For Marcus Ericsson, the final laps of the 2022 Indianapolis 500 were both a few minutes of extraordinary pressure and a result that went perfectly according to the script.
Ericsson took the lead shortly after the final set of stops and pulled a substantial gap over pursuer Pato O’Ward, only to have his advantage shattered when Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jimmie Johnson hit the wall, prompting race control to throw a red flag. and organize a restart with two laps to go. For the 31-year-old Swede, that meant sitting in the car for seven agonizing minutes and trying to recalibrate his brain for what was to come, but it was also an opportunity for one last mental rehearsal of a scenario he had discussed. within the team the day before.
“Those 10 minutes sitting there in the pit lane during that red flag was probably some of the toughest 10 minutes of my life; thinking what to do, thinking that I’m leading the biggest race in the world and I’m so close to winning it,” he said.
“I knew Pato was going to yell at me because we’ve seen all month that it’s really difficult to defend when you’re up front. I was actually sitting over dinner here at the Speedway infield last night talking with Dario (Franchitti, three-time Indy winner and Ganassi team advisor) about this type of scenario: if I’m ahead when it’s towards the end of the race – the last two laps – what to do, how to break the tow of the car behind, how to place the car. We had this same conversation last night. It was on my mind when I sat 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 outside because I knew it was going to be tough to go around my outside. I wasn’t going to lift. It was out of the question for me to lift. I just kept my footing, and it was the winning move of the race.
“Dario was like, ‘You have to think about the future, not think about what’s going on here. Think of a lap, a straight, where you’re going to position the car, where you want to be, what you want to do.
“We have discussed it well. He was funny; he was like, ‘If you’re in a scenario that you’re leading, there’s only a few laps to go, you have to do this and that, and put the car there.’ I was like, ‘OK, yeah.’ I was playing that in my head, and that’s exactly how it went today. been a great asset throughout my year at Ganassi.”
Part of Ericsson’s plan for this final defense was to make a series of aggressive deflects out of Turn 4 in an attempt to break O’Ward’s tow and give himself a chance to open a gap. O’Ward saw the maneuvers with a raised eyebrow afterwards, but they came straight from Simon Pagenaud’s playbook, and Ericsson admitted that Pagenaud’s self-proclaimed ‘dragon moves’ to shake off Alexander Rossi and win in 2019 were a strong inspiration.
“Simon took a defense masterclass in 2019,” Ericsson said. “I’ve certainly watched that race a couple of times this month – the end of that race – to see exactly what he’s done. It was in my mind when I was sitting there the red flag. It’s very similar to what we talked about – me and Dario – what Simon did. That was the way to go. I just tried to do something very similar.
“I had a plan to…try to break his trailer on the straights and then make sure towards the end of the straight I was going to keep him low, so he had to go around the outside of me, because that I knew my car was good enough to stay flat. Dario said, “Don’t lift; stay flat. That’s what I did.”