IndyCar rookie Rosenqvist works through difficult stretch of the season

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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FORT WORTH, Texas – Eight races ago, Felix Rosenqvist kicked off his NTT IndyCar Series rookie season by leading 31 laps and finishing fourth in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

He was so impressive in that debut, the 27-year-old driver from Sweden was considered IndyCar’s next big star.

Now, Rosenqvist finds himself frustrated and disappointed. He equaled his career-best fourth-place finish in last Saturday’s Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, but followed the next day with a crash in Turn 1, six laps from the finish.

It was his second DNF of the season due to a crash. At the Indy 500, he was part of a multi-car pileup on Lap 176. Prior to that, he’d had another serious wreck during Indy 500 practice on May 15.

It is believed that Rosenqvist has a multi-year contract with Chip Ganassi Racing, but when asked, the driver from Sweden would not confirm the details of his agreement. However, he did admit to meeting with the team owner after his two crashes at Indy in May.

“I think he has been supportive,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports.com Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “We had a chat at Indy. It’s normal when you have two or three wrecks, something is not right. Whether it’s your fault or not, it’s not a position you want to be or a position you are normally in.

“But he is supporting me. He believes in me and we are pushing.”

Rosenqvist admits he would like to have better results by now, but he prefers to look forward instead of dwelling on the crashes.

“I try not to think too much about it,” Rosenqvist said. “There has been a lot of ‘could have been’ this year by me. We’ve had really good starting positions almost every race. Then, we’ve had a lot of incidents and crashes, some messy races.

“It’s my first season. If it had gone well, fine, we’ll take it. Now, we have everything thrown at us and it’s time for us to push through and show if we can get through this, we can push through most of our challenges. It’s time to forget about it, reload and try to continue.”

Sweden’s other rookie in the NTT IndyCar Series is Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Ericsson, a veteran of 97 Formula One races, started the season slow but finished second in last Sunday’s Race 2 in Detroit.

“Honestly, for both of us, it has not been a smooth year,” Rosenqvist said. “We would have both enjoyed having better results. Winning is easy. We have all won races, but that’s not the hard part. The hard part is getting through the tough times and that is where we find ourselves right now.”

Rosenqvist called May a tough month, but after his practice wreck, he had what he called one of the best races of his career in the ‘500,’ before he got sucked up in the crash triggered by contact between Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal.

Last Sunday at Detroit, his Honda barely touched the wall at the exit of Turn 11. Then, as he passed the pit area, he turned into Turn 1 and his car snapped.

“It’s one of those things I look back and should have pitted,” Rosenqvist said. “It ended how it ended, but I try to take the positives out it.”

This weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Rosenqvist has the daunting task of competing on the high-banked 1.5-mile oval for the first time.

“There is always traffic here, whether you like it or not,” Rosenqvist said. “That is the biggest challenge here. At Indy, you have more respect, but this place is super-fast. In the turns, it feels like your brain is moving to the right because your head is stuck there. It’s high G-forces. The consequences are so high, but it’s a super cool track.

“At this point in my season, I can’t afford to have any more crashes or mistakes. It’s just not worth risking too much.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.