INDIANAPOLIS — When Felix Rosenqvist first joined the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, he would have been floored to earn a front row starting spot in the Indianapolis 500. He crashed in Turn 2 during practice for his rookie year back in 2019 and qualified 29th (227.297 mph) in the same No. 10 Dallara-Honda that Alex Palou won the pole with on Sunday.
Four years later, Rosenqvist just had a four-lap average of 234.114 mph in his No. 6 Dallara-Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren Racing. That’s nearly seven mph quicker than his rookie year and puts him on the front row for the first time of his five years career thus far.
“It’s mixed feelings right now,” Rosenqvist admitted on Saturday. “I think overall it’s a very good day for us.”
He told me four days later, the emotion was that when you have the opportunity, you always feel a bit disappointed if you don’t get it done and doesn’t matter which team, what the circumstances are if you have the chance to grab a pole or win like you’re always going to be a bit bummed if you don’t get it.
“But yeah, it’s a good problem to have right,” he notes. “It’s awesome. And that’s kind of where we gotten as a team as well. Now, where we, a couple of years ago, we were stoked when we had podiums and top fives and now it’s like, we’re pretty disappointed when we’re not winning or, or, or on pole, you know, between our teammates, so I feel also were one of the teams not at all always seemed to have at least one bullet at the front in every race. So yeah, hopefully it will be one of us taking home.”
What made Rosenqvist bummed is the fact that he was fastest on opening day of Indy 500 Time Trials on Saturday. He was then fastest in the Fast 12 Shootout. The pole was shaping up to be his.
Until it wasn’t.
“I think these two (Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay) found something in the Fast Six that we didn’t find,” Rosenqvist continued. “We felt like we were kind of on top of it going into it. We were not confident, but we felt like we put the best possible scenario on the car, and big thanks to all the group for Arrow McLaren and Team Chevy, as well. I think the whole team came together for this final run where we threw everything we had at it, and we missed out, and it’s the second time in not so long I’m sitting here and missing pole with I think one or two thousandths. It’s what it is, but overall we have to be proud to have all the cars in the top 12. It’s just been a phenomenal month for us so far.
“But yeah, big congrats to Alex and also to Rinus. That was a hell of a run. We couldn’t match that today.”
Rosenqvist said that he felt pretty much on his warmup lap that it didn’t feel as sporty as it did earlier in the Fast 12.
“Obviously we didn’t change a bunch on the car. We were pretty sure what we put on was the best we’d done all month,” he said. “But man, it’s tight, and if you don’t get it 10 out of 10, there’s going to be two other boys sitting next to you with better lap times.
“I think anyway, it’s just been incredible, and just to have the privilege to drive a car that looks that good and is that fast I think is — yeah, it makes it pretty cool.”
Rosenqvist qualified 14th in both 2020 and again in 2021 before being eighth last year. He finished a career best fourth at Indy a year ago and is hopeful of gaining three more spots on race day. If he can, how much would that do for his 2024 status?
It’s no secret that Rosenqvist doesn’t have a contract in place for next season. With Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi under contract and Kyle Larson coming over to run the Indianapolis 500, if the reports are true that Alex Palou is going to be in the camp as well, then Rosenqvist is the one on the outside looking in.
However, a win at Indy could go a long way of securing a future place either within the team or a new one. Zak Brown is like Chip Ganassi in a sense that he likes winners. It’s why he went after Rossi from Andretti. It’s why he went after Palou who’s with Ganassi currently. It’s why Marcus Ericsson is on a list for him to go get if Ganassi doesn’t offer the 2022 Indy 500 champion a fair deal.
Which is why if Rosenqvist wins on Sunday, Brown would certainly find a way to keep him within the camp.
“I mean, you always have to deliver no matter where you are,” Rosenqvist said. “I don’t think anyone’s sitting you know, coasting and collecting wins in IndyCar. You have to fight for it every week and I don’t really, I feel like a lot of people ask me that. Like, ‘do you feel like you need to prove yourself’ and yes and no, I think I mean, I think I need maybe some good result, which I feel like they’re coming. I mean, we’ve been on the front row three times this year. We were on the on the GP and in Texas and here so it’s it’s really coming together well. Yeah, you need the results to back it up. I feel like the rest of the season is looking pretty bright for us. So I’m not really worried about that. I just kind of tried to jump in the car and do my thing and everything else will work itself out.”
I mean Rosenqvist has already delivered when the seat was hot. He did so last year and is already doing so this year. A McLaren on the front row is a very big deal and Rosenqvist is on it.
“It’s great to have some foundation in the team now at this point,” Rosenqvist said. “Feeling really at home. Obviously, this will be the longest I’ve been with a team in quite a while, probably since like 2014 when I did Formula 3.
“To be with the same team for a third year is huge for me, with consistency, basically the same group as previous years, but some changes here and there. I have a new engineer this year in Chris Lawrence who is a good friend of mine. He’s been on the car for many years on what used to be the 7 car, now it’s the 6 car crew.”
Rosenqvist though says it’s a great time with McLaren right now with all four cars starting in the top nine spots and entering having all three full-time cars scoring top five finishes in the GMR Grand Prix two weeks ago.
“Yeah, I think for sure,” he told me. “I think honestly, we’ve always had a really good race cars here even the first year I was with a team we had to say probably a top five car. I feel like we just have the whole package in a different way now. We obviously were starting higher which is makes it easier. We have you know our pit crews are better. I think Chevy has brought their A game this year, which is awesome. This is all the little details.
“So yes, working a little bit more in our favor. So I think it will be fair to have a bit more, you know, confidence going into this one. But at the same time everyone else is just better as well because the whole series is going like this. It’s not only our team, maybe we’re been growing quicker and we’ve come a bit like better more rapidly than some other teams but man, we’re still fighting against some giants and they will not be easy to take on.”