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Ericsson targets qualifying improvements, oval breakthrough

Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s Marcus Ericsson says the “big focus” in the offseason has been upping his pace in qualifying, but he also hopes in 2021 to score a “breakthrough” result on the ovals.

Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Ericsson finished 12th in the NTT IndyCar Series last year, but although he showed vastly improved consistency compared with his rookie season at Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, he couldn’t replicate the podium finish he scored in Detroit in 2019.

Now the former Formula 1 driver says he must increase his one-lap speed in qualifying in order to demonstrate how strong his race pace has become.

“Last year I was pretty happy with the consistency, to be able to run in the top 10 pretty much everywhere,” said the 30-year-old Swede who ended the year with nine Top 10 finishes. “The biggest problem we had last year, or I had last year, was the qualifying on road and street courses where we just qualified too far back. In the races we came strong, but it's too tough in a series like this to start mid-pack and be able to win.

“That's been the biggest focus for us, for my team – and to be honest, Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole. I think we felt as a team that we were struggling a bit with all our cars in qualifying on road and street courses.

“I've been looking at myself to see what I can do to improve it, to try and understand the tires more. I think that was one of the things: to try and switch on the tires better for qualifying. I think that was one of the big areas that we as a team and me as a driver were struggling a bit with.

“We don't get the red tires [softer-compound Firestones] in testing but we've still done a lot of work on the primary tires in testing, and it feels like we've made some progress there. So it's going to be very interesting to see when we get to Barber for the first race if we can start qualifying a bit higher up because I think if we can do that, win some podiums, [the first win is] on its way.

“I think my race craft last year was as strong as anyone’s, so I don't worry about that. I think if I can qualify up front, I'm sure I can score podiums and win.”

That said, Ericsson has adapted well to all types of oval on the IndyCar schedule, and has targeted a “breakthrough result on an oval.”

He observed: “I think from the start when I got here to IndyCar, I've been really happy on ovals, really felt like it's been suiting my driving style, and I really enjoyed it, but I haven't really had a big result yet. I had the fifth place in Gateway Race 1, which was a good result, but I feel like there is a lot more there to come.

“Yeah, I'm looking for a big result on one of the ovals for sure. Maybe the big one. That would be good.”

Ericsson said that racing for Ganassi, a team for whom teammate Scott Dixon won a sixth title last year, created “that pressure to deliver because you know you have a top-class equipment to do that, and you work with top-class people. I feel that pressure, but I think it's a healthy pressure. It means that you have a good opportunity. I think that just helps you perform even more. At least that's how I work.”

He also believes the continuity of remaining at the same team with the same race engineer as 2020 will work in his favor

“Second year with the same people, with my race engineer Brad Goldberg… to work together for another year when we already know each other and he knows what I want from the car – that's going to be huge for us. It’s good when you go into a second year together with a team and with a core group of people.

“Also we have to remember last year, even though I came to a top team in Chip Ganassi Racing, we also were a new team within the team. The #8 car didn't run the year before. So it was a learning curve for all of us on the #8 car during last year and it took a bit of time to get everything going.

“That's why it's really exciting for me to go into this year knowing that we have that experience with us. I'm really excited to see what we can do together.”


Photo by: IndyCar Series

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