INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Ericsson had to leave Formula One to become a global superstar – a goal achieved on Sunday when the Swedish driver won the Indianapolis 500.
Ericsson took control of the race late – largely due to teammate Scott Dixon’s speeding penalty – and controlled it for Chip Ganassi Racing until his teammate crashed. Jimmie Johnson with four laps to go causes a rare red flag stoppage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
IndyCar is one of the purest forms of motorsport and rarely issues artificial warnings or trouble stops that could change the outcome. But the crowd of more than 300,000 – barely a few thousand sold out and the biggest sporting event since the start of the pandemic – roared as IndyCar called the cars onto pit road.
The stoppage gave Pato O’Ward and the rest of the challengers nearly 12 minutes on pit road to strategize to catch Ericsson for the win.
The race resumed with two laps to go and Ericsson easily got the better of O’Ward. The Mexican got one last look at the lead defended by Ericsson, and O’Ward knew not to force the outcome.
“No, he was going to put me in the wall if I had gone for it,” O’Ward said.
A Sage Karam crash back into traffic brought out the warning on the final lap, and Ericsson gave way on the victory podium under yellow. Karam was taken to hospital for an assessment of muscle pain.
For Ericsson, it was his third career IndyCar victory in 52 career starts. All three were odd wins in that Ericsson sealed the wins after red flag stops, but he never assumed he had won the Indy 500 while sitting in his cockpit in waiting to get back to racing.
“You can never take anything for granted, and there were tricks to be done,” Ericsson said. “I was praying so hard that there wouldn’t be any yellow, so I knew there probably would be, and it was hard to refocus.”
But he did, and he held on for the biggest win of his career. Ericsson was winless in five seasons in F1 before packing up for the United States and moving to North American open-wheel racing.
This is the fifth Indy 500 victory for team owner Chip Ganassi, who took the victory podium next to Ericsson’s car. Ericsson is the second Swede to win the Indy 500 in 106 races, after 1999 winner Kenny Brack.
Ericsson poured his jug of milk all over his face, then handed the bottle to Ganassi for the boss to take his own sip. Ganassi hadn’t won the 500 in 10 years and sent five legitimate contenders to Indy to end the drought.
Victory seemed to belong to Dixon, the six-time IndyCar champion who clocked over 234 mph in qualifying to claim pole. The New Zealander led 95 of the 200 laps on Sunday and his Honda was by far the fastest of the field – so quick that Dixon didn’t slow down enough in his final pit stop. The penalty put him out of contention for the win.
That left Ericsson and Tony Kanaan still in the fight for Ganassi. Kanaan, at 47, the oldest rider in the field, thought he was in perfect position for victory by being fourth on the restart.
O’Ward would not back down. He signed a contract extension with Arrow McLaren SP on Friday and was desperate for the win. But he finished second, falling narrowly as he tried to give his country a celebration of the banner on motorsport’s biggest day; Mexican Sergio Perez started Sunday with a victory at the Monaco Grand Prix.
Kanaan was third in a Ganassi car and followed by Felix Rosenqvist, another Swede, who finished fourth for McLaren. Rosenqvist is in a contract year with McLaren and fighting for his job.
American drivers Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly finished fifth and sixth, Rossi for Andretti Autosport and Daly for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Last year’s winner Helio Castroneves finished seventh and one place ahead of Meyer Shank Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud. Defending IndyCar champion Alex Palou finished 10th in another Ganassi entry.
Dixon faded to 21st after the penalty, and although he visited Ericsson on the victory podium, he was consoled by his wife on pit road after the race. Johnson finished 28th in his Indy 500 debut.
“It’s a team, everyone roots for everyone, everyone works together and everyone is an open book,” Ganassi said. “Things are going to happen in these 500 mile races and they won’t always fall your way. So, you know, we were lucky to have five good cars and five good drivers.”
The Honda riders took six of the top nine places, including the win.
“I believe we are here for the fans. We mean the fans,” Kanaan said. “They came here to see a race. It was the right decision. That’s the only reason race control called it I think, because that’s what people wanted to see. If I was in the stands, I want to see a race finish under the green.”