An unlikely gift from his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate put Marcus Ericsson in position to land on the INDYCAR Classic podium but trouble in pit lane dropped him back down the running order where he started.
A steady trajectory during the first two-thirds of the NTT IndyCar Series’ 60-lap race at Circuit of The Americas saw the Swedish rookie run as high as fifth. Just as the processional race took a turn entering the concluding 20 laps, Ericsson’s day was decided before the sprint to the checkered flag even began.
Contact between Ericsson’s countryman Felix Rosenqvist and his teammate James Hinchcliffe brought out the race’s lone full-course caution period a lap and a half after Ericsson completed his final pit stop. Owing to light contact with Spencer Pigot when leaving his pit box, the rookie lined up for the restart in 19th despite entering the top five during the caution.
After serving a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release from his pit box, Ericsson overtook Simon Pagenaud, Matheus Leist and Hinchcliffe during the 10-lap dash to the checkers to secure a 15th-place result — an improvement of one position after 204.6 miles.
“We knew it was going to be a tough job today starting from 16th,” Ericsson said. “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 (on Lap 6) 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 in 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.”
Though it’s not reflected on the results sheet, Ericsson will move forward to his third IndyCar race knowing he has the ability to score stronger finishes and, crucially, more points.
“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,” the former full-time Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team driver lamented. “We need to sort out that, but we have a lot of positives as well.
“From a personal side, it was one of my best races of my career I think, so I’m very proud of that and I’ll be ready for the next one.”
Notably, the challenging day in Austin that Ericsson rated so highly culminated in a two-spot better finish than his most recent Formula One race at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn circuit.
Arrow SPM Splits Tire Strategy
After several teammates took the green flag at St. Petersburg side by side, only Ericsson and Hinchcliffe qualified to the same row at COTA, prompting the Arrow SPM team to divert the race strategy for the Nos. 5 and 7 Hondas.
Minimal physical damage resulted from Ericsson’s dust-up with Pigot and Hinchcliffe’s run-in with Rosenqvist, but the messy race kept both Arrow machines buried in the field.
“Starting side by side with Marcus, we decided to split the tire strategy,” said Hinchcliffe. “It’s funny, coming into the last stint, we converged almost identically. We didn’t have quite as good pace on the blacks (Firestone primary tires), but the Arrow car felt really good on the (Firestone alternate) reds.
“Marcus and I pitted, I think, from seventh and eighth almost together near the end with sticker reds. There were a couple of guys in front of us with scrubbed reds and they definitely were falling off more than our (tires) were, so we were looking at a solid top 10 — maybe even flirting with a top five today, which, given where we started, would have been a great result.”
Trading starting positions for finishing positions, Ericsson and Hinchcliffe avoided falling back further during the challenging second round of the year.
“Not the result we wanted, certainly, but from where we started, I think we rebounded nicely,” Hinchcliffe added. “Had we not gotten caught up in that incident, and had Marcus not had a problem in pit lane, I think both cars would have been toward the top of the leaderboard.”
Now two races into its first year with Arrow title sponsorship, the SPM team will seek redemption April 7 during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.