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Solid Climb at Indy Highlights Rosenqvist’s Season of Learning on Ovals

Entering the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season, Felix Rosenqvist admitted he expected to struggle on oval tracks. As he attempted to race on the first oval of the season, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he admitted he was racing on a “see how it goes” basis.

Rosenqvist and team owner Chip Ganassi didn’t have high expectations for oval results, and as he reflected on a successful 2019 season that resulted in him being crowned NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, Rosenqvist only rated one as “good,” and that was Indy.

The road to a “good” Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge wasn’t easy for Rosenqvist, and it wasn’t pretty at times.

His Indianapolis 500 run started with a crash in the second practice session of the month. Rosenqvist did a full spin in Turn 2 in the final hour of practice and made contact with both the inside and outside SAFER Barriers.

Qualifying was no better.

He made three qualification attempts on Day 1, but his best performance, a four-lap average speed of 227.297 mph, was only good enough for 29th starting position. Starting at the rear of the 33-car field for a 200-lap race can be daunting for a rookie driver, but Rosenqvist made the most of it in a good showing. Until the end, that is.

Rosenqvist marched his way through the field during the race and led six laps throughout the day. He was running in 11th position when the Lap 176 wreck started by contact between Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal in Turn 3 forced Rosenqvist into a spin and ended his day.

Rosenqvist’s first Month of May was eventful, to say the least. Rosenqvist and his No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing team were happy with the performance. The extra practice time afforded by the Month of May also helped his strong race performance.

“I think everyone, including me and the team, were kind of like: ‘Will this actually be good? Will he be able to progress, or will he just sit around in 30th position all race?’” he said. “I think everyone was just happy that we moved forward and we were going for a top-10 finish. We were right around Santino (Ferrucci), and he finished seventh. I was happy with Indy, but not so happy with the other superspeedways.”

Rosenqvist’s rookie season featured six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes on his way to a sixth-place position in the points standings and the series Rookie of the Year award. None of those top-10 finishes came in an oval race, with his closest being an 11th at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

Rosenqvist’s five oval finishes this season resulted in a 17.4 average finish. He wants to improve on his oval performance next year, but he is taking it all in stride because his oval experience was so limited.

“I think it definitely has to be better,” he said. “It was something we all didn’t really expect to be great. Even Chip was aware that we don’t really know about the ovals and knew we would have to see how it goes.”

The 2019 season ended in mid-September. Still, Rosenqvist and Chip Ganassi Racing already are looking toward the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 24, 2020.

“I think we need to take a little step with the cars,” he said. “We had a really good race car, but we lacked something in qualifying. So, we are looking already now to how we can improve Indy qualifying, mainly. You want to be starting up there, because it’s going to make your race so much easier.”

Rosenqvist said understanding how the car changes throughout the race is the biggest area of improvement he is pinpointing on ovals. He said he can lay down one fast lap for qualifying, but a race that features hundreds of laps can be tricky for him to understand the car.

“For the race, sometimes I kind of get out of my window a little bit on balance because it changes so much during the race with the tires and degradation and all that stuff,” he said. “I think also it’s just doing more laps and getting more used to it; you kind of get better over time.”

Rosenqvist said he thinks a year of Indianapolis experience under his belt means he will be ready for the beast that is the Indianapolis 500 next May.

“From my side, I think I will be ready to have a really good race and really good qualifying, as well,” he said. “I definitely feel that having a May behind me will help me to start from a better point.”

 
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