Rosenqvist surprised car went over wall during frightening Pocono crash

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Felix Rosenqvist admits he doesn’t recall when he got into the fence at Pocono Raceway during Sunday’s first-lap crash that sent him to the hospital because he “had my eyes closed.”

In an NBCSports.com exclusive, Rosenqvist spoke publicly for the first time since he was part of the massive crash at the start of Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

The crash started when Takuma Sato’s Honda made contact with Alexander Rossi’s Honda, sending both drivers into Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Honda.  Hunter-Reay was on the low side of the track, three-wide heading into the tricky Turn 2 “Tunnel Turn” on the triangle-shaped oval.

Behind them was Rosenqvist, a rookie driver from Malmo, Sweden, who saw what was taking place in front of him and he immediately slowed. He thought he was safe.

Chaos ensued.

“I saw when the three cars collided, and the first thing you do is lift the throttle because you think it’s going to be a caution and you see a dangerous situation ahead of you,” Rosenqvist told NBCSports.com Wednesday. “I thought I was past everything.

“He hit my left-rear. Then I closed my eyes.

“I didn’t know I was in the catchfence or the wall or anything afterward until Dario Franchitti told me in the Medical Center. I don’t have any good memories, because I didn’t keep my eyes open.”

Sato’s damaged Honda already had crashed into the fence before his car then started to ricochet to the left. That’s when he made contact with Rosenqvist’s Honda, sending it airborne.

“It was very hard contact, because Takuma wasn’t moving very fast at all at the time, and I was still going 160 or 170 mph,” Rosenqvist recalled. “It shot the car like in a flip motion. My impact with the wall wasn’t that big, but my car had a lot of spinning momentum.

“When it smacked the front in the wall, my head flipped around big-time in the car. I felt a big headache afterwards.

“Otherwise, it wasn’t too bad.”

Rosenqvist said it seemed surprisingly easy that his car got over the wall. Some IndyCar drivers think the walls at Pocono Raceway appear lower than other superspeedways, but Rosenqvist doesn’t know that for a fact.

“One part of my car always touched the track before getting up there,” Rosenqvist said. “Robert Wickens ended up in the fence last year, and I ended up there this year. It seems pretty likely the cars end up there somehow. I don’t know why or the technical reason for that.

“I wish the wall was higher because it seems very easy for them to get up there.”

Rosenqvist got a sharp pain in his head and that kept him from opening his eyes while the car was rotating. He admits he was lucky the rear of the car never got above the wall because the G-Forces would have thrown it into the fence and made the crash even more severe.

“Somehow, it was the luckiest of every outcome that happened to me,” Rosenqvist said.

A raging debate has started about whether the NTT IndyCar Series should compete at Pocono Raceway because drivers have been airlifted out of the facility in each of the past four years, including one fatality in 2015 when Justin Wilson was killed.

Robert Wickens also was paralyzed from the waist down after he crashed into the catchfence in Turn 2 at the start of the 2018 Pocono race.

Defenders will point out that it’s also risky to run in the Indianapolis 500, too. High-speed racing is risky, period, and what happened at Pocono can happen elsewhere.

“All three superspeedways we do are the most dangerous tracks you can run, but when you do Indy, you have a lot of practice running with other cars,” Rosenqvist said. “I felt really ready for the race at Indy, but at Pocono I had barely any running in traffic at all before the race started.

“You leave a lot to chance when you come up on the first lap, and you don’t know what racing other cars is like. It’s always different. You leave a lot in the hands of the driver, and that is more of the dangerous thing than the track itself.

“I believe the wall should be higher, but that goes for all of them.”

Rosenqvist has watched the onboard video on his car and the three impacts with the fence took the front wing and then several chunks out of his tub.

“The tub really did its job, so I had no leg injuries,” he said. “Plus, I’m pretty short.

“Physically, I feel almost fully recovered. I still have a light headache, but nothing big. Another one or two nights of sleep, I’ll be completely ready to drive a car again.”

Rosenqvist underwent a series of tests on Tuesday and has been cleared by INDYCAR’S Medical Staff to return to competition. That begins with Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway near St. Louis.

His No. 10 Honda will be sponsored by Monster Energy for the first time.

Rosenqvist has no reservation returning to action.

“I don’t feel any different going into Gateway,” he said. “I was very honest with my feelings at Indy after practice because I lost my confidence. I lost the car and didn’t know how. I thought I had it under control. That is the worst for a driver when you try to figure out what is wrong, and you can’t figure it out.

“But if I get taken out by someone in a freak accident, I’m not going to think any differently going into Gateway. I felt good going into Pocono and have felt good at every oval we have done.

“I think we can do pretty good, to be honest. I expect Gateway to be my best oval because I have done well in testing. Now is the time to get some good results, for sure.”

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?