Wednesday, July 5, 2023

INDYCAR: Ericsson, Rosenqvist tangle on opening lap at Mid-Ohio

by William Soquet Staff Writer

Marcus Ericsson scored the 5th last-place finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when his #8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda pulled off track with crash damage after completing 5 of 80 laps.

The finish came in Ericsson’s 72nd career start and was his first since Long Beach in 2021, 26 races ago. Across IndyCar Series history, it was the 204th due to crash damage, the 219th for Honda and the 13th for the #8.

Since his previous last-place finish, Marcus Ericsson has come into his own in IndyCar. He claimed a dramatic Indianapolis 500 win in 2022, holding off Pato O’Ward after a late-race red flag and restart. That vaulted him to the lead in the point standings, and while he faded a little bit at the end of the season, the Swede still solidified himself as a driver to watch. Flip the calendar to 2023, and he has kept up the pace. A win to open the season on the streets of St. Petersburg was followed by a third at Long Beach and a controversial runner-up at Indianapolis after an unprecedented one-lap shootout to finish the race. Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou has dominated the season’s headlines, but Ericsson entered the weekend second in points, 74 markers behind.

All is not well in the Ericsson camp, however. He is due for a new contract, and right now, it does not look like it will be from the Ganassi team. Huski Chocolate and Ice Spritz grace the car each weekend, but the bulk of the budget that Ericsson brings to Ganassi is from a private benefactor. Reports have indicated that Ericsson told the Ganassi camp that he should not have to bring budget to the entry anymore and should get paid to drive the car, similar to teammates Alex Palou and Scott Dixon. There is an unwillingness from the team to entertain that idea. Ericsson commented on the situation at Road America, telling NBC’s Kevin Lee that he and Ganassi were not in the ballpark on an extension. Ericsson is arguably silly season’s second-biggest domino right now, besides where Palou goes next year. Andretti Autosport and others are rumored to have expressed interest in him.

The Mid-Ohio weekend kicked off with first practice on Friday. Benjamin Pedersen was last in that session, an omen of the troubles he would cause many of the leaders during the race as they attempted to pass him as lapped traffic. Ericsson, meanwhile, was third, about half a second behind Pato O’Ward and a tenth of a second behind teammate Alex Palou. Second practice started off with a bang – literally. Only a couple minutes into the session, Simon Pagenaud’s brakes failed at the end of the long back straightaway. That resulted in his car hopping the edge of the track and then violently barrel rolling across the sand and gravel on the outside of the turn before coming to rest on its top mere feet from the outside tire barrier. He was eventually released by the IndyCar medical center and thankfully suffered no serious injuries. Pagenaud did put down three timed laps before the crash, but the best of those was a 1:10.67, about two seconds behind Petersen’s best time. Ericsson slipped to 22nd on the charts, sandwiched by Santino Ferrucci and Callum Ilott – not drivers that he would want to be running around.

In qualifying, a spin by O’Ward led to lap deletions that dropped his best time to the 1:11 range, sinking him to the bottom of Group 1. Ferrucci ran a 1:07.28, putting him at the bottom of Group 2. Pagenaud had not been cleared from his crash earlier in the morning, but he remained optimistic that he would be able to race the following day. Ericsson had the top time in Group 1 but then faltered to ninth in Group 2, setting his starting spot for Sunday.

After Pagenaud’s evaluation on Sunday morning, Conor Daly was announced as the driver of the #60 Meyer Shank Racing entry for the day. Daly noted on his Speed Street podcast earlier in the week that he had plans to be at Mid-Ohio, and that paid off well for the recently released driver. He spent much of Saturday working with MSR in the event that Pagenaud would not be cleared, and ultimately got final confirmation on Sunday morning. He got into the car for morning warmup, where he placed 12th, just behind teammate Helio Castroneves.

Since he did not register a qualifying time, Daly was allotted the 27th and final grid position on Sunday. Directly ahead of him in Row 11 were Ferrucci and O’Ward, with their spots set by their qualifying times. As they took the second warmup lap, the pace car turned on to pit road, but the flagman at the main flagstand did not deliver the green flag. That is because at Mid-Ohio, IndyCar starts on the longer back straightaway in between Turns 3 and 4 (keyhole and esses) than on the short front straightaway. It is done in an effort to give cars - especially the back half of the field - a clean start.

Through the first couple turns, Daly remained in last, alone behind the side-by-side battle of Ferrucci and O’Ward. However, at the bottom of the esses, Ericsson went to the inside (driver’s right) of tenth-place starter Felix Rosenqvist. The car did not turn at the apex of the corner, and his front wheel hit Rosenqvist’s front wheel. Ericsson’s Chip Ganassi Racing car then climbed on top of Rosenqvist’s Arrow McLaren entry, with the former’s left front wheel dragging along the aeroscreen of the latter. The incident prompted a full-course yellow. It was a tough sight for Swedish IndyCar fans, who now saw both drivers representing their country with damage on the opening lap.

Rosenqvist was refired by the track team and made repairs in the pit lane, rejoining the field one lap down before the conclusion of the caution period. Both the television and radio broadcasts noted that the damage to Ericsson’s car was much more significant and that the team was likely to take the car behind the wall. It sat on pit road being examined while some drivers in the lower half of the field ducked onto pit road later in the caution period, and was still on pit road a handful of laps later when Ericsson was interviewed by the television broadcast. He noted that the accident was entirely due to understeer on his car, and that the team was working to potentially get the car back out on track. For the driver who entered the day second in points, every point was still imperative.

The laps clicked by and there was no sign of life from the Ericsson car. Eventually, Lap 42 came and went, meaning that no matter how many laps he may complete later in the race, he would still be the last-place finisher. The car then quietly slipped on track for a handful of laps, but that was for a shakedown and to make sure that the car was prepared properly. With no positions to gain, the #8 team called it a race.

After the opening caution period, the race went green all the way to the finish. Pedersen's was the last car running, about a lap plus a minute in arrears to winner Palou by the time the race ended. Joining him in the lapped car club were Rosenqvist, Ferrucci, Agustin Canapino, Sting Ray Robb, and Helio Castroneves.

Lundgaard impresses at Mid-Ohio

A call goes out to Christian Lundgaard, who pieced together a strong weekend that saw him fourth in opening practice, fifth in qualifying and fourth in the race. While it was a quieter weekend than his pole-winning run at the Indianapolis road course in May, it was a much more complete weekend than that. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has been much maligned this year, but with the fourth-place finish, the young Danish driver moved into the top ten in IndyCar points. He sits 17 points above Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood in 11th and is four places ahead of teammate Graham Rahal and 13 places above teammate Jack Harvey in the standings.

27) #8-Marcus Ericsson / 5 laps / damage
26) #55-Benjamin Pedersen / 79 laps / running
25) #6-Felix Rosenqvist / 79 laps / running
24) #14-Santino Ferrucci / 79 laps / running
23) #78-Agustin Canapino / 79 laps / running

1st) Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing (3)
2nd) A.J. Foyt Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1)

1st) Honda (7)
2nd) Chevrolet (2)


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