(via Toronto Sun) – The Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team is the closest thing to a full-fledged Canadian crew on the NTT IndyCar Series.
Veteran driver James Hinchcliffe hails from Oakville, Ont., teammate Robert Wickens from Guelph, Ont., and co-owner Ric Peterson from Calgary.
Then there’s teammate Marcus Ericsson, who is, shall we say, not entirely familiar with our home and native land.
“I’ve never been to Toronto. It’ll be my first time in Toronto,” said Ericsson, a 28-year-old Swede whose lone visit to Canada has been for the Canadian F1 Grand Prix in Montreal.
Ericsson, who raced in various Formula series in Europe for more than a decade before moving to the U.S. in the off-season to begin his Indy career with Arrow SPM, is sure to feel the love instantly on the Exhibition Place grounds, site of this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto, an 2.89-km, 11-turn, temporary street course that marks the IndyCar series’ lone Canadian stop.
If nothing else, Ericsson, who was added to the Arrow SPM team in the off-season as Wickens recovers from injuries he sustained in a serious crash last summer, should be a fan favourite by association.
“Obviously a new track and everything, but I’m super excited and obviously James, my teammate, has said a lot of good things about the city and the race and a number of things,” Ericsson said. “With James by my side, it makes it very special for the whole team and also with Robbie being there. He’s going to drive (a custom-fitted parade car) and that’s going to make it a very special and emotional weekend and hopefully we can, as a team, have a very strong weekend and strong results.”
The transition from European Formula racing to the top North American open-wheel circuit has not been without its challenges for Ericsson, who drives the No. 7 Arrow SPM Honda (the team has kept Wickens’ No. 6 Honda in reserve for if and when he ever returns to racing). It’s a new continent, new cars, new systems, new tracks, new everything.
“It’s been very interesting. Coming from racing in Europe pretty much all my life, to America, it’s been a big difference for sure. The racing here is a bit different. Everything has been very new for me with all the tracks, all the competitors, the cars, pretty much everything has been new,” Ericsson said. “It’s been a big challenge. It’s a difficult championship. The competition is extremely high. To go up against guys who have been around for many, many years in this series, it’s definitely not easy.”
Ericsson, who resides in Indianapolis where Arrow SPM is headquartered, said adjusting to the series switch has been made easier thanks to the support of his teammates. He has forged a close relationship with both Hinchcliffe and Wickens, and the latter was quick to provide any help he could to his newcomer teammate while also focusing on his rehabilitation.
“I obviously knew of Robbie and I think I maybe met him briefly in Europe, but I didn’t know him more than that before this year,” Ericsson said. “But then when I signed the contract I right away got in touch with him, gave him a call and talked a lot about the series, about his experience, and obviously he was also coming from a similar background, from racing for a long time in Europe and then making the transition to (North) American racing in IndyCar.
“It’s been very good for me to get some advice and ask him about his experiences from last year. That’s been helping me,” the Swedish driver added. “Throughout the year we’ve been keeping in touch before and after race weekends and sometimes during as well. That’s been super helpful, in combination with James’ experience. It’s been a very good environment for me to sort of learn and get up to speed with this series.”
The results have been slower to arrive than Ericsson would like — three top 10s along with some back-of-the-pack finishes through the first 10 races — but a second-place finish in the second race of a dual-race weekend in Detroit and a seventh-place finish at Texas that have come in two of the past three races which should having the driving coming into Toronto with confidence.
“I think the pace has been there from the start, but just the result has not been going our way for different reasons,” said Ericsson, who is 15th in the overall driver standings. “I got the second place in Detroit, my first podium in a long time, that was a great achievement, great for the confidence and for everything. And I’ve been building on that. I really feel like I had some momentum going … that’s the thing, just to keep that going for the second half and continue to fight for the top fives, try and get more podiums and eventually a win. But I definitely feel like, yeah, the momentum is going in my way at the moment.”
NTT IndyCar Series rookie Marcus Ericsson is deeply passionate about hockey, having tended net as a goalie until he was 16 in his native Sweden.
So it’s only natural he would list New York Rangers’ Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist among his favourite NHL players. Ericsson is also a fan of the Anaheim Ducks’ Hampus Lindholm, Arizona Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson and San Jose Sharks superstar Erik Karlsson.
Cautioned to choose his words wisely when asked for his thoughts on former Ottawa Senators great Daniel Alfredsson a few days before arriving at the Honda Indy Toronto, home of many Alfredsson haters, Ericsson didn’t hesitate.
“We’ve had so many great players over the years and he was one of the very best ones,” Ericsson said.
Perhaps sensing he was running the risk of irking Torontonians if he continued, Ericsson added: “The same goes for Mats Sundin.”
It bears mentioning that the Indy driver is also good pals with Danish Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Anderson and brought him to Montreal two years ago as a guest during the F1 event in that city.