By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – Marcus Ericsson has been around the motorsports world on an international level for a handful of years, but when it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, the former Formula 1 driver and current pilot of the No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda is still trying to get his arms around the different circuits that the series visits, ovals in particular.
Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway marks just the second oval race for the Swede, coming off a 12th place finish in the Indianapolis 500 two weeks ago. Prior to Indianapolis, the only oval experience Ericsson had gained was during at test at Texas earlier this year.
Despite the lack of experience on ovals, Ericsson has turned some heads this weekend in the Lone Star State, timing in fifth with a lap of 23.528 seconds (220.336 mph) during Friday’s second practice session before qualifying 14th later in the day.
In order to help shorten his learning curve, Ericsson noted that he has turned to Arrow SPM teammate James Hinchcliffe for help in getting up to speed at tracks like Texas. Hinchcliffe has had a decent amount of success on the 1.5-mile oval, with four top-10 finishes in eight starts, including a runner-up result in 2016.
“On the track, the road and street courses is something that’s quite similar to what I’ve done all my racing life, whereas the ovals is something completely new. It’s been a lot to sort of learn,” said Ericsson.
“I’ve been really lucky to have an experienced guy like James next to me in the team. Been asking him a lot of things, looked a lot at his data, videos, stuff like that. That’s been super helpful for me to get up to speed, especially on the ovals.
“But then also it’s about experience as well. That’s what rewards in this series. See some of the guys that have been here a long time, been on these tracks for many years, it’s definitely not easy to come in and compete right up there straightaway.
“It is one of the toughest series in the world. I’ve experienced that this year. But love the challenge. It’s a great series to be part of. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Both Ericsson and Hinchcliffe have shown flashes of brilliance at times during the 2019 season, but luck hasn’t always been on their side as the year has reached its halfway point.
Ericsson’s two best finishes have been a seventh-place result at Barber Motorsports Park in April and his first podium finish of his career last weekend at Detroit. Meanwhile, Hinchcliffe has four top-10 finishes in eight starts this season, with sixth-place finishes at St. Petersburg and Barber being his best results thus far.
“I think from my side, pre-Detroit has been disappointing result-wise, but very promising pace-wise,” said Ericsson. “I think already from St. Pete, we had a good pace in the cars, both cars. It’s just been one of those years there’s always been something going against us sort of thing. That’s been the feeling. We haven’t really put on paper the pace we feel like we’ve had.
“That’s why the Detroit result really was a great sort of result that we really needed at that point when it happened. Hopefully we can build on that and continue to run up front for the rest of the year.”
Hinchcliffe echoed what Ericsson had to say, noting that any sort of turnaround in their luck would be welcome heading into the second half of the season.
“I think the results certainly don’t represent the kind of pace we think we’ve had on Sundays,” said Hinchcliffe. “Our Saturdays may not have been quite as productive as we would have liked at a couple tracks. Ultimately the race pace is good. The cars have been raceable. Marcus especially has done a tremendous job on Sundays getting up through the fields.
“I hate to say it because it sounds like a copout, but we’ve generally had a decent amount of not great luck. I am not even looking for good luck, just no bad luck. I think it would kind of change the look of our season a little bit.
“I’m proud of the team, the effort that we’ve put forward. There’s definitely some things we can clean up and improve. We’re constantly looking to try to do that.
“Ultimately, I think the pace we’ve had, especially in the races, is a little bit better than what it looks like. We’re going to keep doing our job in that sense, keep trying to execute on Sundays. Hopefully one of these days it will start falling in our favor.”