INDIANAPOLIS — Felix Rosenqvist is thriving right now. He said after his podium finish 2 weeks ago in Toronto that he’s going to try and make it difficult for Zak Brown to take him out of his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet for next season. See, the Swedish driver signed a deal back in June with McLaren Racing to remain with the organization. However, it didn’t necessarily mean that he’d remain in the NTT INDYCAR Series.
McLaren has 2 F1 seats and both are likely to be occupied by Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo next season. They have 3 INDYCAR seats and Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi are signed to them. They’re also starting a 2 car Formula E team as well. There’s 2 open seats on that end.
With Rosenqvist having Formula E success before his journey to INDYCAR and the addition of Alex Palou at some point, what does this do to Rosenqvist?
He’s been in limbo.
“I want to be where I’m at right now,” Rosenqvist said back in Toronto. “I think Arrow McLaren SP has pretty much become a home for me. Yeah, it’s up to Zak. He’s the man who is making the moves. Probably going to take a couple of weeks before we know more. Hopefully today (Toronto) changed something. My ambition is to keep proving it that way.”
So far he is. Rosenqvist just scored his 3rd career pole on Friday from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in going 1:10.2265-seconds in the Firestone Fast Six. 2 of Rosenqvist’s 3 career poles have come on this 2.439-mile road course.
Rosenqvist says that having such a good lap in the first round allowed him to immediately pit and save that set for the final round. As a result, he scored his 2nd pole of the season and 11th top 10 starting spot in 13 races run this year.
“It is man, I’m really enjoying myself right now,” he told me on Thursday in the shadows of the IMS victory podium. “It’s been you know, a lot these kind of things during the year happen. I’m happy. I think there’s no reason to dwell on those things. I feel like wherever we show up we’re quick. Like we’re being quick on all kind of tracks this year and that’s all you want. You want a shot to be out there fighting for wins and that seems to be not only ambition, but it seems to be the reality almost every track we go to so it’s great.”
Now, can he turn this pole into something special, – his 2nd career win in Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
“INDYCAR, I think it’s kind of addicting in a way,” he says. “Like it’s very tough. It’s probably — I wouldn’t say like — the driver level is high everywhere in professional championships, but it’s just such a team effort to get everything right on the day in terms of setup, pit stop strategy. The driver has to be fit, he has to be focused. There’s just so many variables, and if you lose one second in a pit sequence, you’re gone. That’s your day gone.
“I think that whole thing becomes — like when you succeed and when you win a race or get a podium or whatever, it’s just something you want to do again because it’s very rewarding when you do well, but it can also be brutal when you’re struggling, as I did last year. It was a super tough season for sure.
“But yeah, I’m doing well, and I want to continue that, so yeah, hopefully I’ll stay.”
He’ll have some good company up front via his teammate (Pato O’Ward) and either a future teammate or the guy taking his ride in Alexander Rossi.
Rossi starts alongside in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda as he turned a lap time of 1:10.5030-seconds in the Fast 6. This was the 3rd time in the last 6 races that he’s started in the top 2 rows.
“Yeah, it’s great to be here during the GP,” Rossi said. “We’ve always historically struggled here, especially in qualifying. Our race pace has been good in the past, and that’s never been an issue, but we’ve never been able to qualify here, so we had a really good test a month ago, and it’s nice to see that translate. We had a really good test in Iowa, too. That didn’t really work out.
“It’s good. It’s good to be back obviously at the speedway. We all love coming here, and it’s great to be here on the triple-header weekend, and hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow.
“Every time you transfer it’s like a little mini-victory, and that helps you get that help of confidence to go the next round.
“I always think round 1 is really the hardest, just because it’s been a while since you’ve had the red tires, especially this year, so you’re kind of guessing as to what the grip level is going to be, and usually if you’re pretty successful in round 1, it should transfer in round 2.
“That lap that Felix did, I don’t think we had anything for it, so hats off to him.”
O’Ward (1:10.6092-seconds) will roll off third in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet for his 9th time he’s come from the top 4 rows in the last 10 races. He’s made the Fast 6 in all 5 of the natural road course races this season (2nd, 5th, 6th, 1st, 3rd). O’Ward also has 5 top 10 starting spots on the Indy road course in his last 6 tries including 4 of his last 5 being in the top 5 with a pole just last August.
“Yeah, it’s a great team result,” O’Ward said. “Extremely happy with, first of all, making it to the Fast Six because when we started qualifying we were in trouble, just as we were in FP1. We turned — I don’t know how we did that, but we turned it around, and we got the car into a window where I could work with it, and yeah, like Alex said, I think Felix — I don’t think anybody had anything for Felix’s lap. Great job to him. Super happy to see that for him. He deserves it. He’s been working really hard, and it’s a great result for the team.”
The Team Penske tandem of Will Power (1:10.6224-seconds) and Josef Newgarden (1:10.6968-seconds) will start 4th and 5th respectively.
Is Rosenqvist Doing Enough To Save His Job?
He hopes so and his results are doing enough to speak loudly to save his job here in INDYCAR. It’s not up to him though. However, his teammate Pato O’Ward is hoping that Rosenqvist stays as his teammate.
“I mean, I love the guy, and I think what makes the atmosphere in the team so good to work around him is that he’s a genuine good guy, and it’s very easy to work with him,” he says. “It’s in his best interest for the whole team to do well. He won’t section himself off and kind of — in the back of his head kind of wish bad upon the other car just to do better. No, I think that’s what makes our team very special is we’re all obviously pushing each other, but we’re both working together to create a package that’s going to be easier for both of us to drive and just to get better.
“The point is to have a team that is P1 and P2, right? That’s always going to be the goal.
“I just think he fits exactly what the team of McLaren Racing and all that stands for. In order to create a team or to make a team better and drive it forward, you need complete trust and transparency when working with each other. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing.”
Cars That Tested Here Thrived
Andretti Autosport and Arrow McLaren SP were among a select group of teams that chose to take part in the June test here. That paid off nicely for both. In fact, it paid off a week later in Mid-Ohio, a similar natural road course to Indianapolis.
AMSP and Andretti teams took 3 of the top 4 starting spots that day. While engine troubles soured AMSP’s day and teammate on teammate crime took out Andretti, each thrived on Friday in the return trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Andretti cars took 2 of the top 3 fastest speeds in practice while AMSP took 2 of the top 3 starting spots for the race itself in qualifying. Andretti (Alexander Rossi) will start 2nd.
“I think this is a great opportunity today,” Felix Rosenqvist told me then. “If it stays like this you can definitely learn stuff. If you can do progress in this weather then you’re going to be set.”
Plus, during the Aeroscreen era (18 races) on natural road courses, both Penske and Ganassi have each won a combined 13 times on them accounting for a 72% win rate.
Penske and Ganassi have combined to win 9 of the last 11 races on this track too. The only 2 they didn’t was the last 2 May’s. They’ve won everything else and 1 of the one this past May was wet and altered the outcome of the race than if it rain in the dry.
However, with both Ganassi and Penske electing to not test last month, could this open the door for Andretti and AMSP now?
So far it looks like it.
“It’s been a pretty smooth day, surprisingly smooth, and I think those guys are kind of rare in INDYCAR,” Rosenqvist said on Friday. “I think the whole team has just done a really good prep work for this race. We tested here like a month ago, which I think really helped. We kind of got here with a good starting package, so we knew that this was going to be one that we had to really extract everything in qualifying.”
Penske starts 4th, 5th, 15th and Ganassi 7th, 20th, 23rd and 25th respectively.
3 of the top 5 in points entering this weekend will roll off inside of the top 5 of the starting lineup on Saturday. Will Power (-8) starts 4th. Josef Newgarden (-34) rolls off 5th. Pato O’Ward (-36) will come from 3rd.
However, points leader Marcus Ericsson stalled on his out lap in the opening round and as a result will have to start last (25th). His teammate Scott Dixon failed to make it out of the first round again here and will start 20th.
At one point in time, Dixon was the man on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He had a span of 4 straight top 2 finishes including a win in the 2020 COVID race that July. Since then? He’s been anything but.
Dixon was 9th and 8th respectively that October of 2020. In May of 2021, he finished 9th. He was 17th last August here and 10th again in May. If you count his 1st 3 starts on this 2.439-mile road course, Dixon has finished 7th or worse in 8 of his 12 starts.
What’s baffling is, he’s no where to be found in qualifying either. In his last 6 starts now, he’s qualified 12th, 15th, 16th, 26th, 21st and 20th respectively.
Ericsson is still expected to climb on Saturday. He has just 1 top 10 starting spot in 8 Indy road course tries too including 6 of his last 7 being bounced in the 1st round. In race mode here, he has 5 top 10’s in his last 6 tries too so there’s no reason to doubt that he can’t do some damage control on Saturday.
“I feel with Marcus the further back he starts, the better he finishes,” Rosenqvist said of his countrymate. “He has like a magic way of just always being there in the end.
“That’s probably why he’s leading the championship, man. He’s probably the best racer in the field right now. I don’t really think he’s worried about it, either.
“Every time I talk to him and he’s had a bad qualifying, it’s just like, oh, I’m just going to drive up the field. Yeah, good for him. He’s really figured out how to go forward in this series, and I think that’s — I love being here on pole, but that’s only like 10 percent of the job done, and the rest you have to do what Marcus is doing right now.
“I’m not too worried for him. I’m sure I’m going to see him around somewhere tomorrow in the race.”
The thing is, he’s held onto the points lead after each race since leading here on May 29. With Power starting 4th and only trailing him by 8 entering the weekend, there’s a real chance he can leave here with the points lead instead.
Firestone is typically lauded for their durability in the NTT INDYCAR Series. You never really hear many of the drivers say anything but positive news from them. However, that wasn’t necessarily the case from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday.
Luckily the tires weren’t blowing. They held up in that aspect. The problem was they weren’t consistent.
“Last 2 years, these Firestones have been so inconsistent,” Herta said after qualifying 9th on Friday. “We’ve had problems with this. Everyone has for the last year and a half. So frustrating. It’s not the car’s fault. Inconsistent tires suck. I’m pretty frustrated about it”
That was bizarre to hear because this is news to those of us not involved inside the race teams. He wasn’t the only one signing that tune though.
“A bit of Red tire inconsistency,” Conor Daly said. “You put on a new set and the balance is totally different. Firestone is a great partner but there’s some odd inconsistencies. I don’t know if it’s the weight of the car. But kind of a victim of that.”
Daly was frustrated in a sense that he made the Fast 6 in May and even here last year too but this year he struggled in the second round.
Alexander Rossi who qualified 2nd touched on it on Friday too and said that this is the norm actually.
“Yeah, I think we all at one point unfortunately will get burned by it at one point in the year,” said Rossi. “Yeah. I mean, it is a thing. It does exist. It’s frustrating for sure when it happens.
“Firestone for the most part does a very good job, but there certainly has been inconsistencies that have popped up, especially on the red tire, I think for the past couple of years.
“They produce thousands of tires and it’s a couple, maybe 20 to 30 a year. Maybe that’s being generous, I don’t know. But it’s pretty hard to pinpoint.”
Pato O’Ward said the differential between the two tire compounds is what also makes this extremely tricky.
“The problem is for us at least in the past it’s always been your balance on blacks has to be pretty tough to drive in order for it to be decent on reds,” he says. “It was extremely difficult to drive.
“Sometimes it works out that way and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it feels great in the first run and then you put the other set of tires, and it’s like, what the heck happened.
“It’s tough. It’s extremely tough to nail both types of tire compounds in terms of balance. You’ve got to be a little unhappy with one of them to excel in the other one. You always kind of want to excel on the red one because the black ain’t going to transfer you anywhere unless you’re a second and a half faster than anybody, which doesn’t happen in the series.
“Yeah, it’s tough, and it speaks to how hard it is to qualify in INDYCAR and how competitive it is.”
He too also admitted to feeling the tire problem himself as well though.
“I’ve had this year and last year. You just never know when it’s going to happen, and it’s just obviously unfortunate. When we get it, other guys might not, but then maybe they can get it another time, but you just never really know when it’s going to happen to you, so you have to obviously analyze and see if it’s not an issue that wasn’t that.
“Yeah, I think everybody is on the same boat. Everybody has had it at least once sometime.”
Christian Lundgaard Thrives Here
Christian Lundgaard loves this place. He made his series debut here last August and did so in eye opening fashion. The Danish driver qualified his car 4th for last year’s summer road course race. It was enough to impressive Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing enough to hire him full-time this season. Lundgaard qualified 8th here in May’s GMR Grand Prix. It was his best start entering this weekend.
Now he has a new top starting spot.
Lundgaard qualified his No. 30 Dallara-Honda in 6th for his 4th career top 10 qualifying effort, 3 of which coming on this 2.439-mile road course.
He’s starting to heat up on the season too with entering having scored 4 top 11 finishes in his last 5 starts. The only reason it’s not 5 straight is due to mechanical problems that developed last Sunday at the Iowa Speedway.
His teammates qualified 13th (Jack Harvey) and 17th (Graham Rahal).
“This place is so temperature sensitive and sensitive to what day of the week it is apparently, and because we run here so much, everyone can do a lap around here, so that’s why you see the differences are hundredths,” said Alexander Rossi. “I mean, round 2 I think four or five cars did a 70.1.
“It’s really fine margins that you’re always looking for, and sometimes to gain that tiny little bit, it’s actually a pretty substantial change you have to make.”
Wild Moment Of The Day
Pato O’Ward had some choice words to say about Alex Palou and how he’s handling this contract saga. Ironically enough, their pits are right next to each other this weekend.