SPEEDWAY, Ind. — In a race dominated by his Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, it would be Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson to claim the checkered flag in the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.
In a classic finish, Ericsson, who started 5th in the middle of Row 2, desperately weaved, swerved, and clawed his way around the last two laps of the race holding off a screaming Pato O’Ward and Tony Kanaan.
“I can’t believe it,” Ericsson said. “I was praying so hard that there would not be another yellow. But, I knew there was probably going to be one and it was sort of hard to refocus, but I knew the car was amazing.”
“Really proud of the team,” O’Ward said of the finish. “They gave me a really good car. No mistakes were done and we positioned ourselves perfectly to have a shot at it. Marcus, out of nowhere, came out with insane speed. He got by me while I was standing still. I had nothing for him.”
What set up the finish was a wreck by Jimmie Johnson on Lap 194 to bring out the caution and a subsequent red flag of the race to ensure at least a chance of a green flag finish.
It was the last thing Ericsson wanted to see as he grabbed the lead from O’Ward on the last round of pit stops with less than 30 laps to go and held on up until the red flag was issued.
He’d continue to hold on to the end to claim his third IndyCar career victory and his first Indianapolis 500 win and the fifth for team owner Chip Ganassi. Ericsson is the first Swedish driver to win the Indianapolis 500 since Kenny Brack in 1999.
If you had asked anyone watching the race over the first 150 laps, you would have thought Scott Dixon would easily run to the win with how dominant of a day he was having.
Dixon led 95 laps surpassing both Ralph DePalma and Al Unser, Sr for second and first on the all-time Indy 500 laps led list.
Dixon and fellow Ganassi teammate Alex Palou swapped the lead in the early laps to save fuel. Heading out of the first round of green-flag stops, Rinus Veekay appeared to be the two Ganassi drivers’ main threat, but he wrecked in Turn 2 two laps after pitting.
Veekay would be the first of four victims in Turn 2 on the day.
Callum Ilott would be next several laps later during the second round of stops. Palou’s chances at the race would end as he would be put out by the timing of the caution and the closing of pit road , forcing him to pit for emergency service under yellow and then be penalized for pitting with the pits closed.
The Arrow McLaren drivers would seize the Ganassi misfortune as O’Ward would jump into the top five with his teammate Felix Rosenqvist stalking close behind. As would Conor Daly by pitting early on the third round of stops before Romain Grosjean’s wreck in Turn 2.
The fuel strategy went out the window when Scott McLaughlin wrecked in Turn 4 with 50 laps left, putting a cap on a terrible day for Team Penske.
Soon after, Dixon would pit from the lead but come into the pits too fast which would result in a subsequent drive-through penalty. It would end his chances at what had been a dominant race for Dixon, which resulted in a 21st place finish.
The turn of events, along with Johnson’s wreck, set things up for the two-lap duel to the end resulting in Ericsson’s victory, which was sealed by a final lap wreck by Sage Karam.
“It was still hard,” Ericsson added. “I had to do everything to keep them behind me.”
Ericsson was able to win the Indianapolis 500 in front of this family who flew in from Sweden to watch him in person. He came to IndyCar racing three years ago from Formula One.
“I had to work my way here, learn American racing,” Ericsson said. “It’s been tough, not easy, but I’ve been working extremely hard and it feels good to show that hard work pays off.”
As for Kanaan, who finished third, he feels he had nothing left in the end.
“I left it all out there,” said Kanaan, in what very well could be his final Indianapolis 500. “I said I wanted to do it one more. I have one year to figure out (if I come back). As of right now, this was the last one.”
O’Ward’s second-place finish is his best career finish in the Indianapolis 500.
“What Marcus did today was a great team effort,” said Ganassi managing director Mike Hull of Ericsson’s win.
“(Ericsson) has taken it upon himself to take ownership of the team,” said team owner Chip Ganassi. “Once he understood what this was all about his career began to take off. He has no baggage and wants to go fast, once you’re tuned to that you start seeing results.”
The underlying implication of the race is the fact that it is worth double points as far as the season championship is concerned.
Today’s win for Ericsson leapfrogs him to the top of the IndyCar Championship standings. Finishing second. O’Ward now sits second behind Ericsson.
The series won’t waste any time after a long month in Indianapolis as they will head north to Belle Isle in Detroit for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.