Michelle R. Martinelli
He was out front on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s mammoth 2.5-mile track, only a few miles from his first Indy 500 win and third win of his four-season IndyCar Series career since switching from Formula 1. But when Ericsson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jimmie Johnson, crashed, the red flag came out, halting the race and evaporating his substantial lead.
So for about 10 minutes, Ericsson and the what was left of the Indy 500 field waited on pit road, strategizing.
For 31-year-old Ericsson, it was all about a strong restart for the two-lap shootout that would follow. He had to get out front and hold off his hard-charging competitors, Pato O’Ward and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan.
Showing off some masterful defense, Ericsson fended off O’Ward for the thrilling final five miles of the race.
And as the Swedish racer led the field through the last lap with the checkered flag practically in sight, a yellow caution flag came out for an incident, ending the race and making Ericsson the 2022 Indy 500 champ when he crossed the finish line at the Yard of Bricks.
For The Win spoke with Ericsson on Monday, less than 24 hours after his dramatic victory.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
For The Win: First off, congratulations! What does it feel like to be the latest Indy 500 champion?
Ericsson: I’m still sort of trying to wrap my head around the fact that I won that race. It’s the biggest race in the world, and it’s something you work so hard (for), and you sort of dream of it for so long. And to actually do it and actually win it is just, yeah, it’s just an unreal feeling. So it’s gonna take a while to sort of understand that it’s real, I think.
FTW: So the red flag comes out, four laps to go and two after the restart. When you were sitting on pit road for 10 minutes or so, what did those few minutes feel like for you in the driver’s seat just waiting?
Ericsson: It was some of the toughest minutes of my life, for sure, because I knew how close I was to winning this race and how much just race means. So it was hard to sort of keep focused.
I was, first of all, I was so angry that that red flag came out because I had the race won pretty much. I was counting down the laps, had a big gap to (Pato O’Ward in second). So I was just praying for not a yellow flag or a red flag, and then that happens.
And, of course, I had to regroup myself and refocus and make a plan for those last two laps and sort of figure out a way to still win. So it was very, very tough. It was very tough mentally to sort of stay sharp. But I had a plan in my head when we restarted, and I follow that plan to a millimeter, and it worked out.
FTW: What was that plan, knowing that there was a two-lap shootout, and you had a target on your back because you had the lead?
Ericsson: The plan for me, it was to try and break Pato’s toe, so it was kind of trying [to] weave on the straights to make it harder for him to follow me. And then I make sure I covered the inside line into (Turn 1) because I knew that was the best spot for him to overtake. So it was all about trying to do that and hoping that would be enough.
FTW: You were weaving all over the track. It sort of felt like watching a video game. Did it feel like that as you were driving, trying to keep Pato O’Ward at a distance?
Ericsson: I was doing everything possible to try and keep him behind. And you know, you have to take all the tricks up your sleeve to try and make that work. It was pretty, pretty intense out there for sure.
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FTW: A lot of Indy 500 winners say that they win the race, and that makes them want to win another one even more. Do you already have your eye on the 2023 Indy 500?
Ericsson: I do, yes. First of all, I’m gonna go and try and win a championship because we’re leading the championship now after this weekend. So that’s the next goal. But of course, yeah, you win one here and see how amazing and special it is, it’s just want to make you win more.
FTW: After you won team owner Chip Ganassi climbed in onto your car for a moment in victory lane. What did you say to you in that moment?
He was just so happy, and [said], “I knew you could do it,” and stuff like that. You could see how much he meant to him as well. It’s been 10 years since he won this race, and he deserved it. He’s putting such a good team there, and I’m so proud to be part of the organization. And this month, either one of us five Ganassi cars could have won that race because we were so fast all month. So I’m just super happy to be part of that team.
Did you know that the caution flag had come out right at the very end of that last lap? Did you know that you had won it before you actually crossed the finish line?
Yeah, I did. I saw the caution come out, and then in the last corner, I realized this is going to be the checkered flag. So it was very cool those last seconds before finishing the lap and taking the checkered flag and sort of realizing the explosion of feelings for sure.
Have you slept at all?
Did you get a chance to celebrate with your team at all yet?
No, but my family’s here from Sweden and my girlfriend and some others, like sponsors. So we went out for dinner last night, and I was super nice. I was trying to sleep. I couldn’t fall asleep because I was too excited, and then when I eventually fell asleep, I woke up like two hours later because I couldn’t sleep. So I’m exhausted, but I’m excited at the same time.
What’s been the best thing about the last 20 or so hours since you won the Indy 500?
It’s hard to pick one moment. But I think the milk is obviously such a special thing here for the 500. And it’s something you picture in your head that you dream of for so long. So I think that was very special. And then I think the victory lap, waving to all the fans was also so cool to sort of try and take it all in.
What did that milk tastes like?
It tasted amazing. It was very cold and good.
How long did you stay in your milk-covered fire suit?
Until like 8 p.m. last night. And I’m still in it now. I mean, I got out of it to sleep but I’m still in it now. It smells good (laughs).