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INDYCAR at Detroit: Ericsson wins Race #1; O'Ward beats a dominant Newgarden in Race #2

Ericsson Earns First Career Victory in Wild Race 1 of Chevrolet Dual in Detroit

Detroit, MI, June 12/21 (INDYCAR): In one of the most unpredictable NTT INDYCAR Series seasons ever, Marcus Ericsson pulled off one of the more improbable victories in recent memory in Race No.1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix to earn his first career series victory.

Ericsson held off Rinus VeeKay and Pato O’Ward in a three-lap dash to the checkered flag after the second red flag of the event. Ericsson was in second place in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda when cars entered pit road for the second red-flag period caused when Romain Grosjean crashed with six laps to go.

But Ericsson took the lead on pit lane when the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet of leader Will Power would not restart after the red flag period on a humid, sunny day with an air temperature of 80 degrees. That apparent electrical control unit malfunction completed Ericsson’s charge from a disappointing 15th starting position, as the last five laps of the race – including two under caution – were the only ones Ericsson led all day.

The Swedish driver Ericsson pulled away from VeeKay’s No. 21 car over the closing three laps under green of the 70-lap race, winning by 1.7290 seconds at an average speed of 93.509 mph. O’Ward was third in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, 1.9105 seconds behind Ericsson.

“For once, things fell my way,” Ericsson said. “It feels really good. For Will, I feel really bad for him with the way it ended for him. He did a tremendous job today. But it was my day today, and it was about time.”

Ericsson’s first career win came in his 37th career start over three seasons. His previous best finish was second at this same 14-turn, 2.35-mile temporary street circuit in 2019.

Formula One veteran Ericsson also became the seventh different winner in the first seven races this season, a feat last achieved in 2017 and a milestone reached only in five prior seasons in the series’ century-long history. He is the fourth first-time career winner in 2021, joining Alex Palou, O’Ward and VeeKay.

Power and Ericsson were the dominant drivers in the closing stages of the race. Less than a second separated them once Power took the top spot on lap 54 when leaders Rahal and his RLL teammate Santino Ferrucci – on a different pit stop cycle – pitted on Lap 53.

A hotly anticipated closing duel between 2014 series champion Power and Ericsson vanished when Grosjean hit the wall in Turn 9 on Lap 64. Series officials decided to halt the race under red-flag conditions, with all cars entering the pits. After a break of seven minutes, 29 seconds, the race resumed – without Power at the front of the field.

Power’s ECU apparently malfunctioned, and his crew could not start the car. The crew quickly installed a new ECU, and a dejected Power returned to the track long after the others. He finished 20th, three laps down.

Before the late-race drama, the event had quickly unfolded into a strategic duel with two clear paths.

One group of drivers pitted within the first five laps to shed the soft Firestone alternate “red” tires for the increased durability of the hard Firestone primary “black” tires, choosing a three-stop strategy. O’Ward and VeeKay were among the drivers to choose this option.

The other group of drivers elected to start and stay on the Firestone reds for as long as possible before switching to their primary tires. Ericsson, Power and Sato were among the drivers who chose this option.

Then there was Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe. They were among just four of the 25 drivers who elected to start on primary tires, and they stayed out as long as possible to stretch fuel and tire wear into a two-stop race.

But that strategy – and those of the drivers who pitted early to make this a three-stop race -- sailed into the Detroit River when Felix Rosenqvist crashed heavily in Turn 6 on Lap 25. The throttle on Rosenqvist’s No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet appeared to stick open, and he made heavy contact with the tire barrier and concrete barrier.

Rosenqvist's car speared nose-first into the tire wall and concrete barrier in Turn 6, with an apparent stuck throttle. Rosenqvist was removed from the car by the Safety Team, and he was transported to the infield care center for preliminary evaluation and then transported to a local hospital for more detailed evaluation.

The heavy impact forced the race to be red-flagged while Rosenqvist was removed from his car and the concrete barrier and tire wall were rebuilt.

Racing resumed after a red-flag delay of one hour, 18 minutes. Dixon and Hinchcliffe had to make their first pit stops for fuel immediately, and many drivers who pitted early to switch to primary tires also dove into the pits under yellow for fuel and tires.

That reshuffling placed Power, Ericsson and Sato into the top three on the restart on Lap 30 after the red flag. VeeKay quickly passed Sato for third and joined Power and Ericsson in a three-way joust for the lead by Lap 36.

It was a tough day for the top two drivers in the standings entering this race, Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Palou and Dixon. Palou finished 15th after starting last in the 25-car field, while Dixon ended up eighth.

Palou led Dixon by 36 points entering this event, but that lead was sliced to just 15 over O’Ward, who leaped over Dixon into second. After this race Palou has 263 points, O’Ward 248 and Dixon 237. VeeKay is fourth with 231.

The next IndyCar race will be run tomorrow, Sunday, June 13 here at Belle Isle to compete the double-header weekend of racing

• Click HERE for the Race Results

PHOTO INDYCAR No.2 DETROIT OWARD WINNERPato O'Ward winner of the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit #2 ( Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

Race #2: O’Ward Takes Long Road to Win, Points Lead in Detroit Thriller

Detroit, MI, June 13/21 (Paul Kelly/INDYCAR): Pato O’Ward took the NTT INDYCAR Series points lead with a drive full of championship-caliber mettle, passing Josef Newgarden with three laps remaining to win the Race 2 on Sunday at Belle Isle Park. O’Ward, 22, became the first two-time winner this season in the NTT INDYCAR Series after each of the first seven races had different winners. Previously, he had won on May 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Mexican driver O’Ward, who started 16th, powered away from two-time series champion Newgarden’s No. 2 car after the decisive pass in his No. 5 car and he drove to victory by a 6.7595 second margin. He now leads the championship by one point over Alex Palou, who finished third. O’Ward dedicated his win to teammate Felix Rosenqvist, forced to sit out this race due to a heavy crash in Race 1 Saturday, and longtime McLaren Racing shareholder Mansour Ojjeh, who died June 6.

“I talked to Felix this morning, and the important thing is that he’s OK, but I told him, ‘I’m going to win it for you,’” O’Ward said. “So, this is for him and for Mansour.”

Colton Herta finished fourth in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Graham Rahal placed fifth in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda – identical to his finish Saturday in Race 1.

O’Ward’s charge to the front was breathtaking from the 16th starting position. He passed six cars and jumped to 10th in the opening five laps while racing on the Firestone alternate “red” tires.

But the charismatic O’Ward saved his best maneuvers for last. Romain Grosjean stopped on course with a small fire in his left front brake on Lap 59, triggering the last of three full-course cautions in the race.

On the restart on Lap 63, O’Ward was fifth behind Newgarden, Herta, Palou and Rahal. But O’Ward dove under Rahal in Turn 1 for fourth and then devoured Palou and Herta for second place with defiant, but clean, maneuvers on the same lap.

Then O’Ward set sail for Newgarden while keeping his eye on his mirrors for Herta’s pressure from behind. Herta locked up trying to pass O’Ward for second with three laps to go, effectively ending his chances for victory.

On Lap 68 O’Ward dove under Newgarden for the lead in Turn 7 and drove away to glory. Newgarden led 67 of the first 70 laps, with O’Ward pacing the final three laps.

“He was coming like a freight train,” Newgarden said. “What are you going to do? I just couldn’t do anything. I had so much wheel spin. My rear tires were just shot to death on the last 10 laps. Just trying to be aggressive, and the restarts don’t help you. None of it played into our favor, especially the first caution.”

The race began with polesitter Newgarden as just one of three drivers in the 25-car field to start on the Firestone primary “black” tires. That strategy choice forced Newgarden to stretch his first stint on the harder, more durable primary tires as long as possible, while most of the drivers who started on the softer Firestone alternate “red” tires pitted during the caution created on Lap 1 when Max Chilton’s No. 59 Chevrolet collided with the back of Hinchcliffe’s car in tight traffic.

Newgarden’s lead built to more than 12 seconds before he pitted on Lap 20 for another set of primary tires. He wanted to run longer to reduce the number of laps on the grippier but less-durable alternate tires late in the race. INDYCAR rules mandate that every driver uses the primary and alternate tires in road and street-course races.

Newgarden built a lead of nearly 10 seconds over Herta during his second stint, also on Firestone primary tires, before pitting for slightly used Firestone alternate tires on his last stop, on Lap 46.

That lead was reduced to 4.3 seconds after Newgarden’s final pit stop, and Herta sliced that gap to 0.364 second on Lap 52 before Jimmie Johnson slid through Turn 1 in his No. 48 car on Lap 54, triggering the second full-course caution and packing the field behind Newgarden for a restart.

“It’s hard not to be disappointed,” Newgarden said. “I think we had the car to beat. Cautions at the end, wrong tires at the end. It was a fun strategy. I think we were doing well. It was just the caution that killed us. My rears were shot, and I didn’t really need that. We tried.”

The next race is the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR on Sunday, June 20 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

• Click HERE for the Race #2 Results

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