Marcus Ericsson’s addition to the 2019 IndyCar grid further solidifies one of IndyCar’s strongest rookie classes in years.
Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward all bring international racing experience. On Wednesday Ericsson, who made his debut with the ill-fated Caterham F1 team in 2014 before moving to Sauber a year later, pointed to the success of another series driver who recently transitioned to America after a stint in Europe.
No, not Fernando Alonso – though he did help.
“I think also when Fernando went over and did the Indy 500, I think that also opened some doors, sort of made more people think about IndyCar,” said Ericsson, who will drive Schmidt Peterson’s No. 7 Honda. “Also you have seen guys like Alexander Rossi, okay he’s an American, but he was racing a lot in Europe, he went over to IndyCar, has been doing extremely well.”
When Sauber announced Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi as its 2019 lineup, Ericsson reached out to his fellow drivers to see if America’s open-wheel series would be a good fit.
“I know Alex quite well. He’s a good friend of mine,” he explained. “I spoke to Alex about it. He actually came and visited me at COTA in F1 a few weeks ago. Yeah, he’s only saying good things about it.
“He’s been really telling me he if you get the chance, you have to come over, the racing is great, the atmosphere between the drivers and the fans is just really, really good. That’s also the sort of feeling you get from the outside, as well, looking at IndyCar. It looks like such a fun series to be part of. Like I said, the racing looks really good, as well. All these things is what Alex has been telling me, as well.
“Then I also spoke a bit with Fernando about it. The same there. Fernando said it was just an amazing experience doing the Indy 500, that he had so much fun. So he, as well, was saying only positive things, that it’s really a fun series.
“That’s the thing for me. I’ve been speaking around with them, too, but also other people in the business, drivers and other people that’s been around. And everyone I speak to, they only have good things to say about IndyCar and the racing over here. So that for me made it even more clear that this is the right thing for me to do for my future.”
The 28-year-old Swede spoke with several IndyCar owners, including Trevor Carlin, for whom he drove in Macau in 2008 and was due to drive the following year in Formula 3, before opting to compete in the Japanese F3 championship for TOMS. But ultimately he pushed for SPM.
“I actually reached out to Sam Schmidt myself. I gave him a call,” he said. “I had some contacts in Europe. I was trying to look out at IndyCar. Yeah, I reached out to Sam, gave him a call. We had a really good chat. From then on, yeah, I put him in touch with my management. It went on from there.
“We were also speaking to some other teams in the series, in different series, as well, to see what options there was out there. But for me, straight away after that first initial talk with Sam, it really felt like right for me. I was pushing from that moment, which was, yeah, a couple weeks after Sauber announced their driver lineup. From that moment, I was pushing really hard with my management, as well, that I wanted to go to IndyCar and with SPM because I felt like that was the best, yeah, team and best environment for me to do well.”
Ericsson had a seat fitting yesterday and today, and the team aims to have him test a car before Christmas. Though he admits expectations will be high and he’ll have much to learn, the series presents the best chance to show his capabilities.
“The fact that the racing is so good in IndyCar was the biggest factor [in making the switch from F1], and the fact that also, you know, in IndyCar every driver and every team have a chance to win. I think that’s some of the parts that I’ve been missing a lot in Formula 1 the last few years. I think that was the most appealing thing with IndyCar.”