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Ganassi Armada Hits Highs and Lows In Indy 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2022

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson to drinking after driving to victory at the Indianapolis 500. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

Chip Ganassi Racing’s headline-grabbing Indianapolis 500 driver roster largely overshadowed Marcus Ericsson during the Month of May, until the unassuming Swede rose up-and-won the 106th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Ericsson navigated through a wild scramble after a late-race red flag Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to earn his first career 500 victory. Meanwhile, high-profile CGR teammates Scott Dixon and Alex Palou saw their race days scuttled, respectively, by a self-inflicted pit road speeding penalty and lousy pit road timing on the famed 2.5-mile oval.

A 31-year-old native of Kumla, Sweden, Ericsson won under caution after Sage Karam crashed in Turn 2 on the final lap. Before the race-ending incident, Ericsson and Pato O’Ward battled for the lead after a restart with two laps to go following a red flag stoppage generated by Indy 500 rookie Jimmie Johnson, also of the Ganassi camp.

“I knew the Huski Chocolate car was fast enough, but it was still hard,” Ericsson said of his No. 8 CGR Honda. “I had to do everything there at the end to keep him (O’Ward) behind. I can’t believe it. I’m so happy.”

O’Ward, bidding to become the first native Mexican to win the race, finished second in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. It was the best career 500 finish in three starts for O’Ward, who has signed a three-year contract extension with McLaren through the end of the 2025 season.

Ericsson, who competed in Formula One for five seasons, is the second Swede to win the 500 _ joining 1999 winner Kenny Brack of AJ Foyt Racing. Ericsson and Brack spoke via videoconference during the winner’s press conference Sunday after the race was televised live primetime in Sweden. Ericsson’s best finish in three previous Indy 500 starts was 11th last year.

Scott Dixon was caught speeding in the 500. It may have cost him a second victory at IMS.

Team-owner Chip Ganassi celebrated his first Indy 500 victory since 2012, his fifth as a solo owner and sixth overall.

Ericsson also took the lead in the NTT IndyCar Series point standings with his third career victory, boosted by double points awarded for this event. In a fateful twist, all three of his victories have featured red flags, including wins in 2021 on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park road-course in Detroit and the Streets of Nashville.

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion, finished third in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda as the organization capped a dominant Month of May by placing two cars in the top three. Kanaan, a native of Brazil, recorded the fifth top-three finish of his 500 career during Sunday’s one-off drive. 

Dixon, the NTT P1 Award winner and 2008 Indy 500 champion, appeared to be the man to beat in the race’s first half. Dixon led a race-high 95 laps and became the all-time lap-leader in Indianapolis 500 history with 665, surpassing the record of 644 by legendary four-time winner Al Unser. But Dixon was assessed a speeding penalty entering pit lane as he stopped from the lead on Lap 175 in his familiar No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The subsequent drive-through penalty dropped the 41-year-old native of New Zealand through the field, and he ended up a disappointing 21st.

“It’s heartbreaking, to be honest,” said Dixon, a six-time IndyCar Series champion. “I came into the pit and had to lock the rears and kind of locked all four. I knew it was going to be close; I think it was a mile an hour over or something. Just frustrating. I just messed up.”

Dixon passed teammate Palou, the No. 2 qualifier, for the first time on Lap 8. Following a pre-race game plan, Dixon and Palou swapped the lead during the first portion of the race as a fuel-saving strategy. But that plan fell apart when Palou was forced to make a fuel stop during a closed pit scenario under caution on Lap 68. The resulting penalty dropped Palou _ runnerup to four-time race champion Helio Castroneves of Brazil one year ago _ out of contention for the win.

Recall that Dixon led 111 laps in the COVID-19 rescheduled August 2020 race at IMS before finishing second to Japan’s Takuma Sato, who became a two-time Indy 500 champ. Dixon also qualified P1 last May at IMS before a closed-pit penalty similar to Palou’s put him one lap down en route to a 17th-place result.

“I mean, he came down pit lane and was speeding,” Ganassi said of his longtime ace, who scored his fifth Indy 500 pole the previous Sunday with a four-lap/10-mile average of 234.046 mph. “He’s as disappointed as anybody, I can tell you.”

Palou, of Spain, fell to 28th on the 33-car grid after serving his penalty but rallied to finish ninth and on the lead lap. Palou led 47 of the 163 laps paced by CGR’s armada.

Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden placed fourth in the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP, as that organization placed two cars in the top four.

Alexander Rossi, winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016, rounded-out the top five in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda after starting 20th.

Castroneves finished seventh after starting 27th in the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, gaining the most positions from start to finish overall.

Ericsson, who started fifth, took the lead for good on Lap 190 when 500 rookie and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson made his final pit stop out of sequence with the leaders. Ericsson led O’Ward by 3.2869-seconds and appeared to be cruising to a spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy. O’Ward chipped away over the next four laps, pulling to within 2.7-seconds of the leader.

The script flipped on Lap 194 when Johnson spun into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2, triggering the fifth of six caution periods. All cars pulled into the pits for nearly eight minutes during the red flag while debris from Johnson’s crash was cleared.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ericsson said during his post-race interview from the raised Victory Circle. “You can never take anything for granted, and obviously there were still laps to go. I was praying so hard it was not going to be another yellow, but I knew there was probably going to be one. It was hard to refocus but I knew the car was amazing.”

Green-flag racing resumed on Lap 199, with Ericsson snaking left and right on the front and back straightaways to try and break O’Ward’s aerodynamic tow. Heading toward the white flag, Ericsson dove toward the pit entrance and then back to the center of the racetrack, trying to break from O’Ward.

The gap between the two was 0.0445-seconds at the flag stand with one lap to go, with O’Ward making a run toward the outside of Turn 1 on Lap 200. He pulled slightly ahead of Ericsson entering the corner, but Ericsson held the low line and forced O’Ward to lift off the throttle.

“He was going to put me in the wall if I would have gone for it,” O’Ward said. “We were alongside each other. It’s frustrating. It’s bittersweet. I’m so proud, but it definitely stinks.”

Ericsson insisted he was not going to crash O’Ward out, but did make it difficult for him to pass. “I knew I could hold my line,” Ericsson said. “I was going to go flat. He was going to have to go two-wide through (Turn) 1 to get there. I knew if I went on the inside into 1, I could keep my foot down. I was hoping I could keep my foot down. That was my plan. It worked.”

Ericsson started to pull away on the back straightaway after repulsing O’Ward, speeding toward Turn 3, when Karam crashed in Turn 2 in his No. 24 DRR Chevrolet. The fifth incident of the day in Turn 2, the race’s calamity corner, triggered the caution that ended an event featuring 38 lead changes among nine drivers.

Next up on the schedule is the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on Sunday, June 5, at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. The race will be broadcast live on USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network starting at 3 p.m. (ET).

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 (1997) 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 and Ford Racing). 

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Results Sunday of the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (5) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 200, Running
    2. (7) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    3. (6) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 200, Running
    4. (8) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    5. (20) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running
    6. (18) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    7. (27) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 200, Running
    8. (16) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 200, Running
    9. (2) Alex Palou, Honda, 200, Running
    10. (15) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    11. (30) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    12. (17) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    13. (14) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    14. (21) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running
    15. (11) Will Power, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    16. (13) David Malukas, Honda, 200, Running
    17. (28) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    18. (31) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 200, Running
    19. (4) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running
    20. (24) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 200, Running
    21. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 200, Running
    22. (23) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
    23. (22) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 199, Running
    24. (32) Jack Harvey, Honda, 199, Running
    25. (10) Takuma Sato, Honda, 199, Running
    26. (33) Stefan Wilson, Chevrolet, 198, Running
    27. (29) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 198, Running
    28. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 193, Contact
    29. (26) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 150, Contact
    30. (25) Colton Herta, Honda, 129, Mechanical
    31. (9) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 105, Contact
    32. (19) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 68, Contact
    33. (3) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 38, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 175.428 mph
Time of Race: 02:51:00.6432
Margin of victory: Under caution
Cautions: 6 for 31 laps
Lead changes: 38 among 9 drivers

Lap Leaders
Palou, Alex 1 – 7
Dixon, Scott 8 – 9
Palou, Alex 10 – 12
Dixon, Scott 13 – 16
Palou, Alex 17 – 21
Dixon, Scott 22 – 29
Palou, Alex 30
VeeKay, Rinus 31
Ericsson, Marcus 32
O’Ward, Pato 33 – 35
Palou, Alex 36 – 47
Dixon, Scott 48 – 50
Palou, Alex 51
Dixon, Scott 52 – 53
Palou, Alex 54 – 57
Dixon, Scott 58 – 59
Palou, Alex 60 – 68
O’Ward, Pato 69 – 72
Dixon, Scott 73 – 79
Daly, Conor 80 – 81
Dixon, Scott 82 – 83
Daly, Conor 84 – 85
Dixon, Scott 86 – 108
Daly, Conor 109 – 111
Dixon, Scott 112 – 140
O’Ward, Pato 141 – 143
Kanaan, Tony 144
Ericsson, Marcus 145
Palou, Alex 146 – 147
O’Ward, Pato 148 – 157
Dixon, Scott 158 – 160
O’Ward, Pato 161 – 164
Dixon, Scott 165 – 174
O’Ward, Pato 175 – 176
Kanaan, Tony 177 – 181
Palou, Alex 182 – 184
Andretti, Marco 185 – 187
Johnson, Jimmie 188 – 189
Ericsson, Marcus 190 – 200

Point-standings (top-10): 1, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 226; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 213; 3, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 212; 4, Will Power, Team Penske, 202; 5, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 174; 6, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 166; 7, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 162; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing, 157; 9, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 154; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 142. 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2022
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