Marcus Ericsson wins Indy 500 after late red flag

What seemed like an easy and sure win turned into one of the most dramatic finishes in recent memory, as Marcus Ericsson held on after a late restart to win the 106th Indianapolis 500.

With five laps to go, Ericsson, a 31-year-old Swedish driver, held a nearly three-second lead over Pato O’Ward, the 23-year-old Mexican driver for Arrow McLaren SP. But a late crash by Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion competing in his first Indianapolis 500, brought out a red flag that stopped the race with four laps remaining.

In a two-lap shootout after the restart, Ericsson veered left and right to disrupt the slipstream and repel an intense charge from O’Ward to take the checkered flag.

“I knew the car was pretty quick, but it was still tough,” Ericsson told NBC after the race. “I had to do everything there to keep them behind. I can’t believe it, I’m so happy.

The thrilling finish was to a packed house – the first of the 500 in two years due to the pandemic – as IndyCar continues to battle Formula 1 for the attention of open-wheel racing fans .

Ericsson, who went five years without a win in Formula 1 before joining the IndyCar series in 2019, started the day ranked second and calmly hovered in the top 10 for most of the race. His victory was the first Indianapolis 500 victory for the Chip Ganassi Racing team in 10 years.

Two of Ericsson’s teammates at Ganassi dominated for much of the race. New Zealand’s Scott Dixon, a six-time IndyCar Series champion who started the day on pole position, traded top spot with teammate Álex Palou of Spain for the opening laps. A poorly timed pit stop by Palou – moments after a warning flag closed pit road – sent him to the back of the field and essentially ended his chance for victory.

Dixon, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2008, continued to lead for most of the race until a speeding penalty during his final pit stop ruined his bid for a second win.

Helio Castroneves, the popular Brazilian driver, was hoping for a record fifth victory at the Indianapolis 500 after taking his fourth last year. Starting 27th, he patiently worked his way through the pack, finishing seventh.

Johnson, one of the most accomplished drivers in NASCAR history, had qualified with an impressive 12th place finish, but a tentative start saw him lose ground early and run near the back of the field during the most of the race before his late accident triggered the final drama of the race.

The crowd, which IndyCar officials said approached 325,000, marked a return to normal after two years of Covid disruption. In 2020, the race was postponed to August with no spectators allowed, and last year’s attendance was capped at 135,000, or about 40% of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s capacity.

Sunday’s race capped off a busy month of open-wheel racing in the United States. Earlier in May, Formula 1 hosted its first Miami Grand Prix, a star-studded spectacle that won the highest ever US television ratings for a live Formula 1 race.

As global motorsport continues to grow in popularity, fueled in part by the Netflix series “Drive to Survive”, there is uncertainty over whether Formula 1 will threaten or boost the North American-based IndyCar series. Formula 1 held its legendary Monaco Grand Prix earlier today.

But after American racing mogul Roger Penske bought IndyCar in 2020, some – like Colombian IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished 11th in Sunday’s race – are optimistic about the future of the series.

“IndyCar is really on the rise right now,” Montoya said earlier this month. “And with Roger Penske taking over and Formula 1 gaining momentum in the United States, it’s exciting to think about what the next few years have in store for us.”

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