INDYCAR Photo by John Cote
INDYCAR Photo from John Cote

Sweden’s interest in IndyCar is soaring, according to Felix Rosenqvist

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LONG BEACH, California – Thanks to the addition of rookies Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson, interest in the NTT IndyCar Series is soaring in Sweden.

Rosenqvist calls it a “game breaker” in his homeland.

“When I signed with Chip Ganassi Racing, people were very happy that I was coming to IndyCar,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports.com. “Many of my fans in Sweden were not happy with me being in Formula E. When I signed in IndyCar, all of the old Kenny Brack fans came back to life. When Marcus came to IndyCar, everything exploded and got three times bigger.

“It seems to be that IndyCar is what the fans in Sweden are following at the moment instead of Formula One.

“That’s a game-breaker for our country.”

Rosenqvist started his rookie season as the big story to come out of the Firestone Grand Prix of Long Beach when he started third, led 31 laps and finished fourth in the 110-lap contest. He was a leading contender at Circuit of the Americas on March 24 after qualifying fifth, but after he got punted in Turn 20 by Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, the 27-year-old from Malmo, Sweden finished 23rd.

Last week in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park, Rosenqvist started 17thand raced his way up to 10th.

As the NTT IndyCar Series prepares for the second street race of the season in Sunday’s 45thAcura Grand Prix of Long Beach, he is hoping to give his fans in Sweden something to cheer about.

Watch Sunday’s race at 4:30 pm ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app

“I always look forward to these races, just to have this atmosphere,” Rosenqvist said. “It’s a special vibe for everyone to be at street races. I always tend to do well in them, and that helps.

“It’s a mixed feeling. I started off really well at St. Pete. COTA was amazing up to the race, when I had some issues. Barber was like a big joker the way everything happened. I want to work on my race pace. The qualifying pace seems to be there, and I want to improve my race pace.”

Rosenqvist was the third-fastest driver in Friday’s combined practice sessions on the streets of Long Beach. His fast lap around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn road course was 1:07.8867 for a speed of 104.362 miles per hour in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. His teammate, Scott Dixon, was the fastest at 1:07.7940 (104.505 mph) followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay at 1:07.8434 (104.429 mph).

The top three drivers were in Hondas.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris OwensRosenqvist’s fellow driver from Sweden, Ericsson, was 16thfor Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at 1:08.5580 (103.340 mph) in a Honda.

“I think he has been really strong in the races,” Rosenqvist said of Ericsson. “In all three races this year, he has been poor qualifying, but really strong races. I think it’s only a matter of time before he qualifies in the Top Five and has a run for the podium.

“I think his day will come. There are a lot of things to learn. Every week, they throw something different at you that is a surprise.”

Rosenqvist missed the setup in qualifying last week at Barber but plans on getting it right at Long Beach.

“When you are stuck in that angry, mid-pack group, you have to get through it fast,” Rosenqvist said. “When you get stuck between 10thand 17thfor more than half the race, it’s hard to get through it.

“It’s all things that we need to think about and work on for the future.”

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach has a rich heritage in Formula One and became part of the CART series in 1984 and IndyCar in 2008.

Even in Sweden, they know about this event.

“It’s one of the races you remember as a kid because you remember that Fountain Corner,” Rosenqvist said. “It’s historic. It’s such a really cool race. It’s a great track. Everyone loves it. It’s in California and everyone loves it.

“It’s perfect timing for me now to try to come back here now and try to get a podium.”

Plus, Rosenqvist’s mentor and agent, former Formula One and CART driver Stefan Johansson of Sweden, lives just up the freeway in Santa Monica, California.

It could all add up to another big weekend for Sweden in the NTT IndyCar Series at the 45thAcura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Supercross points leader Eli Tomac finds silver linings in interruption

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Though his Monster Energy AMA Supercross championship charge was put on hold, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a silver lining for Eli Tomac.

Off the road while the season was postponed for nearly three months, the points leader was able to be present as his girlfriend, Jessica, gave birth to their daughter, Lev, on April 26

“A huge blessing for us there,” Tomac told host Mike Tirico during a “Lunch Talk Live” interview (click on the video above) in which he also joked about becoming a pro at busting off diaper changes. “That was one good blessing for us as we had our daughter on a Sunday, that would have been on a travel day coming back from the race in Las Vegas.

NBCSN

“That was probably the only positive out of all this mess was being able to be there for the birth.”

But there also could be more good fortune for Tomac as the series resumes Sunday at Salt Lake City, Utah (3-4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, 4-6 p.m. on NBC).

The final seven events will be held over 22 days in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which sits at just over 4,000 feet.

The elevation could favor Tomac, who was born and lives in Colorado and is accustomed to riding and training at altitude, which is a departure for many Supercross riders (many of whom hail from California and Florida).

COVID-19 TESTING REQUIRED: Supercross outlines protocols for last seven races

“That’s going to be the test for us,” said the Kawasaki rider, who five of the first 10 races this season. “We’re at elevation in Salt Lake, so when you’re on a motorcycle, you have a little bit of a loss of power. That’s just what happens when you come up in elevation. And a lot of guys train at sea level, and we’re at 4,000 to 5,000 feet, so cardio-wise, we’ll be pushed to the limit.

“Most of our races are Saturday nights and back to back weeks, but this go around it’s Sunday and Wednesday, so recovery is going to be key.”

Supercross will race Sunday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, capping the season with the June 21 finale, which also will be shown on NBCSN from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

Tomac, who holds a three-point lead over Ken Roczen (who also recently visited “Lunch Talk Live”), told Tirico he had been riding for 90 minutes Thursday morning on a track outside Salt Lake City.

“Most of us we can rely on our past riding pretty well,” Tomac said. “The question is if you can go the distance. That’s what a lot of guys have to train on is going the distance. We go 20 minutes plus a lap. That’s what you’ve got to keep sharp is your general muscles. Within two to three days, your brain starts warming up more if you take a few weeks off the motorcycle.”

Here is the schedule and TV information for the rest of the season:

  • Sunday, May 31 (3-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC);
  • Wednesday, June 3 ( 10:00 pm – 1:00 am ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 7 (5-8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 10 (7–10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 14 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Wednesday, June 17 (7-10 p.m. ET, NBCSN);
  • Sunday, June 21 (3-4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. ET, NBC).
Eli Tomac rides his No. 3 Kawasaki in the Feb. 29 race at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia (Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).