DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – One of the keys for growth of the Mazda Road to Indy is that it expands internationally, and casts a wider net to attract a greater number of drivers and teams from Europe.
The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series bagged one helluva team in Carlin last year, and the series could bag one helluva driver if 24-year-old Swede Felix Rosenqvist can get an Indy Lights program sorted for the 2016 season.
As he told MotorSportsTalk at Daytona, where this week he’s competing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Starworks Motorsport in the Prototype Challenge class, Indy Lights is one of his primary targets for the 2016 season.
“It’s all quite unclear at the moment. I’m sort of having three or four options spread all over the world at the moment,” Rosenqvist told MST.
“At some point we have to just sit down and talk to everyone and see what would be the best solution. It obviously has to do a lot with money as well.
“I would say Indy Lights is one of my main targets for this year and that would be great. In that case, the plan would obviously be to go to IndyCar and to move over here and start a completely new journey. That would be really exciting. We’re in the difficult part where you have to make a decision. It’s hard to say anything.”
Rosenqvist is already ahead of the curve compared to several potential Indy Lights drivers for 2016, having had two tests thus far. He tested with Team Pelfrey the tail end of last year at Palm Beach International Raceway, and just this week completed his first test with Belardi Auto Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It was the first time with them, so an all-new experience. But I really enjoy working with them, to be honest,” he said.
“It’s a great bunch of guys, really good engineers. Also, there’s a happy spirit in the team. They seem to have a lot of fun when they’re out racing and I think that’s really important. We got together nicely and smoothly.
“The test obviously went really good, as well. So we managed to have a really good program and got a lot of things out of the way and yeah. In the end we were also quickest, which is a bonus, but it’s just testing.”
Yes, it’s only testing, but leading both sessions on Wednesday in his first time with a new team still spoke volumes about his ability level, which isn’t in question.
Rosenqvist took last year’s FIA Formula 3 European Championship, after finishing third in 2012 and second in 2013.
That 2012 season saw him finish just behind Daniel Juncadella and Raffaele Marciello, who both have had F1 testing roles in the past, and ahead of luminaries such as Pascal Wehrlein (DTM champion and Mercedes reserve driver), Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso F1 driver), Sven Mueller (Porsche Junior driver) and American Michael Lewis (Porsche scholarship driver in North America last season).
Marciello edged Rosenqvist in 2013, but the list of drivers Rosenqvist finished ahead of included Alex Lynn, Harry Tincknell, Jordan King, Tom Blomqvist, Pipo Derani, Mueller again, and Felix Serralles – the last of whom is confirmed with Carlin for the upcoming Indy Lights season.
If you know any or all of those names, you know how deep those fields are.
The competition is so intense in Europe and in his brief, but good, early impressions of America, Rosenqvist is another European driver who hailed the more relaxed and outgoing nature of the American racing world.
“Somehow it seems to be a more friendly environment. The drivers sort of talk to each other and it’s not that competitive,” he said. “It’s still competitive on the track, but off the track it doesn’t seem that competitive.
“That’s quite different, also between the teams as far as it seems like all the teams, they’re talking with each other. Mechanics and engineers hang out with each other. But in Europe, everything is a little more cold and everyone sort of thinks for themselves, especially the drivers. I like that (here), where it seems to be a little less political as well, which is nice.
“To actually have a chance like if you’re a good driver, you would actually have a shot at doing something and that’s fair enough. That’s what you’re looking for.”
Rosenqvist hailed a number of drivers as his racing inspirations, in terms of what he looks for in a good driver.
“I think most of my idols are from Finland. But in terms of Sweden, I would say Kenny Brack, Rickard Rydell, and Ronnie Peterson. Rydell has been helping me a little bit and he’s a really, really good driver. He really did have a good career.”
Judging by the opportunities Rosenqvist may have ahead of him for 2016 and beyond, he’s well on his way to a good career as well.
He’ll share the No. 88 Starworks car with Maro Engel, Sean Johnston and Mark Kvamme in arguably the top sleeper entry in the PC class, as Peter Baron has once again assembled a sneaky good and “if you know who they are, you know it’s good” type of lineup.