Ericsson 2nd Swede to win Indy 500

Published 10:03 pm Sunday, May 29, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Marcus Ericsson, once a Formula One backmarker, is now an IndyCar frontrunner.

And an Indianapolis 500 champion.

Ericsson became the second Swede to win the Indy 500 on Sunday when he held off some of the biggest names in North American auto racing in front of the largest crowd of his life.

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“It’s the biggest race in the world,” said Ericsson, who called it his biggest victory “by a million miles.”

The 31-year-old showed up in IndyCar something of a mystery in 2019 following five unremarkable seasons in Formula One. He’d worked his entire life to make it to the top level of motorsports then washed out winless — not even a single podium finish — over 97 starts.

He didn’t exactly dazzle in his first season in North America, either. Ericsson was cut loose from his first IndyCar team after just one year, then bought a seat at Chip Ganassi Racing — he made sure to note it when he said “winning the Indy 500, it’s not bad for a pay driver” — and has made steady strides in his 36 races with Ganassi since 2020.

“It’s been tough. I did five years in Formula One, almost a hundred grand prixs, running for small teams, towards the back most of it. You don’t get a lot of credit running in the back. People think you are not very good,” Ericsson said. “I came over here, and people probably didn’t think much of that. I had to work my way here as well, learning American racing.

“Moved here, put my whole life into trying to become an IndyCar and mainly Indianapolis 500 champion. It’s been not easy. It feels good to show that hard works pay off.”

Ericsson took control of the race late — largely because of teammate Scott Dixon’s speeding penalty — and had the win in reach until a crash by Ganassi teammate Jimmie Johnson with four laps remaining brought out a rare red-flag stoppage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

IndyCar is among the purest forms of motorsports and rarely throws artificial cautions or issues stoppages that might change the outcome. But the crowd of more than 300,000 — only a few thousand shy of a sellout and the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic — roared when IndyCar called the cars to pit road.

The stoppage gave Pato O’Ward and the rest of the challengers almost 12 minutes on pit road to strategize how to pass Ericsson. Ericsson was agonizing his own plans.

“Those 10 minutes sitting there in the pit lane during that red flag was some of the hardest 10 minutes of my life,” he said, “thinking what to do, thinking that I’m leading the biggest race in the world, and I’m that close to win it.”

There were two laps remaining when the race resumed and Ericsson got the jump on O’Ward. The Mexican got one final look for the lead that Ericsson defended and O’Ward knew not to force the issue.

“Nah, he was going to put me in the wall if I had gone for it,” O’Ward said.

Sage Karam crashed and brought out another caution on the final lap, allowing Ericsson to coast to the victory podium under yellow. Karam was transported to a hospital for evaluation of muscular soreness.

“When that caution came out, I thought it was going to be another restart. I was like, ‘I can’t believe it, another one,’” Ericsson said. “First I was angry, then I just realized that won me the race. It’s an explosion of emotions from that point.”

It was Ericsson’s third IndyCar victory in 52 starts. But he arrived in Indianapolis convinced he could win the 500 based in part to the work he’d put into learning ovals and a third-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in the warm-up for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

It is the fifth Indy 500 win for team owner Chip Ganassi, who caught a ride to the podium on the side of Ericsson’s car. Ericsson is the first Swede to win the Indy 500 since Kenny Brack in 1999 and the second in 106 runnings of the race.

Ericsson poured his jug of milk all over his face, then handed the bottle to Ganassi so the boss could take his own swig. Ganassi had not won the 500 in 10 years and sent five legitimate contenders to Indy to end the drought.

The win seemed to belong to Dixon, the six-time IndyCar champion who went more than 234 mph in qualifying to win the pole. The New Zealander led 95 of the 200 laps, and his Honda was easily the fastest in the field — so fast that Dixon didn’t slow down enough on his final pit stop.

The penalty took Dixon out of contention for the win.

That left Ericsson and Tony Kanaan still in the mix for Ganassi. Kanaan, at 47 the oldest driver in the field, thought he was in perfect position sitting fourth on the restart.

O’Ward wouldn’t relent, though. He signed a contract extension with Arrow McLaren SP on Friday and desperately wanted the win to celebrate his status as McLaren’s star. But O’Ward finished second, falling just short as he tried to give Mexico a banner celebration on the biggest day in motorsports; Sergio Perez opened Sunday with a win in the Monaco Grand Prix.

Kanaan was third, followed by Felix Rosenqvist, another Swede, who drives for McLaren. Rosenqvist is in a contract year with McLaren and fighting for his job, but the McLaren group carried the Chevrolet banner at Indy as Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th.

American drivers Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly finished fifth and sixth, Rossi for Andretti Autosport and Daly for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Helio Castroneves, last year’s winner, finished seventh and one spot ahead of Meyer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud. Reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou finished 10th in another Ganassi entry.

Dixon faded to 21st after the speeding penalty, and although he visited Ericsson on the victory podium, he was consoled by his wife on pit road after the race. Johnson finished 28th in his Indy 500 debut.

“It’s one team, everybody roots for everybody else, everybody works together and everybody is an open book,” Ganassi said. “You’re going to have things happen in these 500-mile races and they’re not always going to fall your way. So, you know, we were lucky to have five good cars and five good drivers.”

Indy 500 Winners

2022 — Marcus Ericsson

2021 — Helio Castroneves

2020 — Takuma Sato

2019 — Simon Pagenaud

2018 — Will Power

2017 — Takuma Sato

2016 — Alexander Rossi

2015 — Juan Montoya

2014 — Ryan Hunter-Reay

2013 — Tony Kanaan

2012 — Dario Franchitti

2011 — Dan Wheldon

2010 — Dario Franchitti

2009 — Helio Castroneves

2008 — Scott Dixon

2007 — Dario Franchitti

2006 — Sam Hornish Jr.

2005 — Dan Wheldon

2004 — Buddy Rice

2003 — Gil de Ferran

2002 — Helio Castroneves

2001 — Helio Castroneves

2000 — Juan Montoya

1999 — Kenny Brack

1998 — Eddie Cheever

1997 — Arie Luyendyk Sr.

1996 — Buddy Lazier

1995 — Jacques Villeneuve

1994 — Al Unser Jr.

1993 — Emerson Fittipaldi

1992 — Al Unser Jr.

1991 — Rick Mears

1990 — Arie Luyendyk Sr.

1989 — Emerson Fittipaldi

1988 — Rick Mears

1987 — Al Unser Sr.

1986 — Bobby Rahal

1985 — Danny Sullivan

1984 — Rick Mears

1983 — Tom Sneva

1982 — Gordon Johncock

1981 — Bobby Unser

1980 — Johnny Rutherford

1979 — Rick Mears

1978 — Al Unser Sr.

1977 — A.J. Foyt

1976 — Johnny Rutherford

1975 — Bobby Unser

1974 — Johnny Rutherford

1973 — Gordon Johncock

1972 — Mark Donohue

1971 — Al Unser Sr.

1970 — Al Unser Sr.

1969 — Mario Andretti

1968 — Bobby Unser

1967 — A.J. Foyt

1966 — Graham Hill

1965 — Jimmy Clark

1964 — A.J. Foyt

1963 — Parnelli Jones

1962 — Rodger Ward

1961 — A.J. Foyt

1960 — Jim Rathmann

1959 — Rodger Ward

1958 — Jimmy Bryan

1957 — Sam Hanks

1956 — Pat Flaherty

1955 — Bob Sweikert

1954 — Bill Vukovich Sr.

1953 — Bill Vukovich Sr.

1952 — Troy Ruttman

1951 — Lee Wallard

1950 — Johnnie Parsons

1949 — Bill Holland

1948 — Mauri Rose

1947 — Mauri Rose

1946 — George Robson

1942-45 — No races, World War II

1941 — Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose

1940 — Wilbur Shaw

1939 — Wilbur Shaw

1938 — Floyd Roberts

1937 — Wilbur Shaw

1936 — Louis Meyer

1935 — Kelly Petillo

1934 — Bill Cummings

1933 — Louis Meyer

1932 — Fred Frame

1931 — Louis Schneider

1930 — Billy Arnold

1929 — Ray Keech

1928 — Louis Meyer

1927 — George Souders

1926 — Frank Lockhart

1925 — Pete DePaolo

1924 — L.L.Corum and Joe Boyer

1923 — Tommy Milton

1922 — Jimmy Murphy

1921 — Tommy Milton

1920 — Gaston Chevrolet

1919 — Howard Wilcox

1917-18 — No races, World War I

1916 — Dario Resta

1915 — Ralph DePalma

1914 — Rene Thomas

1913 — Jules Goux

1912 — Joe Dawson

1911 — Ray Harroun