NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship contender Marcus Ericsson said Friday that whatever happens in these final two races of the season, he has already won his fourth year in the sport.
Of course, capturing the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge as the Swede did in May would highlight any driver’s year, but Ericsson has led the point standings through most of the summer and has frequently been the top-finishing driver from Chip Ganassi Racing’s four-car stable.
Ericcson enters this penultimate race, the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway, fourth in the standings, just 17 points out of the lead.
“I won the ‘500,’ and I’ve been running at the front all year,” said Ericsson, who celebrated his 32nd birthday Friday. “In some way, I feel like whatever happens (in these two races) it’s a win for me.
“With that said, of course I very badly want that championship, and I’m going to (do) everything to make that happen. But overall, my overall feeling is just excitement and, you know, yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”
In advance of Friday’s weekend-opening practice, Ericsson, his trainer, Alex Elgh, and other team members went hiking along the Columbia River east of Portland. The bucket hat Ericsson wore represented the relaxed feeling he got from the excursion.
“It was a bit of a plan from my friend Alex to get out there in the wilderness and sort of get some mental peace before the hectic last two weekends,” he said. “We did some really cool hikes in the middle of nowhere, and I think stuff like that is really nice for your state of mind.
“I feel very refreshed and ready now for the last two races.”
Ericsson finished seventh last year in his only previous start in the Grand Prix of Portland, which airs Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. He was sixth a year ago at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, site of this year’s season-ending race Sunday, Sept. 11.
Other Contenders Set for Stretch Run
Standing 43 points out of the lead, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda) believes his only realistic chance to repeat as series champion is to “win two races” to end the season.
“It’s not our only chance, but it’s the only chance we have so we don’t have to worry about what the other championship contenders do,” he said.
Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Freightliner Team Penske Chevrolet) knows he is not much more than mathematically alive for the series title – 54 points out of the lead in sixth place – but he said he will try to win the race even if it’s in contention with one of his teammates.
Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) and Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) are 1-2 in the standings, separated by only three points.
Power’s strategist, Ron Ruzewski, said they’ve benefited from being patient.
“The biggest thing is, we haven’t forced the issue,” Ruzewski said. “We’ve taken what we can get and made the most out of every day. Like most of the teams can say, there’s some lost opportunities along the way, some points we felt we left on the table, but other times we really capitalized. If we had a fourth-place car and we got fourth place or better, we feel like we won that day.”
Adjustments Made to Turn 1
There has been a second run-off chicane added to Turn 1. The other is near the back of the run-off area; now there’s one added to the front of it.
The idea of the chicane is to slow the cars so when they return to the track, they have not gained or maintained their position. If drivers do not follow the (two) run-off chicane procedure, they may be subject to penalty.
INDYCAR will evaluate how this looks and feels and send a memo to confirm the procedure for Sunday’s race.
Odds and Ends
- The cars of Newgarden and Dalton Kellett (No. 4 K-LINE/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) will serve six-position starting grid penalties for unapproved engine changes following the Aug. 20 race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
- Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) said the Portland track is “fun” because there is “not an annoying corner.” Of course, Turn 1 has historically been tricky for NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers to navigate on the opening lap of races.
- After the singing performance that David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD) delivered mid-race last month at World Wide Technology Raceway, the series rookie agreed to take song requests for Sunday’s race.
- Saturday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES action begins with the weekend’s second practice at noon ET followed by qualifying for the NTT P1 Award at 3:05 p.m. A final practice is set for 7:15 p.m. All sessions will air on Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
- Linus Lundqvist (No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing) took another step toward clinching the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship by posting the second-quickest time in Friday’s practice. Just ahead of him was teammate Benjamin Pedersen (No. 24 Global Racing Group with HMD) with a lap of 1 minute, 4.4820 seconds. Lundqvist, who leads Andretti Autosport’s Matthew Brabham by 108 points, ran 1:04.5247. Brabham was third Friday at 1:04.5694.
- Grand Prix of Portland officials announced Friday that former Portland Trail Blazers forward/guard Martell Webster will serve as the event’s grand marshal.
- Andretti Autosport announced Friday that Hunter McElrea will return to its Indy Lights team for a second season in 2023. McElrea is third in the series standings, has two victories and is the top rookie in the championship.
- Indy Lights will stage its final practice of the weekend Saturday at 2:15 p.m. ET with qualifying at 6:25 p.m. The sessions will be available on INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
- With Friday’s win in his first Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend, England’s Louis Foster claimed the series championship and will graduate to Indy Lights in 2023.