INDIANAPOLIS – Formula One veteran Marcus Ericsson hopes to celebrate a victory in the NTT IndyCar Series one day.
However, Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ericsson did get to celebrate a win over five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.
Ericsson’s score came in the annual MotoGator Indy 500 Pit Stop Contest, held as part of Friday’s annual Carb Day action before the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.
Ericsson’s No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Racing Honda crew defeated Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda team in a two-out-of-three match, a thrilling battle of upstart versus veteran.
In the final round, Ericsson’s crew – Bob Jansen (chief mechanic and inside right front tire changer), Ryan Marzec (outside rear tire), Keith Beck (airjack), Brendon Cleave (outside front tire), Timothy Lane (fueler) and Nic Kaminski (inside rear tire) – defeated the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing crew of Dixon in a best-of-three shootout.
Ericsson won the decisive third heat in 11.794 seconds, the best time clocked by any crew in the entire competition.
“We had some good starts, but what won us this competition was pit stops,” Ericsson said, referring to beating several competitors out of the starting blocks to win the preliminary rounds. “Every single pit stop was amazing. That’s why we won today. It’s a great reward because these guys have worked so hard all year, and I’ve had a couple of incidents during the season and they’ve always worked so hard to get me out there on the track again.
“For me to win a competition like today, it’s just a great reward for all that hard work that these guys put in every single day.”
In the contest, cars in each round were lined up alongside each other. The driver had to speed the car into the pit stop zone for his crew performed a four-tire change, before pulling away to the finish line.
Ericsson defeated a pair of Team Penske drivers, Josef Newgarden and Will Power, on his way to meeting Dixon in the championship round.
It provided a measure of revenge for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which had finished second in the competition for the past three years.
“We’ve been in second place the last three years, so it was a big motivator for us to get over that hump, and so we’re glad to finally be on the top,” Jansen said. “But Ganassi was great competition. Everybody did great stops today. I can’t say enough about all the guys, how great they did.
“We do our best to keep it fun, try to keep it light, not put too much pressure on it. Everybody knows how important the stops are. But it’s still a matter of we do a lot of training in the off-season, in the gym with St. Vincent’s and in the shop doing pit stop practice, things like that. It’s all about not stressing and not putting too much emphasis on it, even though it is obviously a key factor of every race.”
This event is a way to showcase the skill of the pit crews, but the driver also has to play an important role to be precise and not get beat off the starting line.
Ericsson is also used to “standing starts” from his days as a Formula One driver.
“I think as a driver on this competition, it’s about reactions and then try and be precise on the stops, but I wasn’t even precise on my stops, I was just a bit long on both my stops in the final, or two out of three,” Ericsson said. “I think credit goes to the guys because they managed to do amazing stops. I think they were the ones that made a difference today.
“IndyCar where it’s so tight between the field, you can win or lose races in the pits. That’s why to have a good pit crew that does good pit stops can be the difference maker in a tight race. I think for us to win this is going to give us so much momentum going into Sunday.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, but it was really cool. It’s such a cool event. This whole month has been amazing, and today was a really cool day, and to finish it off by winning made it even better.”
The Pit Stop Contest has been held every year since 1977, when Jim McElreath’s crew won for the first time. Team Penske was hoping to win for a record 18th time, but none of the Penske crews entered in the competition made it past the semifinals.