Felix Rosenqvist has claimed the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series rookie of the year honours after finishing in fifth place in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Rosenqvist put in a stunning drive in the race after being forced to start down in fourteenth place due to a penalty during qualifying.
Rosenqvist entered the weekend with a twenty-six point gap between himself and his closest rival for the rookie of the year honours, Dale Coyne Racing‘s Santino Ferrucci. Rosenqvist simply needed a decent finish, ahead of his rivals, to take the title and, given his form this year in road course races, that looked as though it was going to be the case.
As qualifying got under-way, Rosenqvist was one of the favourites to take pole position after showing great speed throughout practice. However, Felix’s hopes of pole position and a potential race win were dashed when he spun on the exit of turn six on the run up the hill towards the corkscrew. Felix was able to keep his car running and made his way back to the pits, thus preventing a red flag from coming out.
However, Rosenqvist was not out of trouble. Race control deemed that he had impeded Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe whilst he was spinning and thus penalized him by removing his two fastest laps during the session. This penalty was perhaps harsh, but on top of that, the stewards also said that Rosenqvist would not be allowed to advance out of the first round of qualifying; thus making any further qualifying attempts for Felix totally irrelevant.
Rosenqvist went on to set a lap that would have been fast enough to take the fastest time in his qualifying group, but as a result of his penalties, he would have to start way down in fourteenth place. After the session, Rosenqvist was absolutely livid with the decision from the stewards. He argued that the penalty was too harsh, especially given the fact that it took place right at the start of the session when everybody had been lapping on the slower, primary tyre compound.
“I don’t know what they were thinking,” Rosenqvist told the media after being eliminated. “That lap didn’t mean anything for anyone. I had a spin. Then they’re saying I blocked someone while I was spinning. It was the second lap on black tires, which doesn’t mean anything.
“We were working for three days for this moment. We had the fastest time on track, and the guys just did an incredible job, and I think it’s unfair to take that away. Honestly, one of the most ridiculous decisions I have ever seen.”
Rosenqvist went on to make some controversial speculation as he wondered out loud whether race control had an ulterior motive behind their harsh penalty: “They ruined our day. I don’t know why. Maybe someone has something against me — or they want Herta to win the rookie championship.”
As Sunday’s race got underway, Rosenqvist was determined to fight back after his controversial qualifying penalty. In just a handful of laps, he found himself inside the top ten and he would soon catch and pass his rookie of the year rival, Santino Ferrucci.
With Herta holding onto his race lead, Rosenqvist needed to finish in sixth-place at least to claim the rookie title. He soon found himself in that position, but he would not settle for the bare minimum. After the only caution period of the race after the halfway point, Rosenqvist was now right on the back of the top five in the race and he would go on to pull off a sensational pass on Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud to take fourth-place; with the overtake baring a striking resemblance to the famous pass made by Alex Zanardi on Bryan Herta back in 1996. The move would be one of three he made at the corkscrew during the race.
In the end, Pagenaud’s long-run pace would see him re-pass Rosenqvist and push the Swede back into fifth-place, which would be where Felix would end the race. Colton Herta claimed the second win of his rookie season, but it was not enough to steal the rookie title from Felix.
After the race, Rosenqvist would praise his fellow rookie, Herta, for his outstanding drive. He would go on to praise his #10 Chip Ganassi Racing crew for their efforts throughout the season that helped him secure the rookie title.
“Today was exciting with Colton starting P1 and us in 14th for the Rookie battle,” Felix said on Sunday, “He led almost every lap. We managed to pass a ton of cars and executed perfectly. Well-deserved for all the NTT DATA guys on a season-long effort. I think I used a lot of anger from yesterday to move forward. It was a great way to finish the season and I can’t wait until next year with this team.”
Rosenqvist would go on to comment about how successful his rookie campaign had been, despite missing out on claiming a race win. Felix missed out back in Mid-Ohio after a last-lap duel with his veteran team-mate, Scott Dixon, and he felt that this weekend had been another missed opportunity after his penalty in qualifying.
“Yeah, that’s still the missing part,” Rosenqvist said of his lack of a race win this season, “I think we had a good chance this weekend, for sure. Yesterday, we were really fast but we had to start from 14th and that’s how it is. At least we made it more exciting with the rookie championship. Colton did an amazing job, his second win this year. I think he’s going to be one to watch next year, so big congrats to him. He did an amazing job this year.”
Chip Ganassi Racing has already confirmed that Rosenqvist will remain behind the wheel of the #10 Honda for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. If his first season is anything to go by, Felix could be a serious force to be reckoned with now that he has some experience in IndyCar.