What might have been: How a future tin-top ace was thwarted in IndyCar - Motor Informed
IndyCar

What might have been: How a future tin-top ace was thwarted in IndyCar

It’s not altogether uncommon for drivers to make a single look in a sequence after which disappear off to strive their luck elsewhere. Nevertheless it’s far much less frequent to see a driver make a sequence of one-off appearances over various years, sufficiently proficient to be repeatedly requested again, however with out it ever resulting in something extra.

Such a state of affairs befell Fredrik Ekblom in IndyCar, though his thwarted efforts to turn into a fixture on the grid weren’t for an absence of making an attempt. The Swede made three appearances in as a few years between 1994 and 1996, every time for a unique crew, earlier than heading again to Europe for a profitable profession in touring automobiles that yielded three home titles and 4 additional runner-up finishes.

“In the long run, I had such a giant chunk of contracts that by no means took place I bought fed up and I went again to Sweden,” says Ekblom, who at the moment works as a gross sales supervisor at a Porsche dealership in Orebro.

In his first season of driving the UK circuits as a 20-year-old contemporary from System three, Ekblom had come the closest to denying Paul Warwick the posthumous honour of claiming the 1991 British System 3000 title with a hattrick of wins within the closing rounds. That ought to have set him on his solution to the larger leagues, however a sponsor shortfall prevented him from stepping as much as the Worldwide sequence for 1992, and he was racing Porsches in Sweden “as a result of I had no cash in any respect and I might kind of drive at no cost” when a pathway to IndyCar opened up.

Approached for an Indy Lights drive at Mid-Ohio with Bradley Motorsports by crew supervisor Mike Collier, who had beforehand run profitable F3000 outfit GA Motorsport, Ekblom accepted out of curiosity.

“I had no cash, however I had a [road] automobile, so I bought the automobile, I took the cash and I put the whole lot on one go,” he remembers.

He completed second on his debut, and the prize cash paid for an additional outing at Laguna Seca, ending sixth. For 1993, he was approached by Brian Murphy to drive at Lengthy Seaside in an ageing March – “I had $eight,000 in a brown paper bag and paid for the trip in money on the morning of the race” – and beat a number of much-newer Lolas, incomes a chance to complete the season and rating a finest end of second at Portland.

Ekblom was strapped for cash in the early days of his career and had to sell his road car to fund a drive in Indy Lights

Ekblom was strapped for money within the early days of his profession and needed to promote his highway automobile to fund a drive in Indy Lights

Photograph by: Tony Welam

“We had no cash principally, however we did the races,” he says. “I had a superb title within the States so I by no means paid something to drive in IndyCar. That’s additionally why I solely did three races…”

He signed to drive Dennis McCormack’s year-old Lola in 1994, however solely managed a single race at Detroit – the place with no testing apart from 10 laps of Putnam Park to get the required license he certified a good 20th, forward of Scott Goodyear and Scott Sharp. Within the race, he completed 15th after choosing up a puncture in touch with Christian Danner.

“We signed a contract,” remembers Ekblom, “and [McCormack] mentioned, ‘I feel you’re a terrific expertise, I hope I can discover the cash and if I can, you’ll be able to drive’. And I didn’t have something so I assumed, ‘Yeah, let’s try this’. After that race, Claude Bourbonnais took the drive with Gamers’ cash.”

“I used to be going to be paid, and [Brix] simply mentioned, ‘Effectively, we’re not going to do it’ and that got here in February or one thing” Fredrik Ekblom

The sense of disappointment was already acquainted to Ekblom. Indy Lights boss Roger Bailey had inspired Pat Patrick to signal Ekblom as a check driver for 1994 to develop the Firestone tyres that his revered crew would use for 1995. A contract was signed, however Patrick determined as an alternative to take the extra skilled Scott Pruett.

“Once you don’t convey something to the desk greater than driver expertise, they do no matter they need,” says Ekblom. “Patrick thought for no matter purpose that Scott Pruett was the higher alternative – and doubtless he was, as a result of I didn’t have any expertise.

“I needed to acquire the expertise to do a superb job for Firestone. However that will have left me with a variety of operating within the automobile and that will have been good for me.”

Ekblom spent 1995 racing in sportscars, successful his class on the Daytona 24 Hours with a Brix Racing Spice. His team-mate Jeremy Dale’s horrifying accident at Street Atlanta contributed to Ekblom not ending the season, however crew proprietor Harry Brix had seen sufficient and needed the hard-charger to steer his nascent IndyCar programme for 1996.

Ekblom ended up racing a Spice in IMSA in 1995 after missing out on the drive at Patrick and won his class on his way to finishing second at the Daytona 24 Hours

Ekblom ended up racing a Spice in IMSA in 1995 after lacking out on the drive at Patrick and gained his class on his solution to ending second on the Daytona 24 Hours

Photograph by: William Murenbeeld / Motorsport Images

Nevertheless, on the eleventh hour Ekblom was dropped for Parker Johnstone – who would end second at Lengthy Seaside – as crew backer Motorola expressed its choice for an American driver. As a outstanding distributor of its merchandise, Brix’s arms have been tied.

“I used to be going to be paid, and so they simply mentioned, ‘Effectively, we’re not going to do it’ and that got here in February or one thing,” Ekblom says.

He was once more left excessive and dry, with no alternative to reprise the one-off outing he’d had on the 1995 Laguna Seca finale for AJ Foyt Racing following its break up with Eddie Cheever. There Ekblom certified 21st and completed a twice lapped 20th, a end result that he was dissatisfied by “as a result of I wasn’t near the tempo”.

“I got here to the racetrack within the morning and I did a seat-fitting,” remembers Ekblom, whose compatriot Kenny Brack would go on to win the 1998 IRL title and the next 12 months’s Indianapolis 500 with Foyt. “Eddie Cheever is sort of tall additionally, so I took his race go well with and simply swapped his title on the belt after which I jumped in.

“You assume whenever you’re younger, ‘I can overcome the whole lot and do it anyway’ nevertheless it’s not potential. I wasn’t actually proud of the end result.

“AJ was the race engineer, kind of. I informed him, ‘I’ve some oversteer right here and there’, and he mentioned: ‘I had the identical in ’68 and we modified the springs within the rear, so let’s try this once more!’”

Bailey advocated Derrick Walker to choose up Ekblom for the 1996 US 500, held on the identical weekend as the primary post-split Indy 500 at Michigan, after Goodyear had harm his again at Rio. Regardless of utilizing an older XB Cosworth engine than the XD behind team-mate Robby Gordon’s automobile, Ekblom was solely two locations behind him in 23rd at a monitor the place energy is the whole lot.

Another missed opportunity came in 1996 when Brix Racing dropped Ekblom at the 11th hour, instead hiring Parker Johnstone to satisfy Motorola's desire for an American driver

One other missed alternative got here in 1996 when Brix Racing dropped Ekblom on the 11th hour, as an alternative hiring Parker Johnstone to fulfill Motorola’s want for an American driver

Photograph by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

With the world watching, the multiple-car pileup that precipitated the race to be red-flagged earlier than the beginning was the kind of PR personal aim you simply couldn’t make up. Ekblom was rammed from behind by Jeff Krosnoff, who had swerved to keep away from Gordon, and was given his team-mate’s back-up automobile for the restart.

“He crashed my automobile, which was a bit fortunate for me – I assumed – as a result of then I might take Robby Gordon’s spare automobile, and he had a automobile with the newest engine,” says Ekblom. “I used to be kind of cramped in there, after which the engine stopped after 11 laps. However I overtook Stefan Johansson earlier than it broke, and he’s a hero right here in Sweden after all so I used to be proud of that a minimum of.”

Ekblom has little question that he might have been simply as profitable as Brack would go on to be, given a secure surroundings to function in, however for all of the frustrations of his IndyCar dalliances says he doesn’t have any regrets that he couldn’t present his finest.

“I feel I might have carried out a superb job if we had gotten a superb, correct deal, however ultimately I didn’t pay something to drive an IndyCar, that’s not that many individuals that may say” Fredrik Ekblom

“You possibly can’t say no, you simply need to take the possibility, I had no alternative actually,” he says. “I assumed it was a terrific alternative to a minimum of drive and get some expertise and you then by no means know what can occur.

“There are such a lot of drivers which can be actually good and so they by no means get to drive something. I feel I might have carried out a superb job if we had gotten a superb, correct deal, however ultimately I didn’t pay something to drive an IndyCar, that’s not that many individuals that may say.”

He made three Le Mans begins with Braveness between 1997 and 1999, and was a winner in BMW’s M3 GTR earlier than it was pressured into an early retirement following the 2001 American Le Mans Sequence, however Ekblom’s best successes would are available in touring automobiles.

He gained the Swedish Touring Automotive Championship in 1998 in a West Coast Racing BMW, then repeated the feat in 2003 in a Kristoffersson Motorsport Audi earlier than taking a 3rd STCC title in 2007 again with West Coast. He additionally gained the one-off TTA League in 2012 (a breakaway from the STCC earlier than they merged once more for 2013) and completed runner-up on an additional 4 events – lacking out by seven factors in 2008, two in 2011 and 10 in 2015. He known as time on his STCC profession in 2018, after once more ending runner-up the 12 months earlier than.

Ekblom went on to win three STCC and one TTA title in a hugely successful touring car career

Ekblom went on to win three STCC and one TTA title in a vastly profitable touring automobile profession

Photograph by: JamesHolm.se




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