INDIANAPOLIS — Felix Rosenqvist wasn’t shy about it last year. He wasn’t comfortable on the ovals. See, the Swedish driver grew up racing on road courses, not these types of tracks that you see in America.
While he had one oval start prior to 2019, coincidentally enough it coming in the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2016, his comfort level coming here last May was low.
Then, he went out and crashed hard in Turn 2 during practice, which took his confidence even lower than it already was.
As a rookie last year, he qualified 29th for this race. He was involved in a crash on Lap 176 and finished 28th. Two crashes in one month. He was conservative at Texas (12th) and Iowa (14th), then was collected in a frightening crash on the opening lap of Pocono (22nd).
That’s why it was pretty eye opening for him to finish 11th six days later on another oval in Gateway.
But, if Rosenqvist was going to be a future champion in this series, he knew that he needed to grow more comfortable on ovals. This could be the discipline of race tracks that keeps him from being a legitimate star in this sport. So, he worked this offseason more on gaining more comfort on these types of tracks than anything else.
It paid off. At Texas, the season opener back in June, he qualified ninth but quickly moved up to second and was showing that he and his teammate Scott Dixon had the top two cars there. While running second, he made a mistake getting in the slick traction compound residue while pushing past a lapped car to chase down Dixon and crashed with 10 laps-to-go.
Still, it was promising and despite the wreck, gave him confidence that he can do this.
“Yeah, Texas was definitely a breakthrough for me personally and I think my INDYCAR career,” Rosenqvist said. “We have a lot of ovals, they weren’t my strong side last year. Feels good to just be able to run in front. Obviously we didn’t have the result in the end there, which was really unfortunate. That was a really strong race for us.”
Rosenqvist, has some veteran help in his corner too. Yes, he has Dixon, a five time series champion as his teammate he can lean on, but he also has four time Indy Car champion and three time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti as his coach. Franchitti, has won 31 times in his open wheel career, including being one of just two drivers to win the Indy 500 multiple times since 2003.
Franchitti, is a breath of fresh air for Rosenqvist and he credits him for helping him grow on ovals.
“Yeah, Dario has been the guy I mainly talk to during the weekends, especially on the ovals, the way you want to learn all the small details, get quicker and quicker,” Rosenqvist said of Franchitti’s help. “I’m not taking shortcuts. I think that’s the important thing here at IMS, you cannot really take shortcuts to becoming quick. You have to know why you make changes to the car and your driving. That’s why Dario has been really good support for me.”
Rosenqvist, qualified his No. 10 Honda 14th for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). He had a four-lap average of 230.254 mph.
While it’s going to be tough to pass in the race, he’s content. He says that the addition of the Aeroscreen may make it more difficult to make moves, but it also gives him the sense of security inside of the cockpit too.
“I think being on the ovals, it’s always difficult,” Rosenqvist continued. “If you want to, you can always add five turns of front wing and just go flat out and see if it works. That’s going to be a lot of work for everyone if that’s your approach. You kind of want to know every step of the way how does the car respond, how do you respond, do you play together nicely with the car.
“I think with the Aeroscreen, I think you do feel a lot safer. Incidents like Pocono last year, that was a scary ride. If we would have had an Aeroscreen then, that would have made you feel a lot safer. Nothing happened because the cars are really safe as they are. But I think definitely you couldn’t really be in a safer environment right now than in an INDYCAR with the new Aeroscreen. Yeah, that’s just a gain for everyone.
“Obviously it’s brought challenges in terms of setting up the car with it being heavier and so. That’s also an opportunity for our engineers and for the drivers to bring an advantage. I think it’s been a very interesting season with the Aeroscreen so far for sure.”