Fate again dealt Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports some low cards last weekend at Pocono, but James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson remain positive about their performances – and their prospects for this weekend’s IndyCar race. David Malsher reports.
It’s part of the enticing, bewitching and occasionally frustrating nature of motorsport that luck can play such a large part in results. On any given weekend, however well a driver may perform, however well his engineer may refine the technical package, however well his strategist plots a smart strategy (with some backup plans thrown in), however well his crew may deliver slick pitstops, misfortune can cause a giant boot to descend from the sky, Monty Python-style, to crush the hopes and promise of everyone involved. Perhaps it’s a mechanical malady, perhaps the inopportune timing of a full-course caution that messes up strategy – and of course there’s the human element. It’s all too easy for a driver to end up the innocent victim of a rival’s indiscretions.
Arrow SPM pilots James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson discovered that on Lap 1 at Mid-Ohio, when they were bundled into each other, incurring damage that halted Marcus permanently and delayed James for several minutes. His consolation was fastest lap of the race. At Pocono Raceway last Sunday, the Canadian star was left with no chance to salvage something worthwhile from the day when he was again a totally innocent victim in an opening lap shunt.
Photo by: Scott R LePage / LAT Images
Perhaps destiny started to turn against Hinch on the Saturday, when morning practice and qualifying were rained out. In these circumstances, the NTT IndyCar Series sorts grid order by championship points, which meant the #5 Arrow SPM-Honda would be 10th, and that left James slightly deflated: after turning 78 laps over the course of the evening’s two hour practice session, he was left convinced the car was strong and worthy of being further forward on the grid.
“The No. 5 Arrow car had a lot of speed off the truck, and the balance is the best we've had here for a couple of years. It's really unfortunate we didn't get to qualify because I think our single-car pace was actually pretty solid and certainly better than 10th.”
Still, he felt the practice session was “productive” – as is any experience on the 2.5-mile tri-oval in Long Pond, PA. It’s well known among IndyCar drivers past and present that Pocono Raceway’s three turns are so different in radius and banking that the best a driver can hope for is to get his car handling well through two of them and then muddle through the other.
Sadly, his hopes were dashed within half a minute of the drop of the green flag, when three of his competitors up ahead came together in a 220mph clash on the run down to Turn 2. At those speeds, when following closely, someone else’s accident will become yours in the blink of an eye, especially when the carnage spreads across the track. The beautiful #5 Arrow SPM machine became a less than beautiful wreck, and an understandably agitated Hinchcliffe emerged from the infield medical center with strong opinions that he formed into an admirably composed indictment of some of his rivals’ driving.
“We had a pretty good start with the #5 Arrow car. We were heading into Turn 2 kind of three-wide, and I knew that wasn’t a good idea, so I backed out. I thought I was actually going to save us because [the shunt] happened in front of me.
“I couldn’t see exactly what started it, but then the wreck moved down to the inside. I was able to slow down, but it just slid out to where I was. There was nowhere I could go. I’m glad everybody is OK.
“It’s a 500-mile race, I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people figure out that you can attack all you want, but it doesn’t give you a chance to win if you are in the fence.”
Photo by: Phillip Abbott / LAT Images
Teammate Ericsson was more fortunate, in that he sidestepped the errors committed by some of the experienced drivers and also fellow rookies around him. In fact, from 16thon the grid he wended his way into a legitimate fifth place, proving yet again that this 28-year-old Swede who learned his craft on road and street courses is a natural at these left-turn-only tracks. The well-drilled #7 Arrow SPM crew who won the Indy 500 pitstop competition also delivered for Marcus on pitlane. What ultimately saw him drop to 12thwas a struggle to maintain the car’s balance throughout a stint which inevitably has a deleterious effect on the Firestone tires.
“I thought I had some really good starts and restarts; we made up positions there,” Ericsson reflected post-race. “Unfortunately we were struggling a bit with the balance of the car throughout the stints, so I was struggling to keep up with the pace of the guys ahead or behind us.
“I thought at one point there after the second restart and we were up to P5, the day was looking to potentially be really good. Just a tough race trying to hang on and make the best of it.
“We learned a lot and the Arrow SPM guys did a great job with stops, but disappointed we didn’t have a better result than that.”
To any objective observer, Marcus was being more than a little harsh on himself: given that he had never tested there, the 500-mile Pocono race was only his second day on the track!
That said, it’s admirable whenever an athlete sets such high standards for himself, and he is clearly expecting more from this weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway’s World Wide Technology Raceway, in Madison, IL., a more ‘conventional’ 1.25-mile oval, if there can be such a thing.
“We had a good test at Gateway a few weeks ago,” said Ericsson, “where we were able to run through our test plan and it allowed me to get a feel of the track. Previously this season, all of the tracks we’ve been to prior to the event have been very successful weekends. The plan is to continue that trend.
Photo by: Gregg Feistman / LAT Images
“I feel like this year we’ve been very strong on ovals in general, and I got up to speed on the ovals very nicely and I’m having a lot of fun on them. But we haven’t really had a big result out of it — seventh in Texas was good, but I think we have more in us.
“Hopefully we will get that in Gateway with a good weekend and a good car. Myself and the Arrow SPM team are really looking forward to it and we want to bounce back after a disappointing end result for the whole team at Pocono.”
The final oval of the season is one that excites his teammate, too.
“After the disappointment last weekend, I think everyone on the #5 Arrow car is keen to get back to the track,” said Hinchcliffe. “Short track racing and night racing are two of my favorite things to do in an Indy car, so we are all really looking forward to Gateway this weekend.”
Certainly if you believe in karma, it’s time for both the Arrow SPM drivers to earn a huge helping of points. As Hinchcliffe commented back in spring, “I’m not looking for good luck, as such. Just no more bad luck…”
Given his proven skills on ovals, and Ericsson’s surprising affinity for them, this could be a big weekend for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
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