Nashville IndyCar: Ericsson survives crazy race for second win

Marcus Ericsson survived an airborne shunt to score his second IndyCar win of the season on the streets of Nashville after holding off Colton Herta, who caused the ninth and final caution in a wild crash-filled race.

Remarkably it was a clean start off the bridge polesitter Herta making a great jump, and Andretti Autosport-Honda teammate Alexander Rossi followed him through to beat Scott Dixon into the first turn (Turn 9).

Behind them, Romain Grosjean muscled past Felix Rosenqvist whose Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet teammate Pato O’Ward –highest of the drivers on Firestone’s harder primary tires – moved up from eighth to claim sixth ahead of Jack Harvey (Meyer Shank Racing-Honda), Simon Pagenaud in the first of the Team Penske-Chevrolets, Alex Palou where he started (due to a grid penalty) in ninth and James Hinchcliffe.

While Will Power was 11th, where he started, another Penske, that of Nashville’s Josef Newgarden, was struck by Graham Rahal’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda and tumbled to 17th with possible steering damage.

Meanwhile Dalton Kellett's AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet had stalled, bringing out the caution after one lap.

As the field came to the green at the restart zone – the ‘real’ Turn 1 – Ganassi’s Ericsson ran into the back of Sebastien Bourdais’s Foyt car, vaulting high into the air and breaking his front wing.

The rear suspension damage on Bourdais’ car could not be fixed once he’d limped to the pits, but Ericsson took on a new front wing and headed back on track. With the yellow not waved immediately, Newgarden was among the drivers trapped behind the limping Ericsson, and fell to 20th.

The 80-lap race resumed at the end of Lap 9, and Herta went earlier than before, gapping Rossi, Dixon, Grosjean and the two AMSP-Chevys to lead by 1.2sec after the first green-flag lap. By Lap 15, that gap was out to 3sec, with Rossi 2.2sec ahead of Dixon, Grosjean a further 1.4 in arrears but a similar distance ahead of Rosenqvist.

The caution came out on Lap 16, when Ed Jones’ Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan car tipped Scott McLaughlin’s 18th-placed Penske into a spin. When the pits opened, Palou, Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay pitted, as did Newgarden who had narrowly avoided the Jones/McLaughlin incident. Newgarden switched from primary tires onto alternates.

At the restart on Lap 20, Power passed Pagenaud into Turn 11, but there wasn’t enough room for the pair to get through side-by-side on their trajectory, and so Pagenaud ended up nosing into the tire-wall, stopping 11 cars behind him. The red flag had to come out as a result while the track was unblocked.

The cars returned to the pits – Herta, Rossi, Dixon, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, O’Ward, Harvey – as the top seven. Rahal was eighth, having taken advantage of the Penske get-together, ahead of Power, Santino Ferrucci (RLL), Jones and Ericsson.

Race Control’s order after an already highly affronted Pagenaud was pushed down the field (for causing a blockage) put Hunter-Reay in 13th ahead of Hinchcliffe, Newgarden, Conor Daly (Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy), Helio Castroneves in the second MSR-Honda, Max Chilton, McLaughlin, Pagenaud, Palou and Cody Ware (Coyne-RWR).

Under red flag, Jimmie Johnson was disqualified for unapproved work on the #48 CGR-Honda. Then as the race resumed 20mins later under yellow, Harvey, Castroneves, Chilton, McLaughlin, Palou and Pagenaud pitted.

The restart on Lap 23 was clean and Herta sprinted away into a 2.5sec lead after one lap, 3.5sec a lap later, as he tried to build enough of a lead to make his first pitstop without losing too much time to those who had stopped under yellow. It gave Herta a chance to demonstrate his superiority, leading Rossi by 6.2sec on Lap 30, but his efforts were in vain.

VeeKay, who hadn’t been able to resume with the others after the stoppage, due to underwing damage, struck a tire-wall at Turn 1 and brought out the fifth yellow.

However, the Safety Team being on track meant the pace car was driving slow, and so he didn’t lose as much as expected. He actually felt he should have been in the lead but he was ordered behind Ericsson, Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, but still ahead of Rossi, Newgarden, Daly, Harvey, Dixon and Rosenqvist.

At the Lap 37 restart, Ericsson held his lead, but Herta and Rossi went past their teammate Hinchcliffe over the bridge to move into third and fourth respectively. Herta then muscled by Hunter-Reay in an incredibly bold move at Turn 8. Hunter-Reay lost enough momentum that Rossi drew him in over the bridge and dived down the inside of him at Turn 9.

Caution 6 flew at the halfway mark, as Power tapped teammate McLaughlin into a spin at Turn 4, not being far enough along the inside of him to claim the corner. As McLaughlin sat broadside, all cars missed him except Kellett, who drove over the nose of the #3 Penske. Kellett eventually stopped due to a problem with his steering-wheel.

Under the caution, Turn 3 was flooded by water, and as the shadows lengthened, there were plenty wondering if the race would reach its full 80-lap distance.

The pits opened on Lap 46, Ericsson leading Rossi, Dixon (who took only fuel but retained his primaries), Hinchcliffe, Rahal, the under-review Power, Hunter-Reay, and Palou.

That left Herta in the lead, while Newgarden was second… but didn’t want to be. His strategist Tim Cindric admitted he hadn’t anticipated so many people pitting. Daly, Harvey, Grosjean, Pagenaud, Ericsson, Rossi, O’Ward and Hinchcliffe filled positions 3 through 10.

Damp Turn 3 notwithstanding, the field got the green on Lap 50, but swiftly went under caution again. O’Ward launched down the inside of Rossi at Turn 9, but couldn’t get it stopped, and nosed into the barrier, taking Rossi off course with him.

Herta and Newgarden pitted under this caution, and left Grosjean in the lead for Dale Coyne Racing with RWR-Honda ahead of Ericsson, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay, Rosenqvist and Ware. Herta was now eighth, but soon after he passed Ware, the Coyne rookie spun and stalled, requiring the eighth caution.

His teammate pitted from the lead and rejoined 16th, just ahead of Power who’d served his drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. and at the next green, on Lap 58 Herta swiftly passed Rosenqvist and next time by he took Hunter-Reay who was encountering electrical issues.

Herta made short work of teammate Hinchcliffe, and outbraked Dixon for second at Turn 9 on Lap 61, but he couldn’t reel in Ericsson so easily. The Swede had more push to pass left and possibly less downforce, too, so although he looked vulnerable under braking as he fuel saved – he had last stopped seven laps earlier than Herta – the #8 Ganassi car stretched away in both directions over the bridge.

With 12 laps to go, Herta’s attempt to gain time on Ericsson at Turn 9 almost ended in disaster, coming an inch away from understeering into the wall on corner exit.

Meanwhile Grosjean had tapped Pagenaud into a fishtailing smack against the wall, bending a right-rear toelink on the #22 Penske car, and earning a penalty for the Coyne driver.

Herta, who had lost 1.6sec in his close encounter with Ericsson, was warming to the task once more but with six laps to go, he locked up his left-front into Turn 9 once more and shunted hard into the wall, nursing his wrist and looking devastated.

Out came the red flag once more while the tire wall was rebuilt, and then the restart was given with two laps to go. Ericsson controlled it well and pulled away from Dixon who was similarly unthreatened by Hinchcliffe who just held off Hunter-Reay and Rahal.

And so the quiet Swede passed the checkered flag 2hr40mins after he’d taken the green and having had his car airborne with a broken front wing on Lap 5. He won by 1.55sec over Dixon, while Hinchcliffe completed by far his best weekend of the year with a podium finish ahead of Hunter-Reay and Rahal.

Jones made a bold move to snatch sixth from Rosenqvist at Turn 9 on the penultimate lap. The AMSP driver’s loss of momentum also lost him seventh place to Palou.

Castroneves’ first road/street course appearance of the year finished with ninth, ahead of Newgarden, top Penske driver of the day with a damaged car since Lap 1.

Race results:

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