Tucked between three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato on the Indy 500 starting grid, you’ll find rookie Marcus Ericsson.
The ex-Formula 1 driver, who knows less about oval racing than all of his mechanics, has been a quiet speedway sensation for the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. New to the NTT IndyCar Series, and new to the American tradition of turning left over and over in competition, the 28-year-old Swede has performed with a recognizable sense of calm and assuredness since turning his first laps at the Brickyard.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming into this month, but I’ve been comfortable all week,” Ericsson told RACER. “Obviously, I’ve never driven on an oval, but I have to give a lot of credit to the Arrow guys because they’ve done a great job to get me comfortable and confident out here. It is a very tough mental game to get to where you want, and they’ve been so important in telling me to take it step by step and not to try and skip any steps.
“We do it in a process. And that’s been helping me a lot. So every day, every lap, my confidence has been growing. We’ve done everything in a steady way. And that just means that we can execute and deliver. I think that was the main thing all week — I’ve just been very, very lucky to have such a good team behind me.”
Ericsson has been asked to compare the difference between racing F1 cars and his No. 7 Arrow SPM Indy car at least 100 times since joining the team. Drawing parallels and extremes between a Sauber-Ferrari and a Dallara-Honda has been easy; finding commonalities from the past that fit with four insane laps of qualifying to set a 228.511 mph average that secured 13th on the grid … not so easy.
“You’re lining up. You go out there on your own. You do four laps. It’s a different thing. And I was a bit more nervous than normal for that,” he admitted. “I don’t think you really get this experience anywhere else. It’s such a different thing.”
The risk and intensity of Indy 500 qualifying also made a lasting impression.
“You go out there, and you have to be straight on it,” he continued. “You do your warm-up, and then it’s like, ‘All right, let’s do this. Let’s turn into Turn 1 at 230 mph or whatever and hold on…’ It’s such a different thing to anything else I’ve experienced in racing.”
With his first Indy 500 start less than a week away, it sounds like Arrow SPM’s fastest qualifier has taken a genuine liking to the challenges of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I said coming into all this that I think it could suit me because I’ve always liked that high-speed sort of thing about racing,” Ericsson said. “Hopefully we can keep that trend going.”