F1’s Ericsson To Drive For IndyCar’s Schmidt Peterson

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 1 2018

Sam Schmidt has hired F1 driver Marcus Ericsson to drive one of his Indy cars.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has signed Formula One veteran Marcus Ericsson to drive its No. 7 Honda during the 2019 IndyCar Series season.

A 28-year-old native of Sweden, Ericsson will be teamed with Canadian James Hinchcliffe and his No. 5 Honda.

Ericsson will replace Canadian Robert Wickens, the 2018 series rookie who confirmed last week that he is paralyzed from the waist down as the result of injuries suffered during a violent, multiple-car crash in the ABC Supply 500 on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway oval on Aug. 19. Wickens, 29, continues to undergo physical rehabilitation at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis with the goal of walking again.

Ericsson has two Formula One starts remaining with Sauber in the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship. Ericsson, teamed this season with Frenchman Charles LeClerc, is the odd-man-out in Sauber’s recently announced 2019 driver lineup. Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 World Driving Champion, will exit Scuderia Ferrari at season’s end and trade places with LeClerc at Sauber.  Additionally, Ericsson will be replaced by 24-year-old Italian Antonio Giovinazzi, runnerup to 2019 Red Bull Racing driver Pierre Gasly in the 2016 GP2 title race.

Ericsson, who started his F1 career with the ill-fated Caterham team and has spent the last four seasons with Sauber, said he was attracted to the IndyCar Series by its “super-high” competition level.

I think for me the fact that the racing is so good in INDYCAR was the biggest factor,” Ericsson said Wednesday during a national teleconference. “And the fact that also, you know, in INDYCAR every driver and every team have a chance to win. I think that’s some of the parts that I’ve been missing a lot in Formula 1 the last few years. I think that was the most appealing thing with INDYCAR.”

Ericsson, who began his SPM seat-fitting Tuesday, admittedly will need to adapt on the fly to INDYCAR’s varied schedule of circuits, particularly to high-speed ovals. He will join a rookie class featuring drivers with European backgrounds, including Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward.

Ric (Peterson) and I are excited to welcome Marcus to the team,” said Sam Schmidt, co-owner of SPM. “He has a ton of experience racing in the top levels of motorsports, so we believe that he will be able to contribute to our development program that began in earnest in 2018. While the circuits on the INDYCAR schedule will be brand new to him, particularly the ovals, we have a lot of confidence and trust in his eagerness to learn along with his work ethic. We think he and James will be a good fit to push one another and fight for those wins.”

Ericsson said the series sanctioned by INDYCAR has been receiving “more and more attention in Europe” since two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso’s successful one-off debut in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Alonso, of Spain, led 27 laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway before being sidelined by an engine problem in his Andretti Autosport Honda.

“I think that also opened some doors, sort of made more people think about INDYCAR,” Ericsson said. “Yeah, also you have seen guys like Alexander Rossi (also of Michael Andretti’s team) _ OK he’s an American _ but he was racing a lot in Europe, he went over to INDYCAR, has been doing extremely well.
I think all these things is some of the reasons.” Rossi won the 100th edition of the Indy 500 in 2016 as a IndyCar Series rookie.

Ericsson is a protégé of fellow-Swede Kenny Brack, who won the 83rd edition of the Indianapolis 500 in 1999 while driving for open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr., first four-time winner of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Yeah, Kenny was one of the guys that picked me up from go-karts and helped me make the steps through racing cars,” Ericsson said. “I was working closely with Kenny for many, many years. We haven’t worked together since I’ve been in F1. I haven’t actually spoken to him yet after this announcement. But, yeah, I mean, I learned a lot from Kenny. I have a lot to thank for what he’s done for me in my career, especially in my early career. Obviously I was watching him race a lot in INDYCAR when I was younger, yeah.”

Ericsson said he was reluctant to set any specific goals for the 2019 campaign.But I want to be winning races and scoring podiums, do well for the team,” Ericsson said. “I know it’s a massive challenge because everything will be new for me _ new cars, new tracks, oval racing, new competitors. I’m very humble and I know it requires a lot of hard work from me to be successful.

But I have no doubt that with my experience and my abilities I can be up there and fight for wins and score wins, especially racing for such a great team as SPM. That will be my target for next year.”

An edited transcript of the teleconference follows:

QUESTION: With as much media attention that you get in Formula 1, where every rumor becomes publicized, how were you able to keep your interest in coming to INDYCAR such a secret?

MARCUS ERICSSON: “I don’t think I was keeping it such a secret. I was saying for quite a few weeks that INDYCAR was something I was looking at. Obviously, yeah, I was still right up in the F1 season. Since Sauber announced the drivers for next year with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, for me it was clear I wanted to move on and find a racing series to compete in.

For me, very early INDYCAR was the most appealing series where I think was going to fit me the best. So, yeah, that’s what I’ve been sort of focusing on and trying to find a seat in INDYCAR. That’s why, you know, I’m so happy that it will happen, that I found such a great team, as well; got picked by SPM is very, very special, feel very proud of that.”

QUESTION: There’s going to be another Swedish driver in the series next year for Chip Ganassi Racing, Felix Rosenqvist. How much do you know about him and your new teammate, James Hinchcliffe?

MARCUS ERICSSON: “Yeah, Felix, he’s one year younger than me, so we raced actually go-karts when we were kids. After that we’ve never raced in the same series in cars. But I know Felix, what I said, from when we were kids. I meet him every now and then. It will be great fun to race in the same series as him, spend some more time. We will hang out. It will be good fun.

Yeah, James, I don’t know personally. I haven’t met him. I have heard a lot of good things about him. He seems to be a great driver but also a great person. I’m sure we’re going to work really well together and, you know, do the best for the team together.”

QUESTION: Did Schmidt Peterson reach out to you first, or did you reach out to them? About how long has the discussion period, if you will, gone on before you agreed to sign with them?

MARCUS ERICSSON: “Yeah, I actually reached-out to Sam Schmidt myself. I gave him a call. I had some contacts in Europe. I was trying to look out at INDYCAR. We had a really good chat. From then on, yeah, I put him in touch with my management. It went on from there.

We were also speaking to some other teams in the series, in different series, as well, to see what options there was out there. But for me, straightaway after that first initial talk with Sam, it really felt like right for me. I was pushing from that moment, which was, yeah, a couple weeks after Sauber announced their driver lineup. From that moment, I was pushing really hard with my management, as well, that I wanted to go to INDYCAR and with SPM because I felt like that was the best, yeah, team and best environment for me to do well.

Yeah, now we’re here, contract is signed, and I’m super-excited for next year.”

QUESTION: Did you talk with either Fernando Alonso or Alexander Rossi, since you raced against both of them at some point, what their thoughts were about the IndyCar Series as a whole, how it might be a good fit for you?

MARCUS ERICSSON: “Yeah, I actually spoke to both of them. I know Alex quite well. He’s a good friend of mine. He actually came and visited me at COTA (Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas) in F1 a few weeks ago (during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend). Yeah, he’s only saying good things about it.

He’s been really telling me if you get the chance, you have to come over, the racing is great, the atmosphere between the drivers and the fans is just really, really good. That’s also the sort of feeling you get from the outside, as well, looking at INDYCAR. It looks like such a fun series to be part of. Like I said, the racing looks really good, as well. All these things is what Alex has been telling me.

Then I also spoke a bit with Fernando about it. The same there. Fernando said it was just an amazing experience doing the Indy 500, that he had so much fun. So he, as well, was saying only positive things, that it’s really a fun series.

That’s the thing for me. I’ve been speaking around with them, too, but also other people in the business, drivers and other people that’s been around. And everyone I speak to, they only have good things to say about INDYCAR and the racing over here. So that for me made it even more clear that this is the right thing for me to do for my future.”

QUESTION: Because you have almost 100 Formula 1 starts on your resume, does that put additional pressure on you? You must know that people are expecting you to be pretty quick straightaway, even though it’s a totally unfamiliar series. Do you feel that pressure?

MARCUS ERICSSON: “Yeah, I think definitely there will be high expectations on me. I would expect nothing else. Like you say, I come from almost 100 races in F1, five years there. I’ve built up a big experience which I think will benefit me making this step.

So, yeah, I definitely feel that there will be high expectations on me, which is, you know, something that I think is right. And I think that comes with pressure, as well, but that’s something that I’m used to. Being in F1 for five years, you always have that big pressure on your shoulder to deliver, so that’s nothing new.

I mean, I come over here, expect myself to be up there on fights, getting to it quickly. But like I say, I also know it’s going to be requiring a lot of hard work from me because everything will be new. The competition in INDYCAR is extremely tough, as well. It’s very important to not underestimate it. It’s going to require a lot of hard work. But I’m sure, you know, that I will do all that homework and be able to be successful.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 1 2018
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