until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


How Ericsson’s Ganassi plea sets up his best-ever win chance

by Matt Beer
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

All IndyCar-facing Formula 1 eyes may be watching the debut of Romain Grosjean this year, but its last driver to convert to the American series has just as big a year ahead. Step forward Marcus Ericsson.

Ericsson joined IndyCar in 2019 and had a decent rookie season as part of the smaller Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team, where he excelled on ovals more than anything.

Those performances yielded a switch to one of IndyCar’s big three, Chip Ganassi Racing, but the season only produced 12th in the standings, which is far shy of someone with long-term F1 experience.

The problem is, analysing Ericsson’s season is far more complex. First you have to consider that he didn’t replace anyone at Ganassi and a whole new team was formed around him there, and that typically drivers other than Scott Dixon struggle to fight up front for Ganassi consistently.

Marcus Ericsson Ganassi Indycar 3

However, Ericsson still would have opened the season with six top-10s from as many races if not for a broken fuel hose in the opener at Texas, where he was running in the top 10 and had finished seventh the previous year.

That was a haul of points gone, and then a crash while looking top-five worthy at the Indianapolis 500 was disappointing.

Without even considering Ganassi’s fundamental 2020 weakness, you could make a case that Ericsson could have easily finished in the top eight in points, which is no mean feat for a first year at the team, and a first year for the team.

With Ganassi adding another team for Jimmie Johnson in 2021, while also welcoming onboard an Extreme E programme and a top-flight return to sportscar racing under the spotlight of having Kevin Magnussen driving, you could understand Ericsson’s needs falling down the priority list. But his plea to keep his core group in place was answered.

“Last year was definitely a learning year for all of us, creating a new team within the team,” Ericsson tells The Race. “So it took some time to get everyone sort of gelled together.

“I felt like we really ended the season strongly, the whole #8 car, we felt like we were definitely starting to hit our stride towards the end. So going into the off-season, that was one of the things that I was very clear with the team that I, as much as possible, would like to keep my core group of people.

Marcus Ericsson Chip Ganassi Racing Indycar 2021

“Just because, it’s always a process, it always takes some time to understand and get to know new people.

“So I’ve kept my core group, there have been a couple of mechanics that have been swapping around with all the other [teams], there’s a fourth IndyCar program and then the sportscar and Extreme E, so there’s a lot of things happening within the team, which is awesome. I think that’s really cool.

“There’s been some swap-arounds, but the core group stayed intact, which I think is very important for me going into this season.”

That means Ericsson has spent the off-season continuing with his lead people, including engineer Brad Goldberg, who he has struck up a good rapport with in the previous campaign.

Marcus Ericsson Indycar

The second half of the season was a tricky one for Ericsson as he scored four top-10s in seven races, with the biggest disappointment being a broken rear wing costing him in the second Gateway race, after finishing fifth in the first of the double-header weekend.

With only three ovals on the calendar and two double headers, it was another opportunity missed for the driver who has taken extremely well to only turning left.

The rest of the second half of the season being on road courses with one street circuit thrown in, exposed the aforementioned team weakness – which is qualifying on tracks that have left and right turns.

This shouldn’t be a limiting factor, as Dixon had an average start of 10th on circuits last year and won the title, whereas Rosenqvist’s average in qualifying was 9.1 and he finished 11th, one spot ahead of Ericsson, whose qualifying average was 15.6.

However, Dixon is one of the best drivers in the world and has nearly 300 starts under his belt. With experience and savvy he’s able to fight back whereas newcomers Ericsson and Rosenqvist – now at Arrow McLaren SP – have struggled.

Marcus Ericsson Scott Dixon Ganassi Indycar

“I think we, as a team, knew what areas we wanted to focus on going into the offseason,” says Ericsson.

“We obviously won the championship with Scott so we were not bad by any stretch last year, we had an extremely good package otherwise, you won’t win a championship.

“But we knew that we had to try and improve qualifying as a team, it was definitely a weakness of ours on road and street courses. And then also me personally, as well there.

“So that’s been something that I think both myself but also the team as a whole, we’ve been focused on in the off-season to try and understand how we can activate the tyres better for qualifying because we think that’s what was our issue a bit last year.

“So there’s been quite a lot of work around that in the off-season to try and analyse and understand and then obviously trying the things we come up with on the tests. And I do believe we have made some significant improvements there.

“Especially last time out at Barber, we could definitely see on all our cars that we felt like we have taken some steps there in the way we get the tires to work when they’re new.

“So that’s very encouraging going into the year because I think that was the sort of the biggest weakness we had last year.”

The aeroscreen was a big factor in affecting tyre preparation and management, adding understeer to the car, which was just another variable to get on top of for 2020. With the tyres the teams can’t test on the red softer compound, which means they are having to guess what that tyre might do come the start of the season.

Marcus Ericsson Ganassi Indycar 4

One positive in this department is that highly rated second year IndyCar driver Alex Palou joins the team in place of Rosenqvist, with the knowledge of tyre prep from another team and also a totally different driving style to Dixon and Ericsson, which has refreshed things for Ganassi.

With eight cars from Andretti and Penske to beat every week as well as three rapid team-mates and the rest of a grid which Ericsson calls “incredible”, 2021 will be tough. But there has to be two targets for Ericsson. Win a race for the first time and challenge for the top eight in points.

On his targets for this season, Ericsson says: “I would like to build on what we did last year, I think it was a very solid season. Like we touched on there, it was a new team within a team, that took some time to get everything working.

“But then I think we were solid, we had nine top 10s. We were running top 10 in I think almost all the other races where there was some things happening out of our control and we didn’t get there.

“But it was a very solid season. So I want to build on that.

“But obviously, one of my big, big targets for this year is to win my first IndyCar race. It’s been on my list since I came over here and I feel like I now have the experience and the tools to do that.

“So that’s one of the big targets going into the year for sure.”

You could argue it’s vital for Ericsson’s IndyCar future to get that win on the board sooner rather than later. Doing so will provide a massive boost to him and his reputation, as someone who never scored an F1 podium during a career spent in inferior machinery, but someone who has no excuses now being in one of IndyCar’s top teams that won the title last year no less.

Marcus Ericsson Ganassi Indycar 2

And there’s no doubt that Ericsson has found a home away from home in the States, and that he wants to stay. He signed what was described as a “multi-year” deal with Ganassi at the end of 2020.

“For me, at the moment, my focus is to stay here and do well in IndyCar,” he adds.

“I love the series, I love the racing, I really do enjoy it. So I definitely want to stay here long-term, if I can, that’s for sure the goal.

“This year as always will be important to continue to improve. I think from year one to year two, I took a good step.

“And now it’s going into year three for me in IndyCar and it’s important to continue that trend and continue to improve.

“So it’s an important year, but I feel very well prepared and ready to perform.”

There’s nothing left for Ericsson. The talking has been done, the analysis complete and the preparation is well in progress. Time to go out and score what would be an immensely popular first win and earn his future seat.

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