INDIANAPOLIS – There’s something you should know about Marcus Ericsson, defending Indianapolis 500 champion: He’s as comfortable at 240 mph in his race car as he is at 24 mph in his daily driver.
Don’t expect stoplight burnouts, hard braking and heavy g-loads in the turns when Ericsson is at the wheel of his Acura MDX Type S. He certainly doesn’t drive it foot-to-the-floor like he does his Honda-powered Dallara for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“People jump in the passenger seat with me and they expect me to go super fast,” said the 32-year-old Swedish driver, in his fifth IndyCar Series season after driving Formula 1 for five years. “It’s cruise control for me. I appreciate sports cars, but I’m more of an SUV guy. I like comfort when I drive on the road. People say, ‘But you’re a racing driver!’ I tell them, ‘Hey, I go fast on the race track but I don’t need to do it on the road.’ ”
Ericsson isn’t alone among his IndyCar competitors, content to buckle in, turn on some tunes and ease on down the road.
Grossjean, a Formula 1 veteran driving in his second Indy 500, owns a Lamborghini Urus but he’s most often behind the wheel of his Honda Ridgeline pickup.
“I just drive like a dad,” he said. “Slowly.”
The Indy 500 veteran is perhaps the leader of the exotic-car crowd among Indy 500 drivers. He has been cruising into the speedway drivers’ lot this month in a 1991 Porsche 911 by Singer. It’s one of the perks of owning Graham Rahal Performance, an Indianapolis shop that restores and sells some of the highest-end sports cars.
“We just finished the Singer after about four years,” Rahal said. “I love the purity of the old 911s and Singer takes it to a whole different level. I’ve been fortunate that I get to drive a lot of cool stuff because I own the company. The other day I drove a LaFerrari and I’ve driven (McLaren) P1s, (Porsche) 918s and Carrera GTs. You name it, we’ve had it through there.
“I mean, as the boss I’ve gotta make sure they work, right? Gotta make sure there’s no check-engine light.”
Rahal doesn’t need a fast car to have a great driving experience. He owns a 1964 Mini Cooper that’s as satisfying to drive as a supercar.
“The Mini is not fast, but it will put a smile on your face that no modern supercar will,” he said. “I’ve really trended toward the older stuff because it’s so pure and so raw that it excites and awakens all the senses.”
The 911 by Singer that Graham Rahal has been driving to Indy 500 practices. (Kirby Arnold)
Two-time Indy 500 winner Sato also owns a classic Mini Cooper, a performance Mini produced by the John Cooper Garages, and a Honda Beat, a 1990s two-seater with 656cc of mid-engine bliss. Those couldn’t be more different than the 700-horsepower IndyCar that Sato will drive in the 500, but that’s the point.
“Performance is relative, isn’t it?” Sato said. “The Mini is such a tiny car, you wouldn’t get any speed like a Porsche or Ferrari. But the feeling is more fun. Any car with wheels and pedals, I love it.”
The former 500 winner loves the classics, especially from his native France. The prize of his large collection is a 1984 Renault 5 Turbo 2 Evolution, the 200th of 200 that were made.
“It’s a very special car,” Pagenaud said. “The rally history behind it, for me, is a passion. It’s from my birth year so it’s very special to me. I drive it every week.”
Peugeot, Citroen and Porsche also mark his collection, along with a nice group of BMWs that cover every version of the M3s that were produced.
“The M3s have been a passion because my dad had M3s when I grew up,” Pagenaud said. “I just acquired an actual E46 CSL, which is very rare. I’m very proud of that.”
Pagenaud’s wife Hailey found a rare 1989 Porsche Turbo – a car so wickedly powerful that it was nicknamed “Widowmaker” before it was discontinued that year.
“It’s a very good investment for the future, but also for my love of cars,” he said.
Pagenaud also is smitten with American muscle, especially the Chevrolet Corvette pace car he received after winning the 2019 Indy 500.
“The Corvette pace car is obviously a trophy car which I don’t drive,” Pagenaud said. “But I love to look at it.”
One of his favorites to drive is the 1968 Mustang fastback he had restored/modded nine years ago.
“With my wife, we built it how we wanted it to look and how we wanted it to drive,” he said. “I drive that probably two, three times a week on average.”
Herta owns a BMW M8 Competition, a 600-horsepower all-wheel-drive machine capable of close to 190 mph. But his Honda Civic Type R gives him a complete feel for the road.
“The driving experience of the Honda is so much fun because it’s a manual (transmission),” said the 23-year-old who’ll race in his fifth 500. “It’s a great car to pound around in. It’s very light, very agile. And it’s got a great RPM Range, a great power band and it kicks off the limiter like no other road car that I’ve driven. I just pound that thing to the store.”
Sting Ray Robb restored this FJ40 when he was in high school. He now drives a Honda Passport.
Sting Ray Robb
Robb, a rookie IndyCar driver, is only 21 but loves the classics. (And yes, Sting Ray is his given name. His parents are longtime Corvette enthusiasts.)
“I had a 1973 Toyota Land Cruiser growing up in high school,” Robb said. “I restored that, worked on it, did a motor swap on it, everything. I really love old classic cars. It’s that analog era. You can feel it, you can smell it and have an experience with it.”
He sold the Land Cruiser a few years ago when his racing career took off and left him little time to drive and tinker with it. He now drives a Honda Passport.
“We were gone so much racing that when I’d start it up I’d have to work on it,” he said. “That was fun while I was home, but it’s nice to have something that’s good and reliable.”
This 21-year-old who’s one of the promising young drivers in the series sheepishly admits he drives an EV.
“Nobody hate me,” he said. “But I drive a Tesla. All I have to worry about is windshield wiper fluid, and it gets me from A to B with no problem. I drive it like a grandma.”
Well, not always. His Tesla is a Model S Plaid – built for performance and capable of zero to 60 mph in less than 2½ seconds. With the capability of that car, Malukas admits he’s ready to launch if someone challenges him at a stoplight.
“I may have the groceries in the back,” he said. “But if someone in a sports car pulls up to me, I can just push a little button and absolutely smoke them if I want to.”
Unless, that is, the car at the stoplight is driven by IndyCar veteran Marco Andretti. He raves about his Lamborghini Urus.
“It’s the best overall car,” he said. “You can go get groceries in it, and then you can kick everybody’s butt off the line too. I love that car.”