Former F1 drivers see European curiosity rising in IndyCar

INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Ericsson thought of racing in America even earlier than his Formulation One contract expired.

The Indianapolis 500 debut of Fernando Alonso 4 years in the past intrigued the younger Swedish driver, and when he began watching, he noticed a good, entertaining open-wheel sequence the place anybody might win.

So when Ericsson turned a free agent in 2020, he jumped on the likelihood to hitch powerhouse IndyCar workforce Chip Ganassi Racing. In the present day, Ericsson could not be happier and he sees rising curiosity from different Europeans.

“I feel Europe is extra on this sequence with me, Alonso and (Romain) Grosjean coming right here,” Ericsson mentioned. “Extra persons are speaking about it, watching it. There are nonetheless some questions within the paddock concerning the ovals, however the curiosity is certainly rising over there.”

It is exhibiting up on the races, too.

Eight of the 33 starters in final weekend’s Indy 500 had F1 expertise, together with Ericsson, who logged 97 begins abroad, and Swiss Simona de Silvestro, a former take a look at driver. The listing additionally contains two-time Indy 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Takuma Sato, 2016 race champ Alexander Rossi and Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time Indy winner and two-time world champion Emerson Fittipaldi.

The youthful Fittipaldi obtained his first style of IndyCar in 2018 when he began six instances for Dale Coyne’s workforce. Fittipaldi spent the subsequent two seasons working for Haas F1 alongside Grosjean and ultimately changed his injured teammate for the ultimate two races final season. So when Coyne supplied Fittipaldi an opportunity to reunite with Grojsean and drive IndyCar’s oval races this season within the No. 51 automotive, Fittipaldi rapidly signed up.

“It’s a really pure type of racing, very uncooked racing,” he mentioned. “In testing IndyCars in the course of the preseason, it’s a must to discover issues within the suspension to make higher and there are such a lot of completely different methods, you simply race.”

Grosjean appears proper at dwelling within the U.S., too. After claiming the Indy Grand Prix pole in early Could, his first on a significant circuit in 10 years, the French driver advised reporters he was desirous about shifting his household to the U.S. The subsequent day, Grosjean made his first main podium look since 2015.

Curiosity in American open-wheel racing waned after the 1995 break up between CART and the IRL, with many considering the 2 competing sequence had grow to be watered-down variations of an already inferior racing product, regardless of the attractiveness of successful Indy.

For a lot of the subsequent quarter-century, F1 drivers got here to America as a result of they have been out of choices.

Not anymore.

“In my view, and also you’re by no means going to get a transparent or passable reply, however I feel all people — whether or not it is F1, IndyCar or NASCAR — the highest expertise is identical,” two-time IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden mentioned. “Sure, we do completely different disciplines, however I feel the expertise degree is identical.”

Alonso’s outcomes helped change the picture, too.

Worldwide race followers weren’t stunned when the two-time world champ from Spain certified fifth in 2017 and contended for the race win till an engine failure knocked him out with 21 laps to go. Alonso then did not qualify for the 2019 race and he completed twenty first in final yr’s race.

“I’m a racer and the Indy 500 is the best race on this planet,” he mentioned afterward.

Nonetheless, his participation was a reminder of the lengthy, wealthy custom of drivers shuttling between the 2 sequence.

From 1950 to 1960, the worldwide governing physique awarded factors towards the world championship primarily based on their Indy performances. Although many declined, Alberto Ascari and his Ferrari-powered entry in 1952 and five-time world champ Juan Manuel Fangio at Indy in 1958 emerged on the forefront of a brand new development to race at Indy.

Over the subsequent decade, F1 stars turned a distinguished function every Could.

Two-time F1 champ Sir Jack Brabham completed ninth in 1961. The march included Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Sir Jackie Stewart and Jochen Rindt — all world champions. Clark drove to victory in 1965 and Hill following go well with in 1966. Hill stays the one driver to win auto racing’s triple crown — the five hundred, Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix.

A brand new era of makes an attempt started in earnest after the elder Fittipaldi received at Indy in 1989. Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell every made two begins between 1992 and 1994, and when Fittipaldi picked up his second Indy win in 1993, Mansell, the 1992 F1 champ, completed third and was named the Indy 500 rookie of the yr.

Often, the migration has gone the opposite method.

Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indy winner, made 131 F1 begins and received the 1978 world title. His son, Michael, made 13 begins with McLaren’s F1 workforce in 1993 earlier than returning full-time to Indy automobiles the subsequent season.

Different People who competed in F1 embrace Dan Gurney, who’s credited with beginning the champagne celebration after spraying A.J. Foyt following their win at Le Mans in 1967; two-time Indy winner Rodger Ward and 1972 Indy winner Mark Donohue, Roger Penske’s first Indy winner; and 1985 Indy champ Danny Sullivan.

Alonso’s try to match Hill’s triple-crown feat helped make IndyCar appear cool in Europe once more.

“I feel when Fernando came to visit was once they began watching,” IndyCar workforce proprietor Michael Andretti mentioned. “I feel they get pleasure from what they’re seeing as a result of if you’re a racer, you realize what good racing is. In F1, it is largely concerning the automotive and in the event you’re behind, it is arduous to catch up. However right here you will be twenty fifth one week and nonetheless win the subsequent. They see that.”

The McLaren workforce that fielded F1 automobiles for many years gave Alonso his first two Indy begins and made it three straight when it returned to the sequence full-time in 2020, ending a 41-year absence. Arrow McLaren SP put three automobiles in final weekend’s 500.

Grosjean and Fittipaldi acknowledged they know of different F1 drivers who may make the bounce.

“I wouldn’t be stunned to see extra F1 drivers seeking to come right here,” Ericsson mentioned. “I choose racing an Indy automotive. But when I had an empty monitor on a take a look at day, I choose an F1 automotive as a result of the speeds within the corners are simply loopy.”

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Extra AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports activities

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