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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – When every other driver in the NTT IndyCar Series is losing their mind, that seems to be when Marcus Ericsson is in the perfect head space.

Sunday’s season opener was the latest evidence for why the self-proclaimed “Sneaky Swede” has become the most successful stealth star of the circuit.

Cars were going airborne through this city’s normally quiet thoroughfares, vulgarities were being hurled on national TV, and drivers were punching tire barriers in overwhelming fits of anger and frustration.

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Amid the maelstrom of animosity and disappointment that was the Grand Prix of St. Pete, Ericsson scored his fourth career victory while hardly ruffling a rival.

“I’m happy with everyone,” Ericsson said with a laugh. “So I’m good.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was among the lone exceptions in one of the most acerbic IndyCar races in recent memory.

Colton Herta, whose blood pressure might rise above 60 only when he’s slamming his drum kit at 100 mph, was so angry at Will Power for getting stuffed, he called the defending series champion “an ass.”

Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin preemptively made a beeline for an Andretti Autosport hauler to offer an apology and hug to Romain Grosjean, who was seething after their battle for an apparent win ended with both spinning from contention.

Even the always even-keeled Felix Rosenqvist seemed just a wee miffed after old buddy Scott Dixon accidentally squeezed him into the Turn 4 wall and started the Lap 1 chain reaction that left Devlin DeFrancesco inadvertently sticking a pirouette with an 1,800-pound car.

Rosenqvist was out, but Dixon rebounded to finish third while apologizing multiple times to his former teammate. The six-time series champion probably would have won for the first time at St. Pete if not for the fifth and final yellow flag (for Grosjean and McLaughlin).

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But Dixon seemed happy just to get out of the Sunshine State relatively unscathed.

“We’ll definitely take the positives out of it, but it was still a wild weekend for everybody,” said Dixon, who attributed large tailwinds and a resurfacing of Turn 4 for catching out a lot of veterans.. “Having leaders crash out, it was all over the shop.

“Hopefully it played well on TV. It’s good for TV. Obviously you don’t want to see any accidents, but there’s a lot of great competitors out here now. The field is very deep, and you’re going to see that all year now.”

It played so well on the NBC broadcast that IndyCar and VICE Media should be huddling today to consider moving up the late April premiere of the new docuseries, “100 Days to Indy.”

This was the “Drive to Survive”-style drama that the series and its stars have been craving, and at a bare minimum, there should be a thick riff on St. Pete in an upcoming episode.

How about rushing a special preview by the end of March?

After the crew had an hourlong sitdown with Pato O’Ward before the race last weekend. Surely they will want to ask the Arrow McLaren star now about the feeling when your race-winning car inexplicably loses power at the worst point on the track for a few precious seconds that Ericsson took to seize the lead.

“Just very annoying to give it away like that,” said O’Ward, who was extraordinarily composed despite his heartbreak. “Nothing else I could have done. So yeah, we just have to have a look into it. We ended up with some great points. We started the year like we wanted to, right, but they’re very valuable points at the end of the day. We just got 10 points thrown away.”

But the twist of fate is to take nothing away from Ericsson, who pounced when the moment arrived after ruthlessly stalking O’Ward for several laps with a push-to-pass horsepower advantage.

AUTO: MAR 05 INDYCAR Series Streets of St. Petersburg
Marcus Ericsson is making made a habit of victory lane selfies with four IndyCar wins in less than two years (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

In all four of Ericsson’s victories in the bright-red No. 8 Dallara-Honda, there also has been a red flag. Sunday’s red flag was much less consequential than Detroit nearly two years ago when Ericsson won after Will Power had trouble getting started from the lead after engines were refired.

Though red flag races are “our cup of tea,” Ericsson also wanted to stress that it wasn’t just about his team benefiting from good luck.

“It seems when a lot of things are happening in the race, and people are making mistakes, we seem to be able to stay cool,” Ericsson said. “Both me and the car, and the guys on the strategy and pit stops and everything. And we seem to be able to get everything together in those situations.

“All those races are very high-intensity races. It’s not sort of straightforward races. There’s a lot of things happening. You need to be ready to adjust your strategy, pit stops, restarts. There’s a lot of things going on, and we seem to be very good at that. That’s definitely one of our strengths. Not saying we cannot win without the red flag, but it’s definitely been working for us.”

Last year, Ericsson, 32, emerged as a chief championship contender after winning the 107th Indy 500 (his car was strong, but a pit speeding penalty eliminated the race’s strongest car of his teammate Dixon).

Through the summer, reporters and rivals both spoke in amazed tones at how the Formula One veteran, who has been racing ovals only since 2019, had become so consistently good everywhere.

Maybe that skepticism will be gone much earlier in 2023. Perhaps by the time IndyCar reaches Texas Motor Speedway with Ericsson leading the points standings entering the season’s second race April 2.

“It seems whatever I do, people are thinking maybe I don’t deserve it or stuff like that,” he said. “I won a lot of races and been at the top of the championship the last couple years, so I’m just going to keep to that.

AUTO: MAR 05 INDYCAR Series Streets of St. Petersburg
Marcus Ericsson shared a kiss with his girlfriend, Iris Tritsaris Jondahl, after winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“Obviously I didn’t want Pato to have a problem, but from what I heard, the problem was because we were putting pressure on and they did a mistake or he did a mistake. And that’s when these things can happen. I felt bad for Pato, but we were there to pick up on it. If I wasn’t putting pressure on him and hunt him down, he would have been fine, and we would have been second. But we were there right on his gearbox, and we got past.”

Ericsson doesn’t seem miffed by the so-called doubters, mind you. And why would he be? The results eventually will speak for themselves.

And when the attention and widespread respect inevitably begin to rise, he plans to welcome the pressure instead of wilting.

“I’m here to win,” he said. “I want to win a championship. I want to win another 500. That’s our goals, and what other people say doesn’t really matter. But I think we’ve proven last year and the year before that we can be up front and run, fighting for a championship. We just need to keep doing that, and what people say, I don’t really mind too much.

“Yeah. It will be an interesting year.”

Indeed, it certainly promises to be.

Cue that “100 Days to Indy” sizzle reel. And keep those St. Pete highlights handy.

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