PLYMOUTH, Wisc — Kevin Magnussen completed 14 laps on Friday in his first ever NTT IndyCar Series opportunity. The Danish driver turned in the 23rd quickest time of the 45 minute session with a lap of 1:50.4921-seconds in his No. 7 Chevrolet.
Magnussen, was a little under three seconds off pace, but that’s to be expected when a little over 48 hours ago he had literally no idea that he’d be put in this brisk position.
“It doesn’t really compare to any experience I’ve had,” Magnussen said on Friday morning. “This is certainly the very least prepared I’ve ever been to step into a race.”
Magnussen will fill in for injured Felix Rosenqvist as the Swedish driver was hospitalized following a frightening crash on Lap 25 of last weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. Rosenqvist, was held overnight in a Detroit area hospital last Saturday before getting released on Sunday morning.
Oliver Askew filled in for him during Race 2 on Sunday last weekend. This week, Rosenqvist wasn’t cleared, so Arrow McLaren SP contacted Chip Ganassi Racing to feel out Magnussen’s chances.
“Well, Kevin is a world-class driver,” Taylor Kiel said of why Magnussen. “I think he’s shown that last week. He’s shown that his whole career. It also helps he’s got a bit of a McLaren relationship from the past, but what was important for us was putting somebody in the car that can continue to push the program forward and feed back into the team.
“How the car is, those types of things, we need to have somebody that can help our priority, which is winning the championship. That’s a big piece of it. I think giving Kevin an opportunity to drive one of these cars is cool. I think he’s going to show well and show that he’s a top-shelf driver. We’re in a position now where that’s what we need.”
See, Magnussen drives in IMSA competition for Ganassi. With being under the General Motors umbrella in piloting a Cadillac, him getting behind the wheel of a Chevrolet powered Indy Car isn’t an issue. Competing against the guy that signs his paychecks could.
Ganassi, has four cars here again this weekend. Would he allow Magnussen to race against him?
Ganassi happily obliged.
“At the end of the day, as I said at the beginning, it’s not the greatest circumstances when you’ve got a driver out who got hurt in a crash,” Magnussen said of this opportunity. “As I said, I think he’s recovering very well. But yeah, when you get an opportunity like this, I’m a racing driver, a passionate one, and when an opportunity comes to go and drive an awesome race car like an INDYCAR, I had to take it.”
Magnussen came to America for this very opportunity. He was sick of being an after thought in F1 driving for arguably the worst team in the sport over there. He and his teammate the last few year in Romain Grosjean were ready to be happy again.
Grosjean, took an opportunity with Dale Coyne Racing in conjunction with Rick Ware Racing. He won at pole at Indy on the road course last month. He qualified in the top five in both races last weekend in Belle Isle. This is the feeling he’s been missing for almost a decade.
“It’s awesome. I’ve been super happy for Kevy,” Grosjean said of his former teammates opportunity. “He mentioned during the four years at Haas he always wanted to do INDYCAR. He’s got his chance, which is great.”
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden agreed.
“I just think it’s great to see these guys get to really experience INDYCAR,” he said after turning the third fastest lap in practice on Friday from Road America. “I think INDYCAR is starting to be consumed a little bit more around the world, thanks to the exposure I think from some of these Formula 1 folks that are coming over.
“I think Kevin and Romain are great drivers. To see them now understand our championship is something you come in and make a difference as a driver, which I think is the most exciting thing about our sport. It’s a team sport, but it’s really a driver’s championship where if you put in the work with the team, you have the work ethic and the talent, you can make a difference and you can win any race.
“It’s very exciting. We welcome the best of the best from around the world. I feel like we’re definitely getting that more and more every year. It’s great to be a part of it.”
That team aspect is what was missing in F1 to what INDYCAR has here. Magnussen took full advantage of it already.
“I went to see Romain yesterday just to hang out a bit and of course we were talking about this weekend and driving an INDYCAR, and he was actually very helpful and giving advice and just kind of letting me know the obvious and most biggest differences from INDYCAR to F1,” he said.
“But you know, I’m going to have a great team behind me this weekend to guide me through this crazy challenge, and I’m really here to just experience and enjoy and hopefully have a good result on Sunday. But most of all learn and enjoy.”
Magnussen said that after leaving Formula 1 it’s like a whole new world of opportunity has opened up. It feels very good to him to be able to look at all sorts of different things and just go and have fun with what hes doing.
“As I said, I’m a racing driver and a very passionate one,” Magnussen continued. “I love driving race cars, and I love competing. Being able to do all these different things and experience all these different cars and tracks around the world is really a privilege, and this weekend is going to be another big privilege.”
Magnussen also didn’t shy away from saying that INDYCAR is something that he’s always had his eye on and always had a dream of competing in a race here.
“It’s never been a secret that INDYCAR is something that I am pretty passionate about,” he said. “It’s nothing new. I’ve been — my dad raced INDYCARs in the mid-’90s when I was only a small little kid, and I can remember back then that I was thinking, I’ve got to do that one day. So it’s nothing new. I’ve never hidden the fact that I had a massive interest in INDYCAR.
“But I’ve also never hidden the fact that I just am a passionate racing driver that loves driving cars and competing, and as I said, I’m fortunate and privileged to be able to go around and drive all these different cars.”
Would he drive in the Indy 500? A lot of former F1 drivers don’t have an interest in ovals. What about Magnussen?
“It’s more just a bonus of this year, that I get to do this race,” he said. “Yeah, the INDYCAR 500 is definitely something that I want to do one day. I’m not really actively working towards it at the moment, just kind of taking one day at a time. I have my season with Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac in DPi and that’s my main part to this year and my main focus, and then what happens in the future and will happen, I’ve said that INDYCAR and especially the Indy 500 is a dream to do it, and we’ll see if it happens from there.”
It’s ironic that it’s coming with McLaren too. A lot of things are ironic for him. Magnussen drove in F1 for McLaren a while back and this is kind of reuniting with a former team but in a different scale.
“I mean, it’s great to be back with the McLaren brand. It’s been home for me for many years. Quite long ago now, it was 2014, but I spent my whole kind of junior career being a young driver for McLaren in their F1 program and I have a lot of good memories of that. They gave me my first Formula 1 race and season, my podium in F1, my first race and lots of good memories in that regards. So nice to be back with that brand.”
The other factor is that this is the place 25 years ago Magnussen’s dad filled in for an injured Emerson Fittipaldi. Now he’s doing the same.
“Today was a lot to take in,” he said of his first day. ”
I took it step-by-step and it was fun. It’s a wild beast, heavy in the steering wheel and it’s got a bit of turbo lag. It’s very, very different to anything I have ever driven. So, it was a great experience and I can’t wait for tomorrow. I want to thank everyone at Arrow McLaren SP and Chevrolet for helping to get me up to speed.”