Why the Andretti/Ericsson deal is a good fit for both sides

Andretti Autosport went searching for an Indianapolis 500 winner and veteran voice to add to those of its young stars, and found exactly what it was looking for in Marcus Ericsson.

Ericsson was searching for validation with a team that saw him as worthy of being paid to drive its race cars, and while Andretti wasn’t his only suitor, he found exactly what he wanted in an outfit that valued his ability to make the team better than it is today.

Together, the confirmed trio of Ericsson, Colton Herta, and Kyle Kirkwood is a powerful one, and in the Swede, who turns 33 next week, Andretti’s receiving someone who is easygoing but is also eager to prove he’s capable of winning in something other than a Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

“I think ‘complement’ is the right word to use for Marcus,” Andretti COO Rob Edwards told RACER. “When Kyle was getting ready to join us towards the end of last year, he said, ‘What can I do to get ready?’ And I said, ‘Become Colton’s best friend.’ Because the more that they can work together, the better it’s going to be. And I just think Marcus is another piece to that.

“He’s got some complementary skills and some pieces that I think he can help the other guys in some ways. And the other guys can obviously help him and it’ll be a good mix amongst the three of them.”

With the recent departures of team leaders Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, Herta, at 23, and Kirkwood, at 24, were thrust into greater leadership positions along with Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco. In Ericsson, who raced alongside established Ganassi champions in Scott Dixon and Alex Palou, Andretti welcomes a driver who also wants to show he can guide a major IndyCar program without being in the shadow of others.

“I think they all lead in their own way,” Edwards said. “Kyle’s impressed us with his work ethic. Colton has been great with the new additions to the team, making them feel part of the team. With Marcus, age isn’t a defining attribute, but you have to look at how he’s elevated his game over the last few years.”

And with its last Indy 500 win being recorded in 2017, Andretti’s onboarding someone who knows the fastest way around the Speedway, which should make an impact in May.

“You have to look at Indianapolis, obviously, between the win and finishing second this year,” Edwards said. “He’s clearly got a really good handle on that. So we’re really looking for the three of them to feed off each other to maintain the strength that we’ve got, which is particularly street courses recently and, to a lesser extent, road courses. I think we need to elevate on the ovals and Penske is the benchmark on ovals. And we certainly need to focus on that and see Marcus as someone that can definitely help us there.”

The enthusiasm for what Andretti has in its new lineup is felt throughout the team.

“When you look at Penske and Ganassi, they’ve had a group of great drivers that all complement each other and work well together for multiple years, and that’s the intention with what we’re putting together with Marcus and Colton and Kyle,” Edwards said.

Andretti will be hoping Ericsson’s Indy mojo will help the team roll out of Gasoline Alley in good shape next May. Jake Galstad/Motorsport Images

“The aim is to have a group of drivers that we can really build the team around for a long period of time, give us that continuity, that strength, and to continue to go forward. There’s a lot of excitement internally about what we’re doing.”

Ericsson’s confirmation is the first in a series of developments for 2024 and beyond that Andretti will be announcing. Although the team and driver declined to discuss the topic, Grosjean is not expected to return after his two-year contract is completed after the September 10 season finale at Laguna Seca, and Ericsson is likely to step into Grosjean’s No. 28 Honda next season.

DeFrancesco, who the team previously confirmed will be vacating the No. 29 Honda, is in active discussions with multiple teams, and Grosjean is also known to have some options ​to explore​ in the paddock ​.

With its new trio in place, RACER understands the Andretti team is contemplating whether it would be better to stick with four full-time entries, or if it would become more competitive by downsizing to three cars, as Penske did in 2022.

There’s said to be a possibility for a new co-entrant or two to join the No. 29 program and bring a recent IndyCar driver back to the series in the car, but Edwards wouldn’t be drawn on whether the team is preparing to focus ​strictly on Ericsson, Herta, and Kirkwood, or if it will seek to keep the No. 29 entry in motion with a fourth driver included in the mix.

“There’s not a direction on anything there anytime soon,” he said.“There’ll be a number of announcements between now and Monterey, and the message clearly with what we’re doing by adding Marcus is, we want to make sure that we’re doing ​​everything right. So over the next couple of weeks, the rest of the pieces will emerge.”

For now, we know Andretti has Ericsson and his four wins to stack alongside Herta’s seven and the two Kirkwood’s delivered this season. Throw in Ericsson’s consistency with back-to-back finishes of sixth in the championship for Ganassi — he’s currently sixth again — and his metronomic ability to reach the finish line in a strong position will be a great asset to Andretti.

After a few too many boom-or-bust years for Andretti, a steadying influence like Ericsson, who produced 12 top 10s from 17 races in 2022, and has 12 top 10s from 14 so far in 2023, should do wonders for a team that has struggled to reach its full potential. Also consider his advanced oval skills and all he’s learned on that subject at Ganassi that comes with him, and this is a great move for all involved.

But make no mistake about what lies ahead for Ericsson. Beating Dixon and Palou hasn’t been easy, and the task ahead in matching or exceeding Herta and Kirkwood at most rounds is just as big of a challenge for anyone brave enough to line up next to them.

This will be the biggest test of Ericsson’s career. And the best thing about it is, he knows it and wants to continue reframing his name and reputation until he’s viewed as one of IndyCar’s truly elite talents. A single Indy 500 win won’t do it. Placing sixth in the championship won’t do it. But helping to bring Andretti back to victory lane at the Brickyard and returning the team to contending for titles would go a long way to asserting himself as a major player among this generation’s best IndyCar drivers.

The future holds the answers to whether he’s destined to become an all-time great, and I love the spirit behind his decision. He could have accepted Ganassi’s offer to stay, but that would have been the safer option. Good on Ericsson for embracing the harder road ahead and the willingness to test his mettle against a pair of young nightmares. His crucible starts in 2024.

Story originally appeared on Racer