Re: 2020 NTT IndyCar series - News, gossip, banter and all the other good stuff
Posted: Thu Oct 24, 2019 13:16 pm
Incorporating Farzad's F1 Gallery & F1Onboard.com
Autosport.com wrote:A year ago, Marcus Ericsson's motorsport future was uncertain. He had been told he'd been edged out of the Sauber Formula 1 team by Kimi Raikkonen and the consolation prize of a reserve role for 2019 was not enough. He therefore turned his attention to the USA.
At the end of October, he was announced as a driver for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar team. It was a fresh start for Ericsson as he joined one of the US championship's biggest teams outside its leading three - Chip Ganassi Racing, Penske and Andretti Autosport.
But SPM's first season without Robert Wickens, who suffered serious injuries at Pocono last August, was a difficult one and it often failed to run the big teams close. Ericsson also had to adapt to a first season running on ovals, as well as the other intricacies of IndyCar racing. A breakthrough did not come until he took a podium finish in a chaotic Detroit finale when he admitted afterwards that he hadn't expected such a steep learning curve.
There wasn't to be another high, but Ericsson consistently finished on the fringes of the top 10.
Then career uncertainty came once again as McLaren announced a tie-up with SPM that looked likely - from the outside - to result in his departure.
But it eventually led Ericsson to a golden opportunity: joining Ganassi for 2020.
He will line up alongside veteran Scott Dixon and Swedish countryman Felix Rosenqvist. Ericsson is now with a team that has won 12 IndyCar titles, including two in the last five years. A driver who spent five seasons in back-of-the-grid F1 cars trying to escape Q1 now has the best chance to fight for poles and race wins.
"That's the thing," he says. "It's the first time since 2013 that I'm in a car that has proven to be a championship-winning car and team. In '13, in GP2, I won races and was on the podium and had a great year, so I know I can do it when I have the right equipment. I'm really eager to show that next year.
"They are one of the most successful teams, not only in IndyCar but in the motorsport world. It's a great honour to be representing a team like that. I really believe that we can be strong together, especially with Scott and Felix in the team as well. We have a really strong line-up that can push each other."
Ericsson's IndyCar adventure was kickstarted by events that were out of his hands. Throughout last summer, it became apparent that Ferrari would follow the late Sergio Marchionne's plan and promote Charles Leclerc from Sauber to a works seat, at the expense of Raikkonen.
It was widely assumed that the 2007 champion would walk away from F1, but once he made it clear to Sauber boss Fred Vasseur that he was interested, signing Raikkonen was a no-brainer, especially with Alfa Romeo's involvement stepping up for '19.
With the departing Leclerc's Sauber/Alfa seat 'owned' by Ferrari, and earmarked for Antonio Giovinazzi, there was no room for Ericsson, despite his close relationship with the team's Swedish owner, Hans Rausing, who had backed his career for over a decade.
"I got the information from the owners and Fred," he recalls. "It all happened quite quickly with Kimi when Ferrari announced Charles. They informed me that Kimi was signed, and I knew what was going to happen with the other seat. I had to focus fully on trying to see what other options were out there."
Did he first look at Formula E, an obvious home for deposed F1 drivers?
"It was on the list, there were a couple of teams that we spoke to, and that were interested in me maybe testing. There was definitely an option.
"I don't know why, but I've always looked at IndyCar and followed it from a distance, and I always thought it was a very interesting championship, and most importantly it looked like a really fun championship to be a driver in.
"And also when I've been in America with F1 I enjoyed it there and had a good time. There were options in Formula E and WEC, but IndyCar was the one that I was most keen to explore."
One team soon emerged as a serious candidate for Ericsson. Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson were looking for someone to replace Wickens, who remains in SPM's thinking, sidelined after his crash. The timing was just right for Ericsson.
"We spoke to some others," he says. "Trevor [Carlin] obviously we know from European racing, I did Macau with him once. But it felt quite good with Sam and Ric from the start. Obviously, the unfortunate accident with Robert opened an opportunity, and there was a big mutual interest there. We signed, and then I went over and tested at Sebring. The Pembrey of America!
"The whole year was a learning curve because everything was new - every track was new, every city was new, the competitors, the cars, the tyres, the way they work. It was just about trying to have an open mind, and trying to take everything in and understand and learn from it. That was the main thing this year."
Ericsson, who adds IndyCar is "very, very different from current F1 cars, the downforce levels are completely different", points out that IndyCar went in the opposite direction with its universal aerokit introduced in 2018. He says driving an Indycar therefore took a "big adjustment" that he "battled" through this year.
But like all drivers - his new team-mate Rosenqvist included - he found the ovals were the most daunting element, with his first experience coming at the Indianapolis 500, the sixth round of 2019.
"I didn't really believe people when they were saying how special it was, and how different it was," says Ericsson. "I was like, 'I've been to Monaco, I've been to Monza'. But when I did experience it and did the whole month and the build-up and qualifying weekend - with all the tradition and history - you can see how much it means for everyone in IndyCar, and also in Indianapolis as a city, it made it so special. I got really, really touched by the whole event."
But, occasion aside, Ericsson lined up 13th on the grid and finished 23rd after a spin in the pit entry cost him time when he had been frequently running inside the top 10.
"I feel like I've got used to the ovals quicker and easier than the road and street courses with the low downforce cars," he says. "Somehow the ovals were easier to adapt to.
"The thing with IndyCar these days is that you are constantly fighting the car, it's either oversteer or understeer, or four-wheel sliding.
"You watch the onboards of IndyCars - something is going on all the time, and if you compare it to an onboard of an F1 car, you have maybe one or two moments in a lap when you have to make a correction.
"Whereas IndyCar, it's every corner - you are making corrections in the entry, mid, exit, understeer/oversteer - there's always something going on. For me, that was difficult to get my head around at the beginning of the year because I was so used to having a car that was struck to the ground.
"So that took me time to get used to and get comfortable with. I feel like I got there towards the end of the year, but it was a big thing."
As the season went on, Ericsson desperately needed a solid result, and one finally came with second place in Detroit in June.
"That was an amazing experience because I did five years in F1 and I was never really close to a podium, and in your junior years, you went into every weekend with the mindset of trying to win the race and be on the podium.
"The last time I was on the podium was in 2013 in Abu Dhabi, the last race of the GP2 season. And that's the great thing with IndyCar, everyone - if they have a good day - can be on the podium. That's what I love about the series - that makes it really fun to race, and also to watch.
"The results over the season were disappointing overall. I think there were quite a few times where I was on for good results where I did mistakes, or I had technical problems, or mistakes from the team, or other things. There was always something happening. But the Detroit podium was important for me - to show that when everything works out, I can deliver.
"All the big boys were up there, and I delivered and didn't crack under the pressure, and showed that I could be mixing it up with the best. So that was a big result, and a big performance for me to show what I can do."
Drivers who leave F1 can often harbour ambitions around a temporary outside move being the launchpad to a return, but Ericsson says this didn't enter his thoughts.
"In my mind, I was always focused on staying in IndyCar," he says. "I guess I haven't closed the door to F1, but I'm really focused on establishing myself in American racing, and showing what I can do there, and rebuilding my career.
"I feel that this year even though the results are not what I wanted, I showed what can be done. The potential is there to really be successful.
"That's what the guys at Ganassi saw as well. I'm really itching to start working with them and show what I can do with a team like that, and with one year's experience."
But the F1 door has not fully closed as Ericsson remains Alfa's reserve driver and in Austria, back in July, he kept his hand in with some Pirelli testing. After being out of the car for more than "six months", he felt back on the pace and showed "I can still deliver if I'm needed".
But the downside of his F1 role was exposed just a few weeks later when there were fears that Raikkonen might not be fit enough to contest the Belgian GP. Ericsson got the call to attend just in case - and his contractual situation meant that he was forced to miss the Portland IndyCar race. But Raikkonen was fine and it all appeared to be an over-cautious move by Alfa. Just to add to Ericsson's frustration the car was quick at Spa, with Raikkonen starting eighth.
"That weekend was obviously not ideal, for many reasons," says Ericsson. "But that's how it goes, sometimes that's how it works out, and if Kimi was not be able to drive it would have been a great opportunity for me to show what I can do in a very strong Alfa Romeo.
"But I'm not walking around thinking about that now. It was just one of those things that happen, and you move on."
Ericsson will now be on Alfa duty for the next four F1 races - but will fit in a visit to Ganassi between the Mexican and United States grands prix.
It raises questions as to whether there could be a repeat clash between F1 and IndyCar next year for Ericsson, but he says: "All I've said to my management is that I really want to focus 110% on this opportunity with Chip Ganassi, that's where I want to have all my focus.
"We need to have that discussion before the end of the year regarding Alfa Romeo."
At the age of 29, with times on his side, Ericsson is content to have switched from an also-ran in F1 to chasing race wins in a new series.
"I don't regret my years in F1, I had a lot of fun, and I think I did some really good results and performances there that I'm proud of," he concludes. "When you're in that bubble, you're enjoying that to the fullest.
"But I really enjoyed my first year in America, and now when I get this opportunity next year I really feel like there's nowhere else I want to be. I really feel I can deliver in that environment, so I'm as happy as I can be, and as motivated and as focused as I can be to deliver."
That's a big if, I think Honda went deep to secure Rossi with AA and I don't know how much money Honda or Honda Canada has left. Plus there's conflicting sponsors between Total on the RLL cars and Canada Oil or whatever it's called that supports Hinch.
They are being elusive on where.... although they promise more details if you buy their latest mag. On the other hand they are not known as Auto Fiction for their accuracy and many of their big stories have suddenly fizzled out. At this stage none of the other local motorsport media is mentioning it.