Ericsson rewarded by Franchitti's mentorship

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Ericsson rewarded by Franchitti's mentorship


Ericsson rewarded by Franchitti's mentorship


For Marcus Ericsson, the final laps of the 2022 Indianapolis 500 were simultaneously a few minutes of extraordinary pressure and a result that came together perfectly according to the script.

Ericsson took the lead shortly after the final round of stops and built a substantial gap over the pursuing Pato O’Ward, only to see his advantage wiped out when Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jimmie Johnson hit the wall, prompting race control to throw a red flag and set up a restart with two laps left to run. For the 31-year-old Swede, that meant sitting in the car for an agonizing seven minutes and trying to recalibrate his brain for what was to come, but it was also a chance for a final mental rehearsal of a scenario he’d discussed within the team the night before.

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“Those 10 minutes sitting there in the pit lane during that red flag was some of the hardest 10 minutes of my life, probably; thinking what to do, thinking that I’m leading the biggest race in the world, and I’m that close to winning it,” he said.

“I knew Pato was going to have a run on me because we’ve seen all month that it’s really hard to defend when you’re up front. I was actually sitting during dinner here at the Speedway [in the] infield last night talking with Dario (Franchitti, three-time Indy winner and Ganassi team advisor) about this type of scenario: if I’m leading when it’s towards the end of the race — the last couple laps — what to do, how to break the tow of the car behind, how to place the car. We had that very conversation last night. That was in my mind when I was sitting there during that red flag.

“I just tried to go out and execute that plan I had made in my head. Pato had a really good run on me. I wanted to put him on the outside because I knew it was going to be hard to go around my outside. I was not going to lift. There was no way I was going to lift. I just kept my foot down, and that was the race-winning move.

“Dario was saying, ‘You need to think ahead, not think about what’s happening right here. Think ahead one lap, one straight ahead, where you’re going to position the car, where you want to be, what you want to do.’

“We had a good chat about it. He was funny; he was like, ‘If you’re in a scenario that you’re leading, there’s only a couple laps to go, you need to do this and this, and put the car there.’ I was like, ‘OK, yeah.’ I was playing that in my head, and that’s exactly how it worked out today. [Dario’s] been a great asset all during my year at Ganassi.”

Part of Ericsson’s plan for that final defense was to make a series of aggressive swerves at the exit of Turn 4 in an effort to break O’Ward’s tow and give himself a chance to open a gap. O’Ward viewed the maneuvers with a raised eyebrow afterward, but they were straight from the Simon Pagenaud playbook, and Ericsson admitted that Pagenaud’s self-described ‘dragon moves’ to shake off Alexander Rossi and win in 2019 were a strong inspiration.

“Simon did a master class of defending in 2019,” Ericsson said. “I definitely watched that race multiple times this month — the end of that race — to see exactly what he did. That was in my mind when I was sitting there [during] the red flag. Obviously that’s very similar to what we talked about — me and Dario — what Simon did. That was the way to do it. I just tried to do something very similar.

“I had a plan to…try and break his tow on the straights, then make sure towards the end of the straight I was going to keep it low so he had to go around the outside of me, because I knew my car was good enough to stay flat. Dario said, ‘Don’t lift; stay flat.’ That’s what I did.”