Marcus Ericsson led the 2022 IndyCar Series championship by as many as 35 points less than two months ago. Now, this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner heads to the last race of the season at Laguna Seca Raceway as a distant long-shot to win the title – even if he has a perfect weekend.
He expected a difficult race after a mystifying lack of pace in qualifying which left him 18th on the grid. Ericsson admitted that he put himself on the back foot early in the race.
“Starting back there, we were hoping for some chaos in turn one, and for once that didn’t happen,” he said. “And I did a mistake on the first lap – I did a good start, but then I got out in the gravel in turn six, and dropped a few positions. We ran well back in around 20th after the first few laps, and from then on, it was difficult.”
In a bid to gain track position, Ericsson went long on his first stint riding on the harder primary compound tyres, all the way until lap 32 before making his first stop.
“We tried some things with the strategy, I think the eight crew did a good job, trying things. We tried to go long, we tried to mix things up, and I think that helped us up through the field,” Ericsson remarked.
“And then I had a really good last stint, starting 16th on the restart and overtaking my way up to 11th.”
The Swedish driver seemed relieved just to have finished in the top half of the 25-car field after a strong final stint on the softer alternate compound tyres, but admitted that he was, “struggling a bit too much in general, this week, to finish higher up.”
Following his somewhat unexpected triumph at Indianapolis, in the only race which pays double points, Ericsson led the IndyCar points table over six of the next seven races. In that span, he only conceded the top spot briefly when Will Power won the Detroit Grand Prix, before taking it back the following round at Road America with a second-place finish. Since Road America, he has five top-ten finishes, but only one top-five (at Toronto), and no podiums or victories.
Ericsson has now slipped to fourth in the table, 39 points behind championship leader Power. Even if he won the Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday, and collected all four bonus points for pole position and most laps led – he would still need Power to finish 15th or lower in order to win the title, assuming Power doesn’t lead a lap.
With the prospect of becoming champion now out of his hands, Ericsson says he isn’t really trying to do anything more than win the season finale and see where the likes of Power, Josef Newgarden, and Scott Dixon finish the race behind him.
“We had a good test there, we were fast, the car has been good there in the past,” Ericsson said about his prospects of winning at Laguna Seca. “So, I go into that weekend to win the race.” In his previous two starts at Laguna Seca, Ericsson has finished 11th in 2019 (with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) and sixth in 2021.
“I go there, aim to win, and then we see how far that gets us with the other people that we’re up to. That’s the mind set we have to have now for the last one.”
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