Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s Marcus Ericsson has stated that he believed a podium finish was likely in last weekend’s 2019 IndyCar Classic at the Circuit of the Americas before an incident in the pit-lane and a subsequent penalty dropped him down the order.
Ericsson had worked his way up from a grid spot of sixteenth and was running inside the top five before making contact with Spencer Pigot in the pits. Marcus was forced to drop to the back of the field as a punishment for his team’s unsafe pit release, therefore relegating the Swedish driver to an eventual finishing position of fifteenth.
Entering the weekend, Ericsson had some high hopes put upon him based on his previous experience racing at COTA in Formula 1. Later in the weekend, Ericsson would admit that the track knowledge had helped a little, but that his advantage had been negated by the two days of pre-season testing at the circuit in February.
Following the first day of practice, Marcus told reporters that it had been a “challenging day”, before going on to state that he was struggling for one-lap qualifying pace in his #7 Honda. However, he believed that the car was much faster in race-trim, with higher fuel loads and longer runs.
Ericsson and the team hoped to have found a fix for their lack of one-lap pace heading into qualifying on Sunday. However, Marcus did not really get a chance to show if they had accomplished that goal. Ericsson hit the wall in final practice at the penultimate corner and was then one of the unfortunate drivers to be caught out by a red flag in the first round of qualifying; thus meaning that he was not able to get a representative lap completed. Marcus would be eliminated from qualifying at the end of the round, earning him a grid spot of sixteenth place.
“I didn’t even get my first lap on the reds [Firestone alternate tyres], and unfortunately we just missed out,” Ericsson said after qualifying. “It’s a bit of a shame. I think on the blacks [Firestone primary tyres] we were there or thereabouts. Coming from a crash from the last practice wasn’t the best preparation. I was building it up on the blacks, and then my red lap I did half a lap and it was a decent first half. Then there was the red flag, so I never really got the chance to see how the reds were.
“The Arrow car felt a bit better than the third practice, so I think it was a step in the right direction. We know we have a strong race car, so we just have some work to do tomorrow to get where we want.”
In the race, Ericsson’s long-run pace in the #7 Honda was well and truly on display. The team put Ericsson onto an alternate strategy early on, pitting the Swede on lap five to try and jump the mass of cars ahead of him. The strategy worked. Ericsson picked up a number of positions by the time the first pit-stop phase concluded and he then set about passing car after car to get into the top ten.
As the race neared its conclusion, Ericsson had put in a stellar performance and moved his way into a strong fifth place. However, during his last pit-stop on lap forty-two, his pit-crew seemed to release him too early, causing Ericsson to pull away and make contact with Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Spencer Pigot, who was pulling into his pit-stall just ahead of Marcus.
The contact with Pigot’s #21 Chevrolet was relatively minor, with both cars escaping relatively unscathed aside from the loss of valuable time. However, Ericsson would soon be penalized for the unsafe pit-release, with the stewards ordering Ericsson to drop to the back of the field during the caution period a few laps later. During the final ten laps after the restart, Ericsson would move his way back up to sixteenth place, where he would remain until the chequered flag.
After the race, Ericsson would take solace in the fact that his car looked to be one of the fastest on the race-track throughout the event, but he would also note his obvious frustrations at having a potentially strong result denied due to the pit-lane incident. Marcus even went on to state that he believed he could have finished on the podium had he restarted the race in fifth place on fresh tyres.
“We knew it was going to be a tough job today starting from 16th,” Ericsson said post-race, “We also knew that we were going to have a really strong race car, which we showed in St. Pete.
“I had a good start; the first stint was good. Then we did that other pit stop to get free air and just got our race going. I have to say again, like in St. Pete, we were flying out there, and we were making all the right moves strategy-wise and driving-wise. I think we were the fastest car out there for much of the race moving up through the field. Everything was going according to plan, every pit stop, everything.
“Then it was very unfortunate on the last pit stop that we had traffic there on pit lane and had an issue there, which picked us up a penalty which was extremely frustrating because at the last restart, being P5 with good tires. I think a podium was on the cards with the pace that we had. So even fifth where we were running would’ve been an amazing result considering where we started the race.
“I think we have a lot of things that we are very happy and proud of, but of course, it’s extremely frustrating that the second weekend in a row we have the pace and the Arrow car to be in the top five, or better, and we got away with almost nothing. We need to sort out that, but we have a lot of positives as well. From a personal side, it was one of the best races of my career I think, so I’m very proud of that and I’ll be ready for the next one.”
Looking at the results alone does not do justice to the great job that Ericsson has done in his first two IndyCar races. Marcus has fallen foul of red flags in both qualifying sessions at St. Petersburg and COTA. Furthermore, he suffered a mechanical failure at the opening round and then suffered his aforementioned pit penalty last weekend. These incidents, which were largely out of his control, cost Marcus all opportunity of securing decent points and results.
Marcus will be hoping for a change of fortune at the third round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. The Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park will take place on Sunday, April 7.