Rosenqvist’s promise shines at Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

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STEAM CORNERS, Ohio – There was a certain symmetry to Felix Rosenqvist’s performance in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio when the talented rookie driver from Malmo, Sweden finished second to Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon.

It was at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in July 2016 where it all began for Rosenqvist. At the time, Rosenqvist was a talented driver for Belardi Racing in the Indy Lights Series. Chip Ganassi Racing decided to give Rosenqvist a test in Dixon’s No. 9 Honda, utilizing an INDYCAR rule that gave team’s an extra test day provided an Indy Lights driver got to turn more laps in the test than the team’s full-time driver.

Chip Ganassi Racing was very interested in see what Rosenqvist had to offer that day and were quite impressed with his performance. At that time, Tony Kanaan was still under contract in the No. 10 Honda at CGR, so Rosenqvist would have to wait for a ride to open up on the NTT IndyCar Series grid.

Rosenqvist got another CGR test at Mid-Ohio in 2017 and was also impressive that day. But it wasn’t until the end of 2018 before the contracts aligned and Rosenqvist was able to finally get the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda for famed team owner Chip Ganassi.

On Sunday, he delivered by giving the team a 1-2 finish in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Rosenqvist led 15 laps and nearly scored his first career IndyCar victory when teammate and leader Dixon’s Firestone Red tires began to lose their grip.

Dixon was able to hold on to a car that felt like he was “driving on ice” to score his sixth-career Mid-Ohio win and the 46thIndyCar win of his career.

He defeated Rosenqvist by just 0.0934-of-a-second in the third-closest finish on a road course in IndyCar history.

“Huge respect for Felix,” Dixon said afterwards. “He drove clean, and ultimately, it was going to be hard for any car to come past, even though we were about three seconds slower a lap than anyone else.

“Felix is a rookie here in IndyCar but has raced in many different series and has much broader knowledge of racing than I even do because he’s touched so many different kinds of formulas.

“Again, I keep saying it, but he’s a big talent. He’s going to win a lot of races. He was super-fast all weekend. I’m not sure why they switched to the three strategy unless he just wasn’t getting the fuel mileage. But they were darned fast in the race.”

At 27, Rosenqvist is also very smart. Although he gave it his best effort at trying to pass Dixon for the win, he wasn’t going to do anything stupid that would doom the team’s 1-2 finish.

“Well, it’s always playing with fire, when you see that orange car,” Rosenqvist said, referring to Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda. “Chip’s first rule is always don’t take out your teammate or we’re going to have a serious discussion. He always says that before the race, and that’s going to stick in your head for sure when you’re catching up to Scott.

“I trust him to give the room when it’s needed and to be aggressive when it’s needed, and I didn’t really feel worried about it. I mean, when my team trusts me to go for it, I trust them that that’s the right call and I do what I’m told, go for it, have fun.”

The two drivers engaged in a wild last-lap battle in Turn 2, even banging wheels briefly, but it was good, hard, racing that kept both cars under control.

“I really want to credit (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) for letting us race,” Rosenqvist said. “The last lap, I think everyone really enjoyed that. We were enjoying it. We were banging wheels in Turn 2 there, was a bit exciting. But Scott (Dixon) is always going to fight you hard but fair, and I think I did the same, and maybe one more lap we could have got him. But yeah, it was awesome.

“I thought he was struggling both with fuel and especially tires, and he braked kind of early into (Turn) 2 and I thought he actually kind of let me go because he was going a lot slower at the time, and then he kind of veered in at the last moment and we hit a little bit.It kicked up a lot of dirt on my tires. I couldn’t really make the attack I wanted for the last couple of corners. But yeah, he’s clever and he’s never going to be easy to pass even when he’s running out of tires.

“The instruction was not to ‘take it easy and not pass Scott.’ They said, ‘try to get him, but think about he’s your teammate.’”

Rosenqvist had the obvious mixed emotions at coming so close to scoring his first career win. He had what he believed was the right tire strategy and the pace to win the race. But he also had one of the greatest drivers in IndyCar history to pass on a track where Dixon is the “Master of Mid-Ohio.”

Ultimately, Rosenqvist earned the respect of the paddock with his race and delivering his part on a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing.

And it happened at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the track that started it all for Rosenqvist with his Ganassi IndyCar tests in 2016 and 2017.

“It’s always been a place I liked,” Rosenqvist said. “Inever actually raced here, but there’s always been a good flow for me at this track. Maybe it reminds me a bit more of the European tracks, kind of flowing, pretty smooth. It’s not as bumpy as most of the tracks we have here.

“It just keeps bringing me good memories here at Mid-Ohio. It’s an awesome place. It’s cool that everyone comes out to this race every year.”

 

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”