Column: Ericsson hopes Indy 500 victory will legitimize his career


Marcus Ericsson of Sweden kisses the Borg-Warner trophy during the traditional winners photocall at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Monday, May 30, 2022. Ericsson won the 106th annual Indianapolis 500 auto race on Sunday. (AP Photo /Michael Conroy)


“Winning the Indy 500 is not bad for a paying driver.”

That was Marcus Ericsson’s message after the biggest win of his life, a win in the Indianapolis 500m that might earn him some respect as a race car driver.

It’s not that Ericsson was a rich kid who bought his place in Formula 1 without the talent to justify a seat. In fact, Swedish investors hoping to develop the country’s next racing superstar found Ericsson at the age of 15 and provided him with the financial backing he needed to climb the European ranks and make it to F1.

His followers never stopped believing in him and stuck with him throughout 97 F1 races without a win. They supported Ericsson when he decided to pack his bags and move to the United States for a fresh start, and stuck with him after his lackluster first IndyCar season.

Ericsson drove for Sam Schmidt in his rookie IndyCar season, but he was let go when McLaren joined the team ahead of the 2020 season and changed the entire lineup.

Ericsson needed a new job and Chip Ganassi Racing was interested – as long as Ericsson found the money to field the car. He has teamed up with Swedish company Huski Chocolate, which sponsors the No. 8 car that Ericsson drove to victory Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The victory placed Ericsson alongside Kenny Brack as the only Swede to win in 106 Indy 500 races, and for Ericsson, legitimized his career as much more than a “paying driver”.

“You know, that’s what people call you if you come in and you have solid support,” Ericsson said Monday. “I don’t come from a wealthy background, I come from a normal family in Sweden, and I’ve worked very hard in my career to seize opportunities and get people to believe in me.

“And then they put a tag on you as a paying driver, and I’ve had that tag all my years in F1 and even here in America. Coming here, I don’t think there were too many great people excited to see me here in IndyCar, and that’s just something that stuck with me.

But the Ganassi organization is not a team of laggards and Ericsson was now racing cars capable of winning races. He had an adjustment period in 2020 to adjust to a new culture of sharing information with teammates cheering each other on rather than trying to defeat them, and Ericsson was admittedly still rebuilding trust. which had been shattered over five F1 seasons.

He only scored his first IndyCar victory at Detroit last June in his second season with the team – it was Ericsson’s first win in eight years – and an August win at Nashville earned him a contract extension which, according to Ericsson, “is for several years”.

The so-called paying driver is now a Swedish hero. Finn Rausing, one of Ericsson’s longtime supporters, attended his first Indy 500 on Sunday, then kissed the bricks to celebrate his investment’s win. Rausing also forwarded Ericsson a message of congratulations sent by King Carl XVI Gustaf, the monarch of Sweden.

Ericsson was also paid; his Indy 500 win earned him a $3.1 million payout of the record total purse of $16 million. And because the Indy 500 is worth double the standings points, Ericsson has rocketed from eighth to the IndyCar points leader as he prepares to return to Detroit this weekend and defend the decisive victory of last year.

The last 12 months have certainly helped Ericsson prove himself in IndyCar and winning the Indy 500 has brought him global recognition. But there is always something Ericsson wants for legitimacy.

A reporter from his hometown in Sweden attended the Indy 500 and told Ericsson he went to every memorabilia stand in a fruitless search for a single item of merchandise featuring the driver. But his teammates are six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou, so it can be hard for a quiet Swede to stand out.

“I use it as motivation, but also I understand when you have (my teammates). It’s so obvious that I won’t be in the spotlight,” Ericsson said. “But I have a reporter here from my newspaper local…he couldn’t find a single T-shirt, cap or anything featuring Marcus Ericsson. Virtually every driver in the field, but not a single thing from Ericsson.

“Things like that are kind of boring. Like maybe I can have a T-shirt? You know, that would be good.


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Lynn A. Saleh