The last time the NTT INDYCAR SERIES competed on a road course, it was the weekend after the Fourth of July in a doubleheader at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
The winner of that second race of the REV Group Grand Prix was Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing. It was a dramatic, come from behind victory as Rosenqvist tracked down Pato O’Ward’s Chevrolet and put the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda in Victory Lane for his first career win in the series.
That was July 12. To Rosenqvist, it seems like a different season ago.
Five straight oval races have followed, including the biggest of them all, the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Aug. 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
INDYCAR is ready to go on the road again beginning with this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. The doubleheader kicks off a five-race stretch to finish the season, all on road or street courses.
“It’s been a long time now,” Rosenqvist said. “It seems like almost a different season when we did a road course last time. I think we all missed turning right. I’m really happy Mid-Ohio is happening because a lot of people like coming there.
“Good times, man.”
Saturday’s race takes the green flag at 5 p.m. (ET), with the NBCSN telecast beginning at 4:30 p.m. Sunday’s race is set for 1 p.m. (ET) and will be on NBC.
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has played a very important role in Rosenqvist’s INDYCAR career. He had his first test in an Indy car for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2016 at the track. Two years later, he was back in another CGR Honda for another test that led to his current full-time effort in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda.
Rosenqvist had several breakout races in his rookie season in 2019, including a third-place start and fourth-place finish in the season opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He won the pole for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis and had several more impressive efforts until he returned to Mid-Ohio for last year’s Honda Indy 200.
The Swedish driver had a spectacular race, opting for a three-stop pit strategy while teammate Scott Dixon went for the two-stop strategy. Rosenqvist was able to put his Honda in front for a total of 15 laps, leading up to a dramatic duel for the win with his teammate.
On the final lap as the two Ganassi drivers went into the “Keyhole” corner, Rosenqvist made his move. The two cars banged wheels, and Rosenqvist had to regain control of his machine.
That was enough for Dixon to drive on to his sixth Mid-Ohio triumph, the most at any one track in his career. Dixon held off Rosenqvist by just .0934 of a second, the closest finish of the season on a road or street course.
“Scott had to save fuel and I think the three-stopper was better, but the problem was I got behind lapped traffic and Scott was in front of them,” Rosenqvist said. “He didn’t have to pass the lapped cars, and that effectively threw us off a little bit.
“In pure lap time, my strategy was probably a lot better. We were really fast and already led the race in the first stint. We were up front most of the time.”
Rosenqvist started sixth and finished second, but that race served notice that he was ready for victory in INDYCAR. That win came this season on July 12 at Road America, and he hopes to add another victory this weekend.
“Mid-Ohio has been a place with a lot of good memories and a place I look back to with joy,” Rosenqvist said. “I couldn’t pick a better place for a road course return to the schedule.
“We try to be good at every track, but it’s a really cool track that suits me more than others. It’s a cool track with a lot of flow. There isn’t any corner that disturbs the flow of track, and that is kind of rare. Having my first test there, I was lucky it was that particular place.”
Beating Dixon at Mid-Ohio is beating INDYCAR’s best driver at his best track. That is something that any driver in the series can take with pride.
“Scott is good everywhere, but that is a good track for him,” Rosenqvist said. “Both Scott and the team are really good at Mid-Ohio. Ganassi has figured out what is needed to make a car go quick there, as well. They are pretty clever with strategy in terms of fuel. Last year, we covered both strategies and had two cars that could win the race.
“With both Scott and I liking the track, that’s why we had that scenario last year. It would be fun to beat Scott there, especially the way it ended last year. It’s rare to have a finish like that, but if that situation comes, we’ve both had a year to think about how to handle it differently today.”
Another season of experience could be a tremendous asset for Rosenqvist after he came so close to victory last season at Mid-Ohio. He likes the combination of two fast corners, two medium-speed corners and three or four slow-speed turns with an equal amount of left and right turns. All of this on a course that continues to flow for a driver.
“It has everything,” Rosenqvist said. “You need to be good everywhere on that track.”
Mid-Ohio is the start of a five-race homestretch that includes the Harvest GP on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a doubleheader on Oct. 2-3. The final race of the season is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg set for Oct. 25.
Although Dixon has a 96-point lead in the championship, Rosenqvist hopes to fight his way to a higher finish in the standings. He is 10th but just 42 points out of fifth.
“We still have five races left, but we came into the season with the big ambitions,” Rosenqvist said. “I’m sure in these five races, we can turn a lot of that around.
“It’s a championship and there are a lot of points left, and it’s not over yet. That’s the most important thing.”