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Rookie Ericsson Ready to Redefine Personal Speed Limit at Indy

Marcus Ericsson always has loved tracks with fast corners during his racing career, which has included five seasons in Formula One.

He loves the turns that seemingly last forever, with G forces tugging with a mighty pull at his neck and torso. Corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont at Spa or 130R at Suzuka, where F1 drivers barely need to lift the throttle, let alone touch the brake.

So, it’s a pretty safe bet that NTT IndyCar Series rookie Ericsson will love driving on the 2.5-mile oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. It will be the first oval race of his career on the fastest, most famous oval on Earth, complete with four 220-mph corners. That’s 800 fast corners in one race, nirvana for a driver who enjoys the brave defiance of physics as much as possible.

“I’m going into it with a very open mindset and try to learn as much as possible and get up to speed,” Ericsson said. “I’m excited about it. I think it will be fun.”

Ericsson, 28, also knows learning how to race on ovals will be a big challenge. While he loves fast corners, he also knows the art of oval racing is very different than what he experienced while ripping through high-speed turns on road and street courses in F1.

F1 cars rely far more on aerodynamics and have much more downforce than the current generation of NTT IndyCar Series cars, planting those machines to the asphalt and giving drivers a booster shot of courage.

“The grip level is quite a lot down compared to the Formula One of today, and it’s a lot of fun because of that,” Ericsson said. “The car is moving around a lot, so you have to work a lot with the steering wheel. It’s still an impressive car, but it’s in a very different way. That’s the biggest thing to get used to.”

That learning process will continue for Ericsson, teammate James Hinchcliffe and 26 other drivers during the INDYCAR Open Test on Wednesday, April 24 at IMS. Ericsson will be behind the wheel of the No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Ericsson will lean on 2016 Indy 500 pole winner Hinchcliffe to unlock secrets of speed while turning only left. But he also received some praise and advice for his first Month of May at IMS from another high-profile source last October – two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, who electrified the racing world in his Indy 500 debut in 2017 and is back this year to attempt to become just the second driver to win the “Triple Crown” of victories in the Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Indy 500.

“It will be an amazing experience, and I’m really excited about doing the whole Month of May,” Ericsson said. “I spoke a bit about the ‘500’ with Fernando last year when I was announced for IndyCar, and he said, ‘You will love it; it’s going to be an amazing experience.’ Everyone I talk to says it’s such an amazing event.”

The Month of May starts with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11 on the IMS road course and then shifts to oval preparation for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26. Even though he’s a series rookie, Ericsson likes his chances to be competitive in both races due to the rookie experiences of former F1 drivers Alexander Rossi and Alonso.

Rossi came to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2016 after three seasons as an F1 test driver and one partial season as a race driver in F1 in 2015. He shocked the racing world by winning the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge as a rookie in 2016.

Alonso qualified fifth and led 27 laps in the first oval race of his life in the 2017 Indy 500. He was running in the top 10 when a mechanical problem forced him out of the race just 20 laps from the finish.

Rossi and Alonso were named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year after their respective debuts.

The parity of the series and its equipment is another reason why Ericsson thinks he can contend for a top finish in both races in May at IMS. Just three teams won an F1 race in 2018, while six teams won races in the NTT IndyCar Series last year. Mercedes has won all three F1 races so far this season, while four different teams have taken the checkered flag in the first four NTT IndyCar Series races of 2019.

Ericsson drove for Caterham and Sauber during his F1 career, two lower-budget teams that often needed a telescope to see the front of the grid after qualifying or the podium after a race.

“The fact that it’s a one-spec series is something that as a driver is super exciting,” Ericsson said of the NTT IndyCar Series. “You know that every weekend you can either win or you can be P20, depending on how good you and your team are doing. Where in Formula One, there are a couple of cars fighting every weekend. That’s a big difference that as a driver gets you really going.

“I think in Formula One you’re only as good as the car you’re in, to some extent. In IndyCar, you still have to have a good car and team around you, but it’s a lot more of a drivers’ championship. I think that’s something when you do a lot of years of Formula One, you miss that element that you can, as a driver, make a difference.”

Ericsson’s excitement for the Month of May also will be boosted by increased popularity for the “500” and NTT IndyCar Series in his native Sweden. He is one of two high-profile Swedish imports into the series and the Indy 500 this season, along with Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing. Both are trying to become just the second Swede to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” behind Kenny Brack in 1999.

“It’s fun,” Ericsson said. “I have a lot of following from the years in Formula One back home, and now with two Swedes in the series, it’s going to be very good for the interest in Sweden. Already people back home are super excited about this year and following me in IndyCar.”

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