Airborne Ericsson cruises to victory lane in Nashville Grand Prix

Despite going airborne on Lap 4 and receiving an avoidable contact penalty, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson fought and clawed his way back to score his second victory of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season at the first-ever Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“I thought my race was over there,” Ericsson said about going airborne. “Then we had to repair the car. I got a stop-and-go. We were dead last. It was all about trying to recover. I think the car got some damage, as well, from that flight. There was definitely some damage on the car.

“I thought I would try and recover as many positions as possible and have a solid, what, top 15, was sort of my game plan after that incident. Then, yeah, the team did a great job with the strategy. Pit stops were great. There were so many incidents. For sure there was a little luck there, as well, no doubt about that.

“But we delivered when we had to. In the end, I think when Colton was behind me and I had to do a really big fuel number to get us to the finish line and still keep him behind, that was one of the toughest challenges of my career. I’m very proud that I could keep him behind and keep the pace up. That won me the race.”

The first-ever Music City Grand Prix for the NTT IndyCar Series in downtown Nashville received a lot of hype. It also was filled with numerous incidents that produced nine cautions for 33 laps out of the 80-lap event.

During the first 20 laps of the race, there were four cautions with the first on Lap 1 when the No. 4 of Dalton Kellett came to a stop on the frontstretch. However, a big moment for the eventual race winner came on Lap 4, as Ericsson slammed into the No. 14 of Sebastien Bourdais and went soaring over him. Unfortunately for Bourdais, the damage to the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing machine was too much to recover from and he was out of the race early. Ericsson was able to stay in the race with a front wing change but received a penalty for avoidable contact.

A big pileup occurred on Lap 19 when the No. 22 of Simon Pagenaud crashed into the Turn 11 wall, stacking up cars behind him. At least 10 cars were involved in the wreck including the vehicles of Rinus VeeKay, Jimmie Johnson, Will Power and Takuma Sato, to name a few. During the red flag, the No. 48 of Johnson was disqualified from the race due to unapproved adjustments to his Honda machine. The red flag lasted 12 minutes.

With one-third of the race slowed under yellows, more cautions would be seen throughout the race. A caution was flown at halfway on Lap 40 for a crash between the No. 3 of Scott McLaughlin and Kellett in Turn 9 after contact was made from McLaughlin’s teammate Will Power. The incident left IndyCar officials no other choice than to penalize Power for avoidable contact.

After early and numerous cautions, there was a small gap of green-flag racing. Ericsson led the way over pole-sitter Colton Herta. With 10 laps to go, second-place Herta was chasing Ericsson down little by little and cut the lead down to 2.0448 seconds. But the Andretti Autosport car was struggling to catch Ericsson as Ericsson had more push to pass than Herta. Unfortunately, Herta’s attempt to chase down Ericsson came to a halt with five laps to go with Herta crashing into the Turn 9 wall.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, there are no green-white-checkered finishes or overtime attempts. So, in an attempt to end the race at the advertised distance, the red flag was flown following Herta’s incident. Following a brief track cleanup, the field was fired back up and went back to green with two laps to go.

With darkness and sunset approaching, Ericsson had one more task to complete. He had to hold off his teammate Scott Dixon who was lined up in second. If Dixon had been able to pass Ericsson, he had a chance to tie Mario Andretti’s all-time win record. As the green flag flew, Ericsson’s car was much stronger than Dixon’s and he was able to keep Dixon at bay. The Swedish driver went on to hold off Dixon for the win by 1.5 seconds.

The finishing result for Dixon gave him his third podium of the season and he took over the second position in points. Dixon now trails his teammate Alex Palou by 42 points.

“Man, I don’t really know what to say about the day,” Dixon said. “It was a crazy race. There were a lot of yellows, a lot of reds. I think we did almost 45, 50 laps on the last set of tires. We didn’t take tires on the last stop. They were blacks. That was real interesting.

“Yeah, kudos to the team. You got to take those wins, man. He was in the right place at the right time. I think he had probably one of the most eventful days of everybody out there, flying up in the sky, then getting a drive-through penalty and all that stuff, coming out with a win. It was just so good I think today for me just the parade lap, seeing so many people here. That’s what really fired me up, I think, what really made the event.”

James Hinchcliffe, who is fighting for a ride next year, came home with a strong third-place finish and obtained his first podium of the season. The podium finish was also Hinchcliffe’s first since the 2019 Iowa race where the Canadian finished third.

“For us in the 29 car, it’s been a rough season,” Hinchcliffe said. “We’ve had our own troubles, but we’ve also had a lot of bad luck. It looked like it was going that way again today when we got stuck in the traffic jam in turn 11. Brian Barnhart made a great call, got us in the pits there to kind of cycle through when it all shook out.

“We had a great car. The Capstone car was great. The Andretti Steinbrenner guys in the pits were awesome in that second stop, got us ahead of Ryan because he was ahead of us on track at that point. It was eventful. We were at the back, front, kind of ran a little bit of everywhere today, in the middle. Like Scott said, we probably had a few too many yellows for what we would have wanted to put on a good show for everyone here.”

There were nine cautions for 33 laps and four lead changes among three different leaders. Ericsson led twice for 37 laps.

  1. Marcus Ericsson, led 37 laps
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. James Hinchcliffe
  4. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  5. Graham Rahal
  6. Ed Jones
  7. Alex Palou
  8. Felix Rosenqvist
  9. Helio Castroneves
  10. Josef Newgarden
  11. Santino Ferrucci
  12. Conor Daly
  13. Pato O’Ward
  14. Will Power
  15. Jack Harvey
  16. Romain Grosjean, led four laps
  17. Alexander Rossi
  18. Max Chilton
  19. Colton Herta, led 39 laps, OUT, Contact
  20. Cody Ware, OUT, Disqualified for not running at competitive pace
  21. Simon Pagenaud, OUT, Contact
  22. Scott McLaughlin, 13 laps down
  23. Dalton Kellett, OUT, Contact
  24. Rinus VeeKay, OUT, Contact
  25. Takuma Sato, OUT, Contact
  26. Jimmie Johnson, OUT, Contact
  27. Sebastien Bourdais, OUT, Contact

Up Next: The NTT IndyCar Series will head back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but this time, competing on the road course, on Saturday, August 14, live on NBCSN at 12:30 p.m. ET.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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