Marcus Ericsson has completed one lap in his Fast Six qualifying run in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Going into the first turn on his second of four laps, the Swedish racer is going 239.725 mph before turning across the low banking of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
On the timing stand, Ericsson’s race engineer Brad Goldberg is nervous, but hyper-focused. His eyes are glued to the data screens in front of his face, completely unaware of the world around him. A concert or someone yelling at Goldberg wouldn’t even register in his brain. At that moment, Goldberg is hoping that the tires don’t lose adhesion to the track, causing the car to slide and lose speed.
Or even worse, spin and crash into the wall. All of the work on the bodywork to get it to fit just right and reduce the seams would be trashed. All of the bodywork massaging in the offseason would be reduced to a pile of broken carbon fiber in Gasoline Alley.
But Ericsson stayed on track, the car stayed planted and the run ended with an average speed of 232.764 mph to qualify fifth.
The work to get to that point has been full of checking and rechecking notes and feedback to minimize aerodynamic drag and tire falloff. By minimizing one, you help to do the same to the other, and for qualifying weekend that takes on even more importance.
With the turbocharger boost pressure increased for qualifying, Goldberg knows his driver will be on the absolute knife’s edge of adhesion, going so fast that Ericsson actually unofficially set a new trap speed record going into turn 1 in practice of 243.869 mph. Ericsson knows that the team have given him the best possible car they can to compete with the other three Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the Fast Six shootout.
The bond of trust must be strong between Goldberg and Ericsson. Goldberg trusts that Ericsson is giving him the most accurate feedback possible that matches the telemetry on the timing stand so that Goldberg and the mechanics can adjust the car to make everything work better together.
This is a critical part of the relationship between driver and race engineer, one that goes deeper than many other drivers’ relationships with their engineers because of Ericsson’s living situation. Being halfway across the planet from all of the family and friends back home means that Ericsson and Goldberg spend a lot of time together discussing how to get better from a setback, how they will improve for the next race and just hanging out away from racing. The setbacks on ovals in the 2021 IndyCar season brought on a large shift in how the dynamic now works between the two heading toward this year’s IndyCar season.
Ericsson lost many points on ovals in 2021, culminating in a sixth place finish in the championship. Finishes of 19th and 12th at Texas Motor Speedway, 11th at the double-points Indianapolis 500 and 9th at Gateway were going up against two wins on street circuits at Detroit and Nashville, a runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio and eight other finishes in the lower half of the top 10 on road and street circuits.
Ovals became Ericsson’s main focus for improvement. Goldberg structured the debriefs to take advantage of that refocus, and at Texas that strategy paid off. After starting the weekend with the eighth fastest car in the first practice session, Ericsson was 14th in both qualifying and final practice. There was work to be done in the now more structured and direct debriefs.
“Drivers have terms like ‘consistency’ or ‘phases of the corner’ or ‘connectedness.’” Goldberg told Frontstretch. “When [Ericsson] says that, I know what that means. I know what that means in his head. I know what feeling he is referring to, having that library of information from another year, saying, ‘Oh, remember we had this at this exact feeling at Nashville and this is what we did,’ you know?”
Those debriefs let Ericsson give his input on what the car was doing in a more straightforward way, and it helped Goldberg and the crew improve the car at Texas. The car was not good at the start of the race, but Ericsson gave the team feedback during the race on how the car could be changed.
Ericsson’s car got better and better as that race progressed. After 248 laps, a rather anonymous third place was the result. While all of the attention was on the lead battle between Scott McLaughlin and race winner Josef Newgarden, Ericsson worked his way to a podium position while the rest of the crowd and assembled media focused on teammate Jimmie Johnson finishing 6th in his first IndyCar oval race.
There was almost a sense of pity for Ericsson after the race was over. It was his fifth IndyCar podium finish, his second top-five finish on an oval, but all of the attention was focused elsewhere.
But that was okay. Indianapolis was two months away at that point, and that would give Ericsson and Goldberg a larger stage to showcase their changed relationship.
The 106th Indianapolis 500 will air live on NBC on Sunday, May 29 at 11:00 a.m. ET on NBC.
About the author
Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.
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