Ericsson Showing Enough Speed To Repeat In The 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 19 2023

Marcus Ericsson crosses the Yard of Bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday. He hopes to drive across those bricks in his race car next weekend. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda remained atop the Indianapolis 500 practice speed chart Thursday, with reigning event champion Marcus Ericsson emerging P1 in his bid for a repeat victory in the 107th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on Sunday, May 28.   

Ericsson put up the day’s fastest overall lap numbers at 39.1974-seconds/229.607 mph on his 20th lap around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as the fastest “no-tow” lap at 224.414 mph on his 82nd lap. Ericsson’s hot lap is the fastest recorded by any driver during the combined 12 hours of practice run this week, topping the 229.439 mph tour recorded by two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato of Japan and CGR on Wednesday. 

CGR’s four drivers ranked 1-2-7-9 in speed after the week’s second, six-hour session heading into “Fast Friday” and qualifications this weekend.

“It was a really good day for the whole team, and especially the No. 8 team,” said Ericsson, driver of the No. 8 Honda. “It was a very positive day and the car feels really hooked-up. I’m looking forward to (Friday) with the high boost. It’s going to be fun.”

Speeds will jump considerably during the “Fast Friday” practice set from noon to 6 p.m. (EDT). All Honda and Chevrolet twin-turbocharged V-6 engines powering the field will feature approximately 100 more horsepower due to increased boost levels that also will be available during PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday and Sunday. Another two-hour practice is booked for Monday, May 22.

CGR’s Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion, posted the second-fastest overall speed for the second consecutive day, registering his best mark of 229.186 mph on the 76th of 84 total laps. Sato dropped to seventh overall and 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou placed ninth. Palou, of Spain, is the current point-leader following his first victory of 2023 on Saturday in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS Road-Course.

NASCAR champion Kyle Larson took in Thursday’s day of practice at Indy.

Ericsson was especially impressed with his “no-tow” lap of 224.414 mph, a speed achieved without benefit of an aerodynamic tow, or assist, from another car. “(Wednesday) we worked a lot on the race cars. We were good straight-away. Then today we built on that,” said Ericsson, a 32-year-old native of Sweden. “I think we did some changes overnight that helped me in my feeling in the car. Felt really happy with my race car. The organization has done a really good job again this year, with really good cars.”

Dixon, the two-time/reigning Indy 500 pole-winner, cranked out his 229-plus mph lap in the No. 9 CGR Honda as a follow-up to Wednesday’s lap at 229.174 mph. “Today was a bit up-and-down,” said Dixon, a 42-year-old native of New Zealand and a six-time series champion. “We learned some stuff and swapped over at the end there to do one run on lower downforce in a kind of qualifying setup. We felt OK but just didn’t do a very good job of it and got a bit mixed-up on the gears. But all was OK.”

Thursday’s top four drivers are past Indy 500 champions, as 2019 winner Simon Pagenaud was third at 228.681 mph in the No. 60 Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing. Frenchman Pagenaud _ teammate to four-time Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves of Brazil _ celebrated his 39th birthday with a morale-lifting afternoon for the organization co-owned by Jim Meyer and Mike Shank.

“Great day obviously, P3 at the end of the day,” said Pagenaud, who swept the two Month of May events at IMS in 2019 for Team Penske en route to the series championship. “We got a monster tow, which we will take it when we can. It’s great for the team and the crew _ they’re working so hard to make the car as fast as possible, so I’m really pleased.

“It’s great to give the team a little gift with that P3, especially on my birthday. It’s great for our partners that support us so well, so I’m really happy with that. Top speed doesn’t really tell you what you are going to be like in the race, but it felt like we made great progress. Really interesting day with mega- improvements and I felt comfortable in race running, too, so it was a really good day all around.”

Team Chevy was led by Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner and two-time/reigning series champion in fourth at 228.577 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. Power also was second-fastest on the “no-tow” list at 224.283 mph.

Power persevered to P4 on a day that began with a glitch affecting the car’s telemetry. “Once we diagnosed and fixed it, it was a good day for the Verizon 5G Chevy team,” said Power, a 42-year-old native of Australia. “We seem to be in a good position for qualifying, but (Friday) will be the true test when we get the boost increase. Qualifying up-front is important in the 500, but you can win from several rows back. That’s not where we hope to be, but we have single-car speed and the No. 12 Chevy was racy in the pack.”

Colton Herta completed the top five overall at 228.240 mph in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.

Arrow McLaren series regulars Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi placed eighth and 10th respectively in their Chevrolet-powered Dallaras. O’Ward’s best lap in the No. 5 McLaren was 227.734 mph; Rossi’s hot lap in the No. 7 McLaren was 227.713 mph on Lap 4 of the busy 164 circuits he completed.

O’Ward, who finished second to Ericsson last May, was typically pragmatic after completing 92 laps. “It was a tough day for us, to be honest,” said O’Ward, a 24-year-old native of Mexico. “We’re definitely not in the spot where we want to be yet, but we’re working at it. We’ve got a plan to go through after qualifying this weekend. (Friday), it’s obviously a very different goal _ to go as fast as you can by yourself. Boost is up, so we’re going to get everything prepared for that.”

Rossi, who won the landmark 100th Indy 500 in 2016 as a rookie with Andretti Autosport, said he was pleased with the overall progress made by his crew this week. “I’m getting happier and happier with the car each time we go out, which is great,” said Rossi, a 31-year-old native of California. “I think we’re in a pretty good spot for the group running. There are some small tweaks to come, but now the focus turns to qualifying _ one of the most fun parts of the year.”

All 34 drivers competing for the traditional 33 spots in the starting field combined to turn 3,159 laps/7,897.5 miles in air temperatures that reached the low 80s under sunny skies.

The event’s final, two-hour practice is set for Miller Lite Carb Day on Friday, May 26. Pre-event coverage on Race Day will begin at 11 a.m. (EDT) on NBC, Peacock, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Green flag for the flying start on May 28 is set to wave at 12:45 p.m.



Winners (9) _ Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Alexander Rossi.

Rookies (4) _ Agustín Canapino, R.C. Enerson, Benjamin Pedersen, Sting Ray Robb.

U.S. drivers (13) _ Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, R.C. Enerson, Santino Ferrucci, Colton Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Sting Ray Robb, Alexander Rossi.

International drivers (21 from 14 countries) _ Agustín Canapino, Helio Castroneves, Devlin DeFrancesco, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey, Callum Ilott, Tony Kanaan, Katherine Legge, Christian Lundgaard, Scott McLaughlin, Pato O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud, Alex Palou, Benjamin Pedersen, Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Takuma Sato, Rinus VeeKay, Stefan Wilson.

Engines (34) _ Honda 17, Chevrolet 17 (all cars use Dallara chassis and Firestone Firehawk tires).

Point Standings (top-15): 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 174; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren, 168; 3, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 155; 4, Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport, 134; 5, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 133; 6, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 131; 7, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 127; 8, Will Power, Team Penske, 122; 9, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 111; 10, Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren and Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport, 108; 12, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport with Curb/Agajanian, 107; 13, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren, 97; 14, Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing, 92; 15, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 86.


Sunday, March 5 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.: Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, April 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske

Sunday, April 16 _ Streets of Long Beach: Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport

Sunday, April 30 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

Saturday, May 13 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, May 28 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 4 _ Streets of Detroit, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 18 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 2 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio. USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 16 _ Streets of Toronto, Peacock

Saturday, July 22 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, July 23 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 6 _ Streets of Nashville, NBC/Peacock

Saturday, Aug. 12 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 27 _World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill., NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 3 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 10 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif., NBC/Peacock

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 19 2023
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