Chip Ganassi Racing driver, Felix Rosenqvist has described his debut weekend in the NTT IndyCar Series as “satisfying.” The Swedish rookie qualified his #10 NTT Data Chevrolet in a superb third place and went on to lead the race yesterday before falling back to a finish of fourth place.
Heading into his first race weekend as an NTT IndyCar Series driver, Rosenqvist had a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Having tested numerous times with Chip Ganassi Racing and receiving high praise both times, many people up and down the paddock were already underlining Felix as a potential dark horse this season.
With many miles of testing under his belt in the #10 car, the opening day of practice on the streets of St. Petersburg was dedicated to getting “into the flow” with everything, according to Felix. He would finish the first practice session with the fastest lap-time, having utilized the extra set of Firestone tyres allocated to rookies in first practice. Later in the day, Felix would end practice two in fourteenth, but with a faster lap-time than he set previously due to the evolving track conditions.
“I think it was a really good first day in the NTT DATA car.” Felix said after Friday’s running concluded, “The car felt good from the start. Everything is working smoothly. We’re just trying to get into the flow of it altogether. I was on the Firestone alternate tires this afternoon for the first time, and I learned a lot after screwing up a few laps. I think there is a lot more in the car and I’m excited for tomorrow.”
Rosenqvist would be back inside the top ten once again in final practice on Saturday morning. Heading into qualifying, he was very much of the belief that he could be in contention for pole position.
Felix managed to get a lap-time in early on in the first round of qualifying, which ultimately saved him from a potential elimination, as many drivers were caught out by multiple red flags during the round. In the second round, it looked as though Rosenqvist had just missed out on a spot in the shoot-out for pole position, but a post-session penalty for Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s Colton Herta would see the American demoted and Felix promoted into the final round.
After being given a second chance, Felix was quick to make it pay. Rosenqvist was one of the first to set a lap-time in the short final session, with his lap-time of 1:00.6884 ultimately being enough to secure third place on the grid. He was two-tenths of a second slower than the pole position time set by Team Penske‘s Will Power, but, impressively, he was two-tenths of a second quicker than his reigning champion team-mate, Scott Dixon.
After the session, many hailed Rosenqvist’s performance as the story of qualifying. However, Rosenqvist had a somewhat understated reaction:
“I’m pretty happy overall with the result.” Felix said after qualifying on Saturday, “I’m not even sure yet what exact feedback to give to the team in qualifying, so I didn’t want to change anything on the NTT DATA car. I guess when I get comfortable enough we can have those conversations, which is something to look forward to. We are starting side by side tomorrow as teammates and the golden rule here is to always respect your teammate. Other than that, I just can’t wait to get going tomorrow for the race here at St. Petersburg.”
Heading into yesterday’s race, Rosenqvist was not going into the deep end as much as some might have thought. The Swedish driver has taken part in rolling starts before in his career and he had also previously taken a victory on the streets of St. Petersburg in the Indy Lights series.
Rosenqvist had a decent start and managed to hold off a number of veterans who were starting around him. What’s more, Felix managed to gain a position on the slow-starting Josef Newgarden, moving him up into second place.
Rosenqvist would hang on to the coat-tails of race-leader Will Power in the early stages of the race. However, on the race restart after the first caution, Felix decided that he was done with following the Penske driver. Will had a poor restart on the run down into turn one, which allowed Felix to make a superb dive up the inside into the corner. Felix slightly overcooked the corner thanks to a lock-up, allowing Power the chance to re-take the position into turn two, but Felix superbly held onto the position and went on to open up a healthy lead of almost two seconds.
Felix would go on to lead the second-highest number of laps during the race, staying out front for thirty-one laps before a slow pit-stop saw him fall behind Josef Newgarden, Will Power and his team-mate, Scott Dixon. What’s more, Felix would admit in an interview with motorsport.com after the race that he had suffered a trapped nerve mid-way through the race, forcing him to drive “basically with just one arm” for the final forty laps.
Ultimately, Rosenqvist would cross the line to finish the race in fourth place, which was nevertheless a superb debut race in the IndyCar Series.
Post-race, Rosenqvist would comment that securing a top-five finish was “satisfying” before going on to admit that “some small things” prevented him from winning the race.
“Top five is for sure satisfying, I think there was a bit more in it.” Felix said after the race yesterday, “I think some pit stops there didn’t really go as planned, but the NTT Data Honda was really good today. I think it was a good enough package to win the race. Just some small things didn’t go our way, but I’m really happy to be up here. I really have to thank my team, Chip Ganassi Racing, for starting off the season better than anyone could have expected.”
Rosenqvist’s fourth-place finish meant that he would be the highest classified rookie in the season-opener, with his nearest fellow debutants being Colton Herta in eighth place and Santino Ferrucci in ninth.
The next race of the season will be an opportunity for Rosenqvist to race in more familiar surroundings. The NTT IndyCar Series will head to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the second round of the championship. Felix, like the majority of other drivers on the grid, took part in a two-day pre-season test at the circuit in February.
The 2019 IndyCar Classic at COTA will take place on Sunday, March 24.