INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Rosenqvist hopes ‘the stars align’ at Honda Indy Toronto

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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.”

NHRA: Antron Brown takes major step toward team ownership

NHRA
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There will come a day that when three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown wants to talk to his boss, he’ll need to look no further than in the mirror.

The New Jersey native announced Tuesday that he has begun to lay the groundwork to own his Top Fuel team, eventually branching out from Don Schumacher Racing.

“It’s definitely exciting, but at the same time, it’s also nerve-wracking because the buck stops here right now,” Brown told NBC Sports. “Now the coolest part is you get to help and drive and motivate and push the team forward, to make decisions and leave a legacy behind for my family.”

Brown will continue racing for DSR this season while beginning the transition to eventual sole ownership of the new AB Motorsports in the future. Even when he officially leaves the DSR camp as a hired driver, Brown and his new team will retain a technical partnership with the Schumacher organization.

Moving toward team ownership is just a natural evolution for Brown, who previously ran his own Pro Stock Motorcycle team from 1998 until joining DSR in 2002. It’s also a move that potentially may lead other current drivers to start thinking about their own futures.

It’s no secret that many of the biggest names in drag racing – both drivers and owners – are getting up in years. John Force will soon turn 72, while Schumacher is 75. They’re among several others in the sport who are making contingency plans for their teams to continue to operate once they’re gone – and Brown wants to do his part to help the sport grow and flourish.

“When you’re able to have ownership, you’re looking at the talent coming up,” Brown said. “You’re able to reach down and see and give other people opportunities that you had. When I came to race for Don Schumacher at DSR, he’s given all these people at his place this opportunity to drive.

“But what happens when the Don Schumachers, the John Forces, the Connie Kalittas go? You lose all the owners of our series, so who’s next in line to take over that lineage or carry that torch? It’s a necessary means for the future for the upcoming people.

Antron Brown’s plans to become a team owner were embraced by his current team owner, Don Schumacher. (Getty Images)

“I’ve been in this sport for over 20 years. This is the next evolution of my chapter, the next page of my book. What am I going to do when I decide to hang the helmet up one day? I want to be there to bring that new crop of drivers and talent up and help mold them to be the best version of themselves to carry the sport forward and to share with them what was shared with me over all my years in the sport, from Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Mark Oswald and Don “Snake” Prudhomme, all the people I looked up to.”

While Brown will start as a single-car team once he transitions to ownership, he hopes to eventually build AB Motorsports into at least a two-car operation, with his Top Fuel dragster and a Funny Car.

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The path to eventual ownership began nearly a year ago when Brown and Schumacher discussed the future.

“Me and Don had a heart-to-heart talk,” Brown said. “When I told him what I wanted to do, Don said, ‘Antron, I know this is what you want to do. I’ll support you in this.’

“That’s a cool experience when you have a gentleman that has done everything in this sport, from over 350 national event wins, 17 world championships – and I’ve done three with him – and is in every motorsports hall of fame there is.

“What is he going to do next? He’s making the sport better by pushing people like myself to do what I’m doing now. No matter how long it takes, I know I have him on my backside, pushing me to get to that point.”

Like father, like son: Antron Brown and son Anson, who is following in his father’s drag racing footsteps. Photo: Antron Brown’s official Facebook page.

His family’s future also figured into Brown’s decision. His oldest son, Anson, soon turns 16 years old and is heavily involved in NHRA’s Jr. Dragster program, as are Brown’s other children. It’s likely his son some day will follow in his father’s footsteps.

But don’t think that the elder Brown, who turns 44 in March, is ready to hang up his firesuit just yet.

“I’ll stop driving when I feel I’m not capable to drive no more and I’m not having fun no more,” he said. “That’s nowhere in the near future. I know I’m going to drive for at least another 15 years.”

Heading into this season, Brown will retain current sponsorship from Mac Tools and Toyota, as well as associate sponsorship from Hangsterfer’s on his 11,000-horsepower dragster. Global Electronic Technology also has signed on as a new associate sponsor in a multiyear deal.

“It’s no secret this has been a goal of Antron’s for a while now, and I’m happy to be able to provide the tools and resources needed for him to be able to successfully branch out on his own,” Schumacher said in a team media release. “It’s important for me to see my team members grow.”

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Brown burst upon the NHRA scene atop a Pro Stock Motorcycle in 1998, earning 16 wins over the next 10 seasons. He joined DSR in 2002 and made the switch to Top Fuel in 2008.

Since then, Brown – who now resides in suburban Indianapolis – has gone on to become one of the winningest drivers in Top Fuel history with 50 national event victories, as well as three championships between 2012 and 2015.

That performance recently earned him AutoWeek magazine’s Top Fuel Driver of the Decade.

Brown also announced Tuesday he is reuniting with former crew chief Brian Corradi, who returns to the team after spending the last two seasons as co-crew chief for 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force. Corradi will share crew chief duties for Brown with NHRA veteran Mark Oswald.

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When he won his first title in 2012, Brown became the first African-American world champion in Top Fuel history. He hopes his move to ownership will continue to grow NHRA’s already significant focus on opportunities for minorities and females in the sport.

“I think it’s important across all spectrums, period,” Brown said. “I think a lot of fans see me, and they can relate to me because I am them. I came from a good, hard-working family in Chesterfield, New Jersey, which is right next door to Trenton.

“Everybody in my family from my great uncles to my grandpop made their own way, had their own businesses, from swimming pool to paving to septic tank businesses.

“One thing my grandpop said to me is the world is wide open. He said, ‘Son, you can have anything you want in this world, as long as you put the effort and put the work towards it.’ If people can resonate with my story from where I came from and where I’m heading, I hope it gives them this energy, this ray of hope that ‘if Antron Brown can do this, so can I.’

“That’s the only way for motorsports to grow. It’s for the young ones to get interested in it and I want them to know the opportunity is there. All they have to do is take it.”

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Brown will be among more than 30 Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers who will take part in this weekend’s annual preseason “spring training” test at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in preparation for the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals Feb. 6-9 in Pomona, California.

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