Marcus Ericsson is having the best year of his career, winning the Indianapolis 500 and sitting in second place in the standings as he fights for his first IndyCar championship.
He won the 2021 Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in epic fashion after going nose-first into another car on lap five, making his car go airborne. His car survived and would go on to make seven pitstops before winning the inaugural street race.
With the MCGP being the fourth to last race and Ericsson being just nine points behind Will Power in the IndyCar standings, the Sweden native will be looking for another huge win in Nashville this weekend.
“Looking back at it, it was one of the craziest races that I’ve been part of. To go from being airborne and crashing on lap five, thinking that the race is over, to being in victory lane less than two hours later was pretty surreal,” Ericsson recalled in a press conference on Thursday (Aug. 4). “I’m planning to do the victory lane part again, maybe not the airborne and crashing on lap five part. A bit less drama would be good,” he adds jokingly.
Nashville had never hosted a street course race prior to last year, so there wasn’t a precedent for how to race it. For every driver, it was a massive learning curve in the practice sessions and qualifying. Ericsson started at 18th but was able to fight his way to the top and went on to lead 37 laps.
The Grand Prix was a massive success and this year should be no different as many of the drivers want to win this race for how unique it is.
“It’s great to be back,” Ericsson noted. “I thought last year’s event was a great addition to the calendar and the way that the whole city was bustling–all the fans that came and all of us [drivers] really enjoyed it.”
With only one race experienced, Ericsson says the MCGP is one of the toughest tracks of the year. For how tight the course is coming off the bridge on turn 4 and for how fast these cars are going over the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge, the race can be very unpredictable.
“I think this is one of the toughest [tracks] of the year,” he explains. “Mostly due to the combination of the street course being super bumpy and the heat and humidity here at this time of the year. I think with all that combined it’s a really tough one. It’s definitely a very physical challenge for the drivers. You need to be in shape, you need to be hydrated and prepared for Sunday.”
There were nine cautions and two red flags at last year’s grand prix, forcing the drivers to race longer into the afternoon and early evening.
With rain predicted throughout the weekend, strategy is a big factor. You want to win, but being able to keep the car on the track and pick up the most points possible is also important, especially at an unpredictable track like Nashville.
“You have to weigh the risk versus reward calculation when you’re racing for a championship,” Ericsson said. “You can’t think too much into the points and not take any risks because then you’re going to put yourself in a difficult situation.
“I still feel the way to go is to try and maximize every weekend. If we have a chance to win, we need to win. If we have a chance to finish p5, we need to be p5 and so on.”
Stakes are higher with how late the MCGP is this year compared to in 2021, especially for how tight the standings are. Only 52 points separate first and sixth place. Ericsson looks to be crowned champion, but a poor performance can turn his chances on its head.
“[Everyone in the top five or six are] all really good drivers and teams,” he admits. “I know my teammates a bit more and they’re extremely good. I don’t have someone singled out. I think they’re all going to be tough to beat but I know we can do it.”
The first IndyCar practice is set for Friday, Aug. 5 at 3:15 p.m. and the second practice is set for Saturday at 11:15 a.m.
Qualifying will take place between 3:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. before Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix, which will start at 2 p.m. CT.
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