Ericsson rebounds from early crash to win wild inaugural Music City GP

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Ericsson rebounds from early crash to win wild inaugural Music City GP

IndyCar

Ericsson rebounds from early crash to win wild inaugural Music City GP

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Everything about the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville was hailed as being absolutely amazing. Except for the race. It’s hard to recall a bigger s*** show than what was delivered across 80 laps littered with spins, crashes, track blockages, a miniature flood, and a driver whose favorite targets just happened to be his teammates.

Amid the semi-frequent stretches of green, it was an embarrassment as nine full-course cautions and two red flags were required to complete a race that endured so many delays, the last lap was finished with sundown just 20 minutes away. From the first 52 laps, 28 were spent under yellow, and all totaled, 31 of the 80 laps–39 percent of the race–was led by pace car driver Oriol Servia.

Despite the general mayhem, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson earned his second victory of the year in the No. 8 Honda after polesitter Colton Herta led the most laps, but lost out on pit strategy and then crashed with five laps left to go while holding a close second to the Swede. He sat in the safety truck, crestfallen and unable to believe what happened, while appearing to nurse an injured hand. And that wasn’t the strangest component of Ericsson’s win.

A restart on lap five saw Ericsson fail to recognize the slowing car in front of him, and with an accordion effect in play, he smashed into the back of Sebastien Bourdais, which crashed the Frenchman out of the race and shot the No. 8 Honda into the air as it rode over the A.J. Foyt Chevy like it was in a Monster Jam event.

Landing hard and nose first, Ericsson’s front wings were destroyed and, just for good measure, stuck beneath his right-front tire as he completed the lap under a new caution and sought repairs in the pits. As the responsible party for the incident, he was given a penalty that sent the No. 8 to the rear of the field. Adding to the insanity, Ericsson’s last pit stop was comparatively early to those who were in pursuit over that final stint, and so he was asked to hold the lead while saving copious amounts of fuel.

From flying to crashing to drawing the ire of Bourdais and IndyCar’s chief stewards to putting in an epic performance to take the lead to holding onto it during multiple restarts to weathering all the heat Herta could bring to earning incredible fuel mileage and keeping teammate Scott Dixon at bay, Ericsson endured a season’s worth of racing in one day.

“This is unbelievable,” he said after leading Dixon home by 1.5s. “It shows that in IndyCar, anything can happen. To get a 1-2 for Chip is amazing. So thankful. I just can’t believe it. I think it’s one of the best performances of my career.”

Ericsson also wanted to make amends with Bourdais, who caught an early flight home on Sunday.

“I apologize to Seb there,” he continued. “I thought it was green and I went and I couldn’t see he stopped, and I’m really sorry for that.”

The happiest driver in Nashville might have been Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe who put a brutal year behind him with a run to third. The emotions of relief were similar for teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth, and in fifth, Graham Rahal put in another charge to record a strong finish for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Nashville’s long-haul performer was Ed Jones who, after starting 26th out of 27 drivers, and receiving a drive-through penalty for spinning a rival, rose 20 positions–including two he commandeered in the final laps–to earn sixth for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan.

Elsewhere in the finishing order, championship leader Alex Palou went back and forth in the field and finally settled in seventh. Nashville’s Josef Newgarden looked like he was in for a terrible day after Rahal knocked the Team Penske driver into the wall and bent his suspension, but a gutsy performance saw the title contender rally from the rear of the field to snare 10th at the finish line.

Pato O’Ward was happy in the early going with his Arrow McLaren SP entry, but it went downhill from there, and with a penalty or two thrown in, he was relegated to 13th. Andretti’s Alexander Rossi, the recipient of a hit from O’Ward late in the race, lost out on a podium and left frustrated in 17th.

And there was more. Lots more. Including an 11-car pileup triggered by Penske’s Will Power, who hit teammate Simon Pagenaud to cause the Turn 11 parking lot, and later hit, spun, and crashed teammate Scott McLaughlin with a desperate passing attempt at Turn Nine.

How about the prolonged caution for the bizarre burst of water running across Turn 3? We even had an in-race disqualification for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Cody Ware, who also spun and brought out a late caution, for a violation of Rule 9.3.1.5, ‘Failure to Participate at Competitive Speed.’

Consider this: Nashville sported IndyCar’s biggest field of the year outside the Indy 500 with 27 starters. In the end, it also had the highest rate of attrition outside of Indy with 18 finishers. IndyCar has had many fine days in 2021. This just wasn’t one of them.

RESULTS

AS IT HAPPENED 

The 80-lap race went green with Colton Herta and Scott Dixon leading the field on the return bridge, and it was a miracle as the entire field got through the opening corner without contact or issues. A charging Alexander Rossi took second from Dixon, and behind them, Romain Grosjean improved from fifth to fourth. Pato O’Ward climbed from eighth to sixth, directly behind teammate Felix Rosenqvist.

The first caution of the race arrived on lap two as Dalton Kellett’s car stalled. Championship leader Alex Palou started ninth with the six-spot grid penalty and held ninth to open the race. Title contender Josef Newgarden had a tangle with Graham Rahal before the yellow which bent his suspension and was expected to limit his pace.

Coming to green on lap five, Marcus Ericsson climbed over the back of Sebastien Bourdais and launched the front of the Ganassi car into the air at a 45-degree angle. Ericsson’s front wings were destroyed, but the rest of the car appeared to be undamaged. The same could not be said for Bourdais’ Foyt car, which was sent into the wall. Following back-to-back hits from behind at Texas earlier in the year, the hit from Ericsson marked the third time Bourdais was taken out with a rearward hit this season. Ericsson was duly penalized by IndyCar with a trip through pit lane.

The lap 10 restart saw Herta lead to green with Rossi, Dixon, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, and O’Ward holding the top six. Herta put 1.005s between himself on Rossi on lap 10 and started building a comfort margin to his teammate. Newgarden, with his handling struggles, was down in P20. By lap 14, the gap was 2.2s between Herta and Rossi.

Lap 16 showed the gap was out to 3s as the field was locked in place and unable to pass. It also showed another yellow flag as Scott McLaughlin was stalled sideways at Turn 4 after he and Ed Jones made contact when Jones attempted a late pass that was never on. When the pits opened, Palou was the big name to stop for fuel and a change from Firestone’s alternate tires to new primaries. Newgarden also stopped, along with Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, McLaughlin, and others as the group hoped to benefit from a shift in strategy.

The return to Green on lap 20 was nothing short of a s*** show as Will Power dove down the inside of teammate Simon Pagenaud at Turn 11, made side-by-side contact, and pitched Pagenaud nose-first into the barrier. Rinus VeeKay followed him into the barrier, Takuma Sato hit both from behind—sending Pagenaud’s car into the air, and behind them at least seven more drivers—including Jimmie Johnson who was hit from behind by teammate Palou, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Conor Daly, Helio Castroneves, Cody Ware who incurred heavy damage, Josef Newgarden, and James Hinchcliffe were stuck behind the track blockage. A red flag ensued.

Hunter-Reay and Daly were eventually able to pull away on their own, but the giant cluster of cars stuck on the circuit necessitated the stoppage.

The lap 24 restart had Herta streaking away to a 2.5s lead over Rossi by the end of the lap with Dixon, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, and O’Ward. Big beneficiaries of the crashing and blockage were Graham Rahal in P7, Santino Ferrucci in P9, and a remarkable Ericsson in P10 after his messy start and penalty. Newgarden, in P20 before the red flag, resumed in P13. By lap 28, Herta’s advantage was 3.8s. It was up to 4.2s on Lap 29 as Herta was in a class of his own. The margin was 5.1s by Lap 30 and 6.1 on lap 31.

Lap 32 featured VeeKay’s second nose-first visit to the barriers, which gave Nashville its fifth yellow or red flag. The majority of the field pitted at the end of lap 32, with Herta trading his Firestone alternates for primaries.

Another mess ensued as the pace car was slowed as the safety crew attempted to remove VeeKay’s car at the site of where pit lane exits. With Ericsson, Hunter-Reay, and Hinchcliffe holding P1-2-3 behind the pace car, Herta and Rossi shot out of the pits and ran alongside Ericsson and Hunter-Reay as Herta repeatedly lobbied to have all cars placed behind him. As IndyCar showed on timing and scoring, Herta was in P4 with Rossi in P5 and Newgarden in P6. Daly was P7, Dixon was dropped to P9, and elsewhere among the title contenders, O’Ward was P14, and Palou was P17.

The lap 37 restart was clean for Ericsson, with Herta taking P3 from Hinchcliffe on entry to Turn Four and Rossi following through to claim P4. Herta forced his way through past Hunter-Reay at Turn Eight, and by the end of the bridge, Rossi went past Hunter-Reay as well. With Ericson holding a scant 0.6s lead over Herta, it was the Ganassi driver with all four Andretti drivers in pursuit.

Yellow again on lap 41 as Kellett and McLaughlin were involved in their second incidents of the day. McLaughlin was spun by Power, who made another late passing attempt on a teammate, which sent McLaughlin spinning and into the Turn Nine wall. Kellett was the only driver who was unable to avoid McLaughlin, driving over the front of his car on the way to his own meeting with the wall.

Water somehow began to flow at Turn Three, which added to the workload during the sixth yellow of the day. With light fading, thanks to the late start and the incessant pauses, Herta prepared to take the restart in the lead as his teammates and many others pitted for the final time. He had Newgarden, Daly, Jack Harvey, Grosjean, and O’Ward behind completing the top six. Elsewhere, Dixon was down in P11 after pitting and Palou was buried in P18. O’Ward was late to stop and dropped to P9.

Returning to green, Herta led the group and got a big jump to start lap 51. Yellow No. 7 said hello as O’Ward tried to power his way past Rossi at Turn Four, but rather than get away unscathed, both cars nosed into the tires. Rossi was able to reverse and drive away while O’Ward sat stalled. O’Ward would serve a drive-through penalty for causing the incident.

Herta chose to pit, along with others, leaving Grosjean to lead the field to green on lap 54 as Herta was in P9. Behind Grosjean, it was Ericsson, Dixon Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, and Rosenqvist. Grosjean put 1.7s on Ericsson by the start of lap 55 as Herta improved to P7. Cody Ware spun from P8 at Turn Three, attempted a 47-point turn, but stalled the car. Welcome to IndyCar, caution No. 8.

Grosjean opted to pit during the caution, leaving Ericsson to lead the field for the lap 58 restart. Herta shot past Rosenqvist for P5 into Turn Three. Herta got Hunter-Reay with his patented Turn Eight inside move to claim P4 on lap 59 and went after Hinchcliffe. Palou, incredibly, was up to P9; Newgarden was in P12. That pass took place across the return bridge, and with P3 in hand, set after Dixon. Ericsson held 0.9s over his teammate and 1.2s over Herta on lap 61. Rossi, with a podium opportunity lost, was in P16.

Herta took P2 off Dixon under braking into Turn Nine on lap 62 and began hunting Ericsson. A frustrated Herta won the battle in the slow sections thanks to running higher downforce, but lost touch to Ericsson on the bridge where the Ganassi cars were like dragsters due to reduced downforce settings.

A late passing attempt on Pagenaud by Grosjean nerfed the Penske driver into the wall with his right-rear wheel. He’d limp back to the pits and retire. A late charge to try and get past Ericsson at Turn Nine left Herta scrambling to keep his car from hitting the barriers, and with 69 laps completed, his deficit of 0.3s grew to 2s while regaining control.

By lap 74, Herta brought it down to 1.2s as Ericsson sought to save fuel while leading. And it all came to an end as Herta crashed in Turn Nine on lap 76. Yellow No. 9, followed by red flag No. 2.

Ericsson got a nice jump on Dixon to start Lap 79. Ed Jones pulled off a big pass to take P8 from Rosenqvist and P7 from Palou before the end of the lap as Ericsson drew away from Dixon on the last lap to capture his second win of the year.

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