Felix Rosenqvist entered the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season with a healthy resume, including dozens of victories and the 2015 championship in Formula 3, but almost no experience on ovals. Now, with two races remaining in his rookie season, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is dueling for the Rookie-of-the-Year award with former F3 competitor Santino Ferrucci.
Heading into Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway, Rosenqvist is just two points behind Ferrucci in the rookie standings. That’s in the wake of his best showing on an oval this season -- an 11th-place finish last week at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
We caught up with the 27-year-old Swede to cover a variety of topics -- Rosenqvist’s assessment of his first season in the IndyCar Series, his friendship with Ferrucci, the mentorship of four-time champion Dario Franchitti, and his plans for the future.
Question: How would you assess your rookie season? Has it been what you thought it would be?
Rosenqvist: “It’s been very much up and down, and that seems to be a pretty normal thing. There are so many different types of scenarios you get put into as a rookie. The road courses are where I’ve started to feel like I’m performing the way I want to. Mid-Ohio and Road America and tracks like that are where I expected to be good.
“At Indy we were good, but Texas was probably the worst. Gateway was probably the best oval so far. I still feel like I want more on the ovals. That’s the main goal as we start next year. That’s going to be my main key.”
Q: You’d done two ovals in Indy Lights in 2016. Did you have any expectations on ovals coming into the season?
A. “I knew it was going to be hard. Some drivers naturally perform better immediately on ovals. We’ve seen Santino (Ferrucci) this year; he’s definitely having good confidence on ovals. I’ve had to learn the hard way with the big crash at Indy. It has to happen at some point, and that first crash is always tough. It was good to have it done early on, I think.
“The street and road courses I can feel. I can recognize myself and my driving. I feel like I’m capable there. On ovals, it doesn’t come to me so naturally. I have to work very hard at it to sort of rebuild myself. It’s hard, for sure, but I knew that was going to be a challenge. I didn’t expect the ovals to be easy. It’s tough to challenge yourself, and it’s also frustrating when it doesn’t come as naturally as other things.”
Q. How has Dario Franchitti helped you this year, particularly on ovals?
A. “He’s been my biggest teacher in the oval world. It’s a relationship that you build up. He understands what I need and what I want and how I react to different things. He uses that as we go forward. Sometimes when I give certain feedback he communicates to the team to tell them maybe they shouldn’t listen to everything I say. He can clarify different points. His main advice has been in the details, in working with the car.
“I tend to drive around a problem. If there’s a problem with the car, I drive around it instead of fixing it. You can’t do that on an oval. You need the car to do the work for you. You do so many laps on an oval, you need the car to be perfect. It doesn’t matter how good you are as a driver. You’re going to do a lap every 20 seconds. If you don’t have a perfect car, you’re not going to be fast.
“That’s the main thing that Dario has done to help me on ovals, to always try to improve the car. Even if it feels good, how can we make it better? It’s a constant battle to keep improving the car.”
Q. Earlier this season, Santino Ferrucci said he felt like you’d be the fastest of the four rookies, based on his experience racing with you in Formula 3. How did you get to know each other?
A. “He was really young when he got to Formula 3, and I’d been there for awhile. I was like the Scott Dixon of Formula 3, and he was like Colton (Herta) coming in. I talked to him and his dad quite a bit. … I tried to help them out with advice. We talked after every race. It’s cool to see how he has matured. He’s done a brilliant job. It’s not easy to climb through the ladders, but he’s made a big impact this year. Hopefully that can lead to a future in IndyCar for him.”
Q. Speaking of the future, what are your plans for the coming years?
A. “I want to stay in IndyCar and win races and championships. That’s my target. I wouldn’t commit to this level if I didn’t want to do it all the way. You need to learn, and I’ve had a year now to get the basics. Next year it’s time to put it into the next gear.
Q. Was the runner-up finish at Mid-Ohio a turning point for you?
A. “I think it was. At some point I felt like I needed a race like that. There wasn’t any luck involved or anything. I just drove a race without a safety car from P6 to P2 and was close to winning the race, as well. It was good for my confidence. There are times when you feel like you’ve got potential but maybe you get the strategy wrong or there’s something else going on that masks your performance. Mid-Ohio was a true statement of what I can do. That was important for me and other people to see. I’m sure it wasn’t a one-off. We’ll continue to have those performances, I’m sure. The main thing for me now is to be able to do that on an oval.”