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.”
NHRA Texas winners: B. Torrence, Hagan, Anderson, Savoie
Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is a proud Texan who hates to lose. But if there’s one person Torrence likely doesn’t mind seeing win if he can’t reach the winner’s circle – particularly if it’s on home turf – it’s father Billy.
Steve was cheering his father on as the latter boosted his own championship hopes Sunday by winning the Top Fuel category in the final eliminations of the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.
Billy Torrence (3.775 seconds at 319.67 mph) defeated Jordan Vandergriff (4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph in his first career final round) for his fourth win of the season, including his second win in the first four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With the fifth Top Fuel triumph of his career, the elder Torrence moved into fourth in the Top Fuel standings, just 71 points behind his son with two races remaining in the Countdown.
Even though Billy’s son lost in the opening round Sunday, he still leads the Top Fuel standings, holding a 33-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta and a 46-point lead over third-ranked and the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Brittany Force.
Sunday marked the third consecutive win in this year’s playoffs for the father-son combo and their second straight triumph at Dallas (Steve won there last year as part of an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown en route to the championship).
“It’s home turf and we love to race here,” Billy Torrence said after visiting the winner’s circle. “We’ve raced here our whole career and we have a lot of fans here. There’s no better place to race than Dallas, Texas, and we did have the best car today.
“It has been very humbling, and we’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the success we’ve had. We’ve got a great group of guys on both cars and our success is just a testament to the work these guys do. I think that we’re probably the second-best car in the country, with Steve having the best. We’ve had a stellar season.”
In Funny Car: Matt Hagan (3.909 seconds at 327.59 mph) roared to his third win of the season – as well as his third at the Motorplex – and the 32nd victory of his career, defeating Bob Tasca (3.928 seconds at 323.12 mph). Hagan also moved up to fourth in the standings.
“We had a great race car today,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was pretty tough, but to turn on four win lights was pretty huge. (Tasca) is a great driver and those guys are good, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.
“We’re just trying to keep some momentum going, keep doing our job and control what we can control. It was a pretty special weekend. We’ve just got to keep digging and keep working. I love this sport and it’s been a big part of my life for 10 years. I knew (crew chief Dickie Venables) was tuned in and you could see he was confident, and that builds confidence in me.”
Robert Hight continues to lead the Funny Car standings, followed by Jack Beckman (70 points back) and No. 1 qualifier John Force (74 points back).
In Pro Stock: Greg Anderson (6.609 seconds at 209.75 mph) defeated longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.610 seconds at 207.56 mph) to earn his third win of the season, fifth of his career at the Motorplex and 94th of his overall Pro Stock career.
It was the 102nd time Anderson and Coughlin, who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, have met each other in a race, including the 21st time in the final round.
“We’ve had so many titanic clashes with so much on the line, and I knew it would be close,” said Anderson, who is seventh in points. “It’s a total team effort and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You’ve got to have perfection every time out there.
“We made a lot of changes this week and we hit on it. It showed it on Saturday and I knew coming into today we had a chance. Now it’s a matter of if I can drive the car well enough. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else.”
Erica Enders held on to her lead in the category, but saw the margin over second-ranked Matt Hartford drop to only 28 points. Coughlin is third (-65 points) and Anderson is seventh (-99 points).
In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Jerry “Alligator Farmer” Savoie (6.881 seconds at 195.90 mph) took a big step towards potentially earning his second PSM championship in the last three seasons, defeating three-time champion Eddie Krawiec (6.901 seconds at 195.62 mph).
It was Savoie’s third win of the season and 12th of his career. It’s also his second win in the first four playoff races and fifth straight appearance in the final round at the Motorplex. He’s now third in the PSM standings, 94 points behind five-time champion Andrew Hines.
“It was a great day and we knew we had a good bike coming in,” Savoie said. “We said if we held our composure we could win this thing. For the most part, tracks favor certain riders and we’ve been blessed here. It’s a great place and today was great.
“Bottom line, I want a championship just as bad as anybody else, so whoever is in my way I’m going to do everything I can to try and beat them. I felt good and we’ve got a great team. To me, this win gives you more hope and means a lot. This gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again.”
NOTES: Only two races remain this season: Las Vegas in two weeks (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3) and Pomona, California four weeks from now (Nov. 14 – 17).
TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Jordan Vandergriff; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Lee Callaway; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Kebin Kinsley; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Cameron Ferre; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Richie Crampton.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Jeff Arend; 16. Jonnie Lindberg.
PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Deric Kramer; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Jason Line; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Richie Stevens.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Karen Stoffer; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Hector Arana Jr; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Michael Ray; 15. Jianna Salinas.
FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,437; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,367; 3. John Force, 2,363; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,325; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,315; 6. Ron Capps, 2,302; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,274; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,243; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,239; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,188.
PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,395; 2. Matt Hartford, 2,367; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,330; 4. Jason Line, 2,327; 5. Deric Kramer, 2,323; 6. Bo Butner, 2,321; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,296; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,239; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,217; 10. Val Smeland, 2,124.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,464; 2. Karen Stoffer, 2,383; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,370; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,365; 5. Matt Smith, 2,297; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,274; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,248; 8. Angie Smith, 2,181; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,159; 10. Hector Arana, 2,128.