Indy 500: Ericsson prevails in late surge over O’Ward

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It was a race dominated by Scott Dixon, who passed Indy legend Al Unser for all-time laps led in the Indy 500 midway through the race with 645. However, a mistake in the last round of pit stops resulting in a penalty allowed Dixon’s Swedish teammate to grab a thrilling victory over McLaren’s Pato O’Ward.

“I’ts not supposed to be easy to win the 500.”

That is one of the first things that newly crowned Indy 500 champion Marcus Ericsson said in hist post-race press conference late Sunday afternoon. That statement could not be any more clear from watching how the 31-year-old Swede made his way around the historic 2.5 mile oval after starting fifth, dodging crashes, pitting at just the right time, and having a guaranteed victory disrupted with six laps to go as his own teammate Jimmie Johnson hit the wall. Ericsson, who never raced on an oval before coming over from Formula 1 to IndyCar in 2019, said that one of the reasons he was excited to race in America was because “…Ovals was something that would suit me.”

Heartbreak for the Front Row

All in all, it was not a good day for the front row.

The three fastest qualifiers, Dixon, Alex Palou and Rinus Veekay, all faced heartbreak throughout the race.

“The back end just snapped on me”

For Veekay, his first 30 laps were solid, as the Dutchman spent most of that time hanging around the lead group of Palou and Dixon. After the first set of pit stops around Lap 30, Veekay cycled out to second, in between Palou and Dixon. However, on lap 38, Veekay’s No. 21 for Ed Carpenter’s team slid in Turn 2, into the wall, ending what could’ve been a historic day for 2021’s IndyCar Rookie of the Year.

Palou falls short once more

Palou traded the lead with his teammate Dixon multiple times throughout the first 50 laps, showing the Ganassi’s prowess. However, Palou’s world came crashing down on him after a strange and faultless situation on pit road. On lap 58, rookie Callum Ilott hit the wall in Turn 2, much in the style of Veekay. When the caution officially came out, Palou was just a few hundred feet away from entering the pits, meaning that he was not allowed to service his car due to the yellow flag. This left him stranded on track (much like Dixon in 2021) which forced him to pit while pit lane was closed, resulting in him getting sent to the back of the pack, effectively taking him out of race contention.

Dixon denied a second win… again

Palou was sent back in the pack, Dixon dominated the race, leading 95 of the 200 laps. Once again, however, Dixon was unable to achieve that elusive second Indy 500 victory. On Lap 175, as the final round of pit stops begun, Dixon came in just over the pit lane speed limit of 60 mph, earning himself a drive-through penalty. With 25 laps to go, this extended the Iceman’s winless streak at the 500 to 13 years.

One thing that has been mostly unspoken about after the race is not the crashes but WHO crashed. In five of the six cautions throughout the race, it was a rookie or a second-year driver that crashed. (Nine-year veteran of the race Sage Karam is the outlier.) Simply, this is a testament to just how valuable experience is around Indianapolis. Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Jimmie Johnson was running in the top-15 all day until he crashed in turn 2 with just a few laps to go. Two other 500 rookies, Ilott and Romain Grosjean, also saw their day end in the wall at Turn 2.

Ericsson Hangs On After Late Red Flag

On Lap 194, Marcus Ericsson was over three seconds ahead of second-place runner O’Ward. Then, Johnson crashed, which brought out a red flag, forcing Ericsson to defend O’Ward, Kanaan and others over a two-lap shootout. Ericsson, describing the ten minutes of red flag time, said it was “…some of the hardest 10 minutes of my life.” When the race went green again, Ericsson had to put on Pagenaud-esque moves to somehow hold off O’Ward, along with the race-clinching move going into Turn 1 on the final lap, where Ericsson somehow stuck it inside on the feisty Mexican driver behind him. Speaking on what it means to win the Indy 500, Ericsson said it was “The biggest win of my life.”

Standings after the Indy 500

As the 500 is a double points event, there is a new championship leader: and his name is Ericsson.

2: O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP – 213 points

4: Will Power, Team Penske – 202 points

5: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske– 174 points

For a full field points rundown, click here.

Takeaways from the Indy 500

  1. Ericsson should be taken seriously now.
  2. Dixon needs to put together a good 500 before he retires.
  3. Palou will get his chance at 500 glory very soon.

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TOP IMAGE: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment