Defending Indy 500 champ Ericsson back at Brickyard, seeking new contract
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Marcus Ericsson spent most of his career trying to show he could win races.
So when the 32-year-old Swede pulled into victory lane at last year's Indianapolis 500, he savored every moment of the seemingly endless victory lap.
Now, the defending race champion and current IndyCar points leader is back at the Brickyard with a new goal: proving he deserves a new contract.
“I want to be hired as a professional racing driver for my skills as a driver," he said Thursday, two days before the Indianapolis Grand Prix on the track's 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. “I think I deserve that. So that's what I'm aiming to do.”
Ericsson's resume certainly looks different a year after he described himself as a “pay driver,” someone who joins a team because of the sponsorship money tied to the driver rather than someone contracted to the team regardless of sponsorship dollars.
Indy changed that, perhaps forever.
After capturing his third career IndyCar win and enduring the annual post-race victory media splash, he strung together six straight top-10 finishes to finish sixth in the final standings for the second straight year, just 15 points behind third-place finisher Scott Dixon, a six-time series champ and Ericsson's teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing.
In March, Ericsson won the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, and he enters May with top-10 finishes in all four of this year's races, good for a three-point lead over Pato O'Ward. Ericsson had to hold off O'Ward on the final restart to win last May's race.
“All my career I’ve been working to get where I am today and I’ve gone through a lot of tough years,” said Ericsson, who joined Kenny Braack as the only Swedish winners of the 500. “You know, eight years without winning a race. I do push myself really hard to keep working, keep believing in myself. I’ve dedicated all my life to this and worked very hard to put myself in a position where I can win a big race and then when you win the biggest one, I think that’s hard to put into words.”
He's been busy off the track, too.
In November, Ericsson took the Borg-Warner Trophy to his home country — marking the fourth time it left American soil. He made a stop in Stockholm, visited the Swedish Embassy, was the feature of several magazine photo shoots and enjoyed the nighttime party on the city square of his hometown, Kumla.
In February, Ericsson attended an NHL game at Madison Square Garden and visited the league's New York headquarters. Two weeks later, he was back in Indy watching the NBA's Indiana Pacers and meeting rap star, actor and television producer 50 Cent.
“He seems to have gotten more out of winning the Indy 500 than anyone else has of recent time,” Ganassi said earlier this year. “He’s been everywhere. It’s been a really positive thing for Marcus, the team, the series. He’s grown with that as well.”
In April, he took time between races to marry Greek model Iris Tritsaris Jondahl.
But it wasn't easy for Ericsson to reach the point where his face appears all around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on the 500 trophy and the traditional race-day ticket.
After obtaining a Formula One ride in 2014, he struggled through five seasons with two non-competitive teams, earning just 18 career points and getting shut out three times while surviving a frightening crash at Monza in 2018 when his car rolled over several times.
He didn't fare much better when he moved to the U.S. in 2019. Aside from a surprise runner-up finish at Detroit with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, he never finished higher than seventh.
Still, Ganassi saw the promise and with Swedish chocolate maker Huski on board, Ericsson took over the team's No. 8 car and made a quick impression with nine top-10 finishes in 2020. Wins at Detroit and Nashville followed in 2021 and then came his first career oval victory last year at Indy.
Ericsson will try to become the fifth driver to win back-to-back 500s, the first since Helio Castroneves won the first two of his four titles in 2001 and 2002, and if that doesn't cement the contract extension Ganassi and Ericsson say they want, it's unclear what will.
Ericsson insists he's not interested in talking contracts with races still to be run. Qualifying for this weekend's race is scheduled for Friday, although rain is in the forecast. Then the attention will be focused squarely on Ericsson and his quest to repeat as 500 champ on May 28.
"It feels really cool to come here as the defending 500 winner and championship leader. It doesn't get much better,” Ericsson said. “So I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to it and it’s going to be a very special month.”
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