Marcus Ericsson Starting last ‘makes it a little easier’ to race strategy on Indianapolis road course
INDIANAPOLIS — For most IndyCar Series races, starting at the back of the pack would be a big disadvantage. Passing lots of cars while staying in the pits can really frustrate a driver, especially someone in the middle of a championship fight.
Don’t tell that to Mike O’Gara, race strategist for Marcus Ericsson. Ericsson will start 25th and last for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A mechanical problem stopped the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner’s qualifying race before he had even completed a lap around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.
“It makes (race strategy) a little bit easier,” O’Gara told TobyChristie.com of the late start. “Being in the middle of the field, you can kind of go both ways. So start the last type of opening. We have one more set of red sticker tires than many of these other teams. So we’ll try to use that to our advantage and probably stay on the reds as much as possible throughout the race and try to make up as much time as possible. You know, a yellow flag at the start turns everything upside down.
O’Gara refers to the redwall alternate compound tires that Firestone brings to road and street racing. Alternate compound tires give more grip at the expense of tire life. IndyCar requires every driver to complete at least two laps with a fresh set of each tire compound during the race. This rule has already led to some interesting strategies on the IMS road course.
Graham Rahal stopped cautiously on turn 3 in the May 2021 IMS road race to put on the reds after starting the black primaries. Rahal went from more than 15 seconds behind the second-to-last car on the track to finish fifth. Being ahead can be a blessing for points, but a curse for strategy.
“Running a race is one of the toughest places to call a race,” O’Gara said. “Because you kind of do certain things when you’re in the lead reacting to what the other guys are doing. You’ll see a car take off and start to dive and then everyone will do it on the next lap. So when you’re the leader, it’s hard to do that, but when you’re at the back, you can play a bit and take risks and progress.
The Chip Ganassi Racing team changed the engine of Ericsson’s #8 Honda. Technically, there will be no other changes for Ericsson’s car. Like most race engineers, Brad Goldberg worked on Ericsson’s car setup to be more efficient on the redwall tire compound.
“Now that we have three sets of (red) stickers, life isn’t so bad,” Goldberg said.
O’Gara might feel a little differently though.
“Starting at the back is never fun!”
Ericsson finished 11th in Friday morning practice and Saturday morning warm-up.
The Gallagher Grand Prix will air live on NBC with the broadcast beginning at noon ET. The race will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET.