Ericsson takes advantage of Power's misfortune to win first Detroit Grand Prix race

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Will Power was in position to make his boss Roger Penske a happy man Saturday afternoon on Belle Isle when rookie Romain Grosjean crashed with six laps remaining to red flag Race No. 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader.

After the 20-minute delay, Power was unable to resume the race when his No. 12 Chevrolet’s engine was unable to start, preventing Team Penske from earning its first win of the season.

Marcus Ericsson, left, and Rinus VeeKay spray each other with champagne as they celebrate on the podium.

Power was well on his way to winning his 37th race in his 13th season with Team Penske, leading former Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson, Takuma Sato, Pato O’Ward and Power’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud.

Ericsson, who started 15th and is in his second season driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, had a great restart with four laps remaining and led the rest of the way on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course to win his first IndyCar race. He finished second in Race No. 2 on Belle Isle in 2019 for Schmidt/Peterson Racing.

“It’s been such a long time for me, I can’t even remember it, I was a kid the last time I won so I feel so good,” said Ericsson, the 30-year-old Swede and teammate of six-time series champion Scott Dixon and 24-year-old Alex Palou, who entered the day as the points leader.

Ericsson last won in 2013 in the GP2 series, a feeder series for Formula One which he competed in soon after from 2014-18 before joining the IndyCar series in 2019.

Pole sitter Pato O'Ward leads the field during the first race of the IndyCar Detroit Grand Prix auto racing doubleheader on Belle Isle in Detroit Saturday.

“I knew coming here I had my best result two years ago with my second place so I really liked this track then, so I knew coming into this weekend that I had a lot of confidence," Ericsson said. "But, still we had a bit of a disappointing qualifying, but we had a good practice yesterday so we knew we had a good race car. For once things fell my way and it feels really good. The team did a great job and Honda, it was great all day.

“I feel really bad for Will, obviously the way it ended for him. He did a tremendous job today, but it was my day today and it was about time.”

Ericsson became the seventh driver to win in the seven IndyCar races this season. Rinus VeeKay, 20, finished second in the No. 21 Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, followed by O’Ward, Sato and Graham Rahal.

Ericsson is the fourth first-time winner this season. His teammate Palou also earned his first career win (season opener at Alabama), along with VeeKay (Indy Grand Prix) and O’Ward (Texas).

Team Penske is still looking for its first win. Race No. 2 is Sunday at noon.

As thrilled as Ericsson was, Power was just as mad.

“I’m mad at IndyCar because I’m the first car in and they wait until the last car to come to get a fan on their car and it roast the ECU,” 40-year-old Power said. “Just going red flag for starters. The guys up there in race control never listen to any drivers. They never listen. They don’t care. We’ve given them so many good suggestions and they don’t care.

“I worked my ass off today to have this happen. Like I’m screaming on the radio, ‘get a fan, get a fan’ because the ECU always overheat. They wait for everyone and these guys still have air coming in their car. You work your ass off in this sport, so much money goes into it and it’s just dumb decision like that. There’s not a yellow they throw, it’s some stupid idea like this, a red flag.”

Power’s Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden struggled early, sustaining damage to the left rear of his No. 2 Chevrolet on Lap 5, then watching his left tire fly off to all but end his hopes for a top-three finish.

Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay also experienced early problems when he hit the wall on Lap 3 and suffered damage to the left rear of his No. 28 Honda.

O’Ward, the 22-year-old Mexican, won the pole earlier in the day in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet and was competitive throughout.

O’Ward’s teammate, Felix Rosenqvist didn’t fare nearly as well, involved in a scary crash while running in the top 10 on lap 25.

Rosenqvist  experienced problems when the throttle stuck, resulting in his No. 7 Chevrolet going straight into the Turn 6 wall at approximately 90 mph with the nose of the car going through the tire barrier and into the concrete wall, pushing a portion of it over.

Rosenqvist never lost consciousness and was extracted from the car, put on the board and placed in the ambulance.

The race was red flagged on Lap 28, stopped for an hour and 18 minutes while race chairman Bud Denker and his crew repaired the wall so the track would be safe enough to resume action.

“Felix is doing fine, as you know he crashed in Turn 6,” Dr. Geoffrey Billows of the IndyCar medical team said. “He is cautious and alert the entire time. He never lost consciousness. He was talking the entire time. He was having some soreness but had no loss of sensation anywhere.

“We were able to get him out of the car and bring him into the infield care center for preliminary evaluation. We’re sending him downtown to the hospital for some advanced imaging and a more definitive evaluation.”

Said O'Ward: "There was nothing he could have done there, he was just a passenger and it was out of his control so I'm really happy he's OK. We're like brothers. He pumped up the brake and the engine just goes flat out. I know him and I'm pretty sure that wasn't him doing that with his own throttle. I feel for him. It sucks.

"We started on the pole and went backward which I guess is a disappointment. We really had to fight for this podium. I think we really salvaged a lot of points from where we could have finished, just considering how hard it was to pass. The guys did a great job in the pits and I did my job on the track, passed seven on the track and two or three in the pits so that was fantastic."

"I feel for Will. I think he would have walked away with it if we didn't go red."