro, Sweden.
The fever craze of INDYCAR racing that has swept through an entire part of the world also extends beyond Ericsson, with Christian Lundgaard (Denmark), Benjamin Pedersen (Denmark) and Felix Rosenqvist (Sweden) also sharing spots on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES grid. Additionally, Linus Lundqvist (Sweden) is the reigning champion in INDY NXT by Firestone, with Rasmus Lindh (Sweden) and Christian Rasmussen (Denmark) competing in INDYCAR’s developmental category this year.
“It's really cool to see the interest that in the INDYCAR SERIES has now over here in Scandinavia,” said Ericsson, 32. “It really is like the Scandinavian invasion with me, Felix, Christian Lundgaard and yeah, hopefully Linus, as well. And the week in Sweden over the offseason just shows how big it's become over here. Like, there's people talking about INDYCAR, about in the Indy 500, it's a lot of fans following it and we really have a great opportunity here as a series to get that following.
“I think it's great for the sport, and it shows that it very much is an international series, which gathers a lot of interest from all over the world. And Scandinavia, all the people that's discovered INDYCAR in the last few years, they seem to love it because, in my opinion, it's the best racing product in the world. The racing is awesome, and I think that's why it's created so many fans here and back home for me.”
Ericsson, third in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship standings, will start 10th in the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
This influx of talent began filtering into the paddock in 2019 with Ericsson coming over from Formula One and joining Arrow McLaren (then known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports). Rosenqvist came in at the same time, joining Chip Ganassi Racing as a highly touted driver with a broad background filled with wins in the European Formula 3 Championship, Super Formula, GT Racing, FIA Formula E and a partial run in INDY NXT by Firestone in 2016, along with two victories at the historic Macau Grand Prix.
Rosenqvist captured two runner-up results en route to winning Rookie of the Year in 2019. Ericsson showed flashes of excellence that year with a number of strong performances, none better than his runner-up in the second race of a doubleheader weekend at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. Ericsson competed in 16 of the 17 rounds that season, missing the Grand Prix of Portland after being called into his Formula One reserve duties by Alfa Romeo as a standby driver for Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen for the Belgian Grand Prix.
While Ericsson and Rosenqvist have switched teams since then, strong performances have continued, along with an increased Scandinavian presence in the paddock. Rosenqvist, from Värnamo, Sweden, will start third on Sunday in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
“I think Scandinavia has always been pretty well represented in motorsports,” said Rosenqvist, 31. If you look, compared to the size of our countries. I mean, Sweden has around 10 million, Finland is like 5 million, Denmark is like 6 million or something, and Norway is like 4 million. It's a pretty small group of countries, and still everywhere there's normally one of the countries represented in each category, or sometimes two or three of them. It's probably like tradition. I don't know. It seems like there's always been good talent coming from these countries, and I think Finland has kind of been the trendsetter with that historically, but now I think Sweden and Denmark are coming on really strong.”
While Rosenqvist, who finished eighth in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship last season, shared surprise about how well represented his region was on the international scene, he couldn’t nail down a specific reason. As to why, in a quality over quantity scenario, so many drivers from that region are typically fighting toward the front of the field, he had a random suggestion.
“I think in terms of rally, where Scandinavia is probably like the most represented part of at least Europe, there's always been the idea that you have gravel roads, so you have winters or snow and you're like driving with your dad when you're like 5 years old and things like that,” Rosenqvist said. “But I don't know how much it actually materializes into making good drivers. I think, yeah, with rally it's probably more accurate but with racing, I don't know. I can't answer it.”
After a one-off appearance in 2021, Lundgaard became a full-time participant last season. A 21-year-old native of Hedensted, Denmark, Lundgaard captured a career-best runner-up result in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and scored an additional six top 10s to claim series Rookie of the Year honors.
Lundgaard, driver of the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, will roll off 30th for Sunday’s 500-mile classic at IMS.
“First of all, I think it's great for us to represent Scandinavia,” said Lundgaard, 21. “It's pretty far away from home, but overall, we want to compete on the highest level.
“Personally, I didn't really realize this until coming over here for my debut race in August of 2021 when I did that one-off race. I realized these fellas are some hard boys to beat. They're super competitive, they're quick, they got tons of experience, just general good drivers. The lineup of the grid is just so highly valued in terms of talent. I don't really think overseas they really see that because I feel like overseas it's all about the Indy 500. Even though it also is for us, but I don't think it's valued high enough around the world.
“Now, having done one full season, I can comfortably say that I've realized how tough this series is. As small countries like Denmark and Sweden to come over here and compete on such a high level, it's tough. It's not easy. We try to do the best we can. It doesn't always go how we plan it to, but it is, in my opinion, one of the highest levels of motorsport. So, I'm pretty satisfied.”
Pedersen, a rookie this year who will start 11th Sunday in the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet, has the distinction of double nationality. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, but lived a large portion of his life in the United States, notably in Seattle. His career began in the States before venturing into England for two years. He never did any racing in Scandinavia.
“It's got to be just in the blood,” said Pedersen, 24.
Kenny Bräck was the first Swedish driver to win the Indianapolis 500, in 1999 with AJ Foyt Racing. He is widely viewed as the originator of Scandinavia’s success in North America open-wheel racing, yet he deflected that honor to other notably talented drivers.
“Well, prior to me there were Stefan Johansson, Fredrik Ekblom and probably some others I’m forgetting,” said Bräck, 57. “So, it’s good to see the participation continue although there’s been a vacant decade or so.”
While Bräck no longer lives in Sweden, he always has kept up with life back home.
“It always creates more national interest if there is native participation, provided it’s a winning driver,” he said. “It certainly did back when I was driving, and I’m pretty sure it’s the same now, maybe more so now with social media, etc.”
Drivers competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and INDY NXT by Firestone that hail from the Scandinavian region aren’t just making up the numbers, either. Each has proven an ability to be competitive. As to why that seems to be the case, Bräck, born in Arvika, Sweden, kept it simple.
“Hard to say, perhaps it’s mostly a matter of where you get the chance to compete,” he said.
Lindh, driver of the No. 76 Juncos Hollinger Racing entry in INDY NXT by Firestone, came to the Unites States from Gothenburg, Sweden. The 21-year-old was attracted to the scholarship programs offered in the junior development system. Additionally, he thinks racing is more pure in America than Europe.
“To race in the U.S., it's not easy,” Lindh said. “People think it should be easier, but it's very difficult because the tracks are a little bit more old school than you look in Europe.
“For example, in Europe you can push 110 percent and if you do a small mistake, you just go off, not in the runoff, but just outside the track where it's concrete to asphalt. But for example, in the U.S. at Road America, if you do a small mistake, you run in the grass. So, I think we, as Scandinavians, like the little bit more pure driving.”
Rasmussen, driver of the No. 6 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing and the championship leader in INDY NXT by Firestone, is a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, and has seen several good drivers come from the region of his birthplace.
“I think just all of Europe is getting drawn to the U.S. because of all the opportunity there is over here,” said Rasmussen, 22. “They also realize that, in terms of racing, INDYCAR is the place where you want to be. A lot of these kids have plans and dreams and hopes to go to F1, but at the end of the day, the racing in INDYCAR, for me, is unmatched. And I think there's just more and more that start to realize that, and I think that's why they get drawn to the U.S.”