Rosenqvist hopes ‘the stars align’ at Honda Indy Toronto

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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TORONTO – Flash back to the start of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season and rookie Felix Rosenqvist was looking like the best driver from Sweden since Kenny Brack in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was the March 10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the 27-year-old rookie from Malmo, Sweden started third and was out front for 31 laps before finishing fourth.

Hopes were even higher for Rosenqvist when he started fifth in the next race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. He would be involved in the only on-track incident of the race and finish 23rd. His high rookie expectations took a hit when then 18-year-old Colton Herta won the race to become the youngest winner in IndyCar history.

Three more top-10 finishes followed before the 103rdIndianapolis 500 when Rosenqvist was part of the big crash on Lap 176 that red-flagged the event. He finished a season-low 28th.

He regained his street course form with a fourth-place finish in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix before dipping to a 16ththe following day. After a 12thplace finish at Texas Motor Speedway, Rosenqvist rebounded with an impressive sixth-place after started 18th.

The 11-turn, 1.786-mile temporary street course at Toronto’s Exhibition Place shares many of the same characteristics as the street course at St. Petersburg.

That could be a key in reinvigorating Rosenqvist’s season.

“Everything has been pretty good for us on the street tracks this year and personally, I like it,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports.com. “But one course isn’t the same to another so it will be difficult wherever we go.

“Toronto is a track I’ve been to before in Indy Lights and that is definitely helpful. The team won the race last year with Scott Dixon and were pretty quick every session.

“I feel the stars are aligned to have a good result.”

It’s not unusual for a rookie driver to have an up-and-down season, but the expectations were very high for Rosenqvist after the season-opener at St. Pete.

“It’s been pretty decent,” the Swede shrugged. “I think I could have won that race and of course, the expectations went up after that. Different tracks, different challenges.

“Getting into this part of the season, Toronto is probably going to be the easier circuit for me than the others.”

Rosenqvist drove a 10-race Indy Lights schedule in 2016 and won both Indy Lights contests at Toronto starting from the pole.

He believes starting up front on a street course is vitally important because trouble lurks around every blind corner.

“All of the street tracks we go to, we have overtaking and that is very rare,” Rosenqvist said. “At Monaco in Formula One, you don’t have any overtakes. But if you are up front on a street course, you have clean air and can run your own strategy. What happens behind that is mostly random.”

Fuel strategy is also very important at Toronto. Dixon dominated the 2016 race, leading 56 laps in the 85-lap race, but was foiled with his fuel strategy of being the last to pit. A caution period occurred just one lap before Dixon was about to pit.

With the pits closed and every other driver in the field having made their final pit stop, Dixon went from first to 15th. He raced his way back to an eighth-place position but lost what could have been an easy win.

“That can always happen, and I think it’s something you learn from,” Rosenqvist said. “It’s easy to be clever afterwards. Nine times out of 10, that would be the best strategy to go for and that time, it didn’t work out.

“You can always make a fluke result, but if you want to win a championship, you have to go with the strategy that Scott went for in that race because that is generally the one that works out.”

With such high expectations on Rosenqvist before the season started, he felt fast in testing and in practice. But throw in such variables as new tire compounds, bumpy circuits, it’s hard to find the flow to the series for a new driver.

“It’s like you drive a different championship every time you are out in the car,” Rosenqvist said. “But in a two-hour race, there are so many other things where you have to be good.

“Before the season, there were many people who didn’t want to call me a rookie because of my racing background. But in this type of championship, if you haven’t been here before, it’s always going to be difficult.

“I don’t see how you are going to make any shortcuts to be successful in IndyCar. It takes time and that’s hard to accept. I need to be patient and learn every time I’m in the car.”

Despite his up-and-down season, Rosenqvist is the highest rookie in the standings in 10thplace.

“Colton and I have been the fastest rookies, but Santino Ferrucci has been a big surprise and has had the more mature rookie season of all of us,” Rosenqvist said of the 21-year-old driver from New Jersey, who is 12thin the standings. “My goal this year is to get a win before the season is over. Colton has won a race and Marcus Ericsson has finished second.

“We should have the capability of winning a race. It’s a matter of getting it right on the day and a little bit of luck always helps. I’m sure we can do that and that is still my target. But I’m trying to not think about that too much and do something stupid to get a win.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
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Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2