Marcus Ericcson finished sixth in last year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES points standings and knows exactly which direction his 2022 needs to go to challenge for the series championship.
It should go round and round better.
If Sunday’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway is any indication, the driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda is off to a strong start. He finished third in the second race of the season, his best finish to date on an oval track.
Last year, Ericsson scored just 90 points in four oval races, a tally that dropped him to 10th in the series. He had just 29 points in the two races at Texas, six fewer than he had on Sunday.
Ericsson has already led 10 more laps on an oval track than in all of last year, which was none.
Suffice it to say that so far he is satisfied.
“I’m pretty comfortable with them,” Ericsson said of the ovals on the INDYCAR SERIES schedule, “but I didn’t really get any results with them until (last weekend).”
It is not as if Ericsson had seemed uncomfortable in the ovals. He led two laps in his Texas debut in 2019, finishing seventh. Later that season, he came home 11th at Iowa Speedway and 12th at Pocono Raceway, then led a pair of laps at World Wide Technology Raceway despite finishing 16th.
Since joining Chip Ganassi’s team for the 2020 season, Ericsson has qualified in the top 10 in seven of 11 oval races, finishing fifth at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2020. He qualified sixth and ninth at that track on last year.
However, he never raced as competitively as he did on Sunday, which is why the team placed so much emphasis on his offseason work.
“Really analyzing (and) for me seeing a lot of data, on board, trying to understand oval racing better so I can get more results on ovals,” he said of his approach since the end of last season. “To get to the first oval of the year, to get my first podium on an oval, I think it shows the work that my engineer, myself and the rest of the 8-car group did, (including) Dario (Franchitti).
“All the work we do is paying off.”
Ericsson is not the only Ganassi driver who appears to have benefited. The team put all four of its drivers in the top seven of Sunday’s race, with six-time series champion Scott Dixon fifth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, Jimmie Johnson sixth in the No. 48 Carvana Honda and current Alex Palou series champion. seventh in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda.
That Ericsson led the pack was a step forward.
“I don’t know how many onboard videos of Scott Dixon (and the Indianapolis 500) I’ve seen, just trying to understand racing on the ovals,” Ericsson said. “I think that’s a lot of experience, being tactical, thinking ahead, being aware of your tools (in the cockpit) and all of that.
“It’s been something, like I said, that I’ve been working on a lot, and it’s a great feeling to see that work paying off (by) getting this podium.”
Ericsson likened the satisfaction to winning his first INDYCAR SERIES race last year at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear. It was probably no coincidence that he won his second race of the series, the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix at Nashville, four races after that.
Perhaps that boost applies to oval track racing as well.
“When I got my first win, it was a huge relief,” said the Swedish driver in his fourth season in the INDYCAR SERIES. “You go on from there because he gets a lot of confidence.
“I hope and I think it will be the same here: I get my first podium finish on an oval, I take advantage of that and go to Victory Lane next time.”
For the record, “next time” on an oval is the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Ericsson finished 11th in last year’s race. Because the “500” pays double points, a strong performance can be a huge boost to the championship.
“To come to Texas, a super speedster, and finish on the podium, we’re going to be contenders (for the title), (and) we’re going to be all year long,” he said. “I feel confident, ready to fight and get the championship.”
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to action on April 10 with the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, an 85-lap street race won last year by Colton Herta in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.