With just six laps remaining in the 2022 Indianapolis 500, NASCAR veteran and Indy 500 rookie Jimmie Johnson crashed into the wall and brought out a red flag. At the front of the grid, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson had established a commanding lead — but with that red flag, it very well could have been over.
“I was losing it. I was freaking out. I had that race won,” Ericsson told Jalopnik, recounting his thought process as the racing came to a halt. It took his race strategist Mike O’Gara and his engineer Brag Goldberg to calm him down.
“They said, ‘This is your day. Get focused, and you can do it.’”
By the time the debris had been cleared and the yellow-flag pace laps had been completed, it was lap 199, leaving the restart and two laps of racing before the checkered flag. It would have been a daunting task for anyone. But sitting on pit lane, Ericsson had developed a strategy.
“After a couple minutes, I said to myself, ‘The Indianapolis 500 is the biggest race in the world. It’s not supposed to be easy,’” Ericsson told Jalopnik. “This is just another challenge I need to overcome to be champion. So I made a plan in my head of exactly how I wanted to complete those last two laps. I executed that plan, and I’m so happy it was enough to win.”
When Jalopnik got to chat with Ericsson, he had just returned to his Indianapolis apartment for the first time since the checkered flag flew. Between post-race obligations, celebratory afterparties, and a media tour that took him to New York City, Ericsson had barely had a chance to sleep, let alone ponder exactly what an Indy 500 win means.
“Everyone says it’s life-changing, but I haven’t really had time,” Ericsson admitted — though the broad smile on his face throughout our interview made it clear he’s enjoying the frenzy. “This is the first time since the checkered flag that I can sit down and think about it.”
The Swedish driver has had something of an unbelievable career. After racing in Europe and competing in Formula 1 for five years, Ericsson has since made the transition to American open-wheel racing — something that didn’t come naturally to him.
“I’d never even seen an oval before coming here,” he admitted. “I felt like I got up to speed quite quickly, but it took me until this year to actually understand how to race on an oval.”
The results have certainly shown that. While Ericsson’s introduction to the IndyCar series saw him excelling at road and street circuits, his oval performance had been unpredictable. Then, at Texas Motor Speedway this year, he secured a stunning third place — and he showed that he could carry that speed into practice for the 2022 Indy 500. It all came down to finally understanding the nuance of oval racing, Ericsson said: the pit strategy, when to take a risk and when to hold back, how to set up the car for a long race, how to compete in traffic.
“Racing on an oval is some of the hardest racing you can do,” Ericsson said. “There’s zero margin for error because of the speeds, and a little bit of bad balance in the car can throw you off all day.”
Ericsson is thankful that this upcoming weekend has him competing at one of his favorite IndyCar tracks: the Belle Isle street circuit in Detroit, where Ericsson secured his very first IndyCar win in 2021. Despite the busy schedule, he’s hoping to carry his 500-winning momentum into the event — especially since he’s now leading the IndyCar Championship.
More than that, though, Ericsson is hoping for a smooth race; all three of his wins in this series so far have involved some nasty crashes and red-flag periods — including his win at the inaugural Music City Grand Prix, where Ericsson started the race by being launched in the air. On a lap 4 restart, Ericsson hit the back of another car and flew six feet into the air; after securing a new front wing and sustaining a penalty for avoidable contact, Ericsson fought his way to the front of the field to take victory.
“Are you looking forward to winning an IndyCar race where there’s not a red flag?” I asked.
Ericsson laughed. “That would be good, but it seems to be the way we do it. Let’s try and do a normal race win next time.”