IndyCar: Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist sees great potential in sim racing

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Felix Rosenqvist is unfamiliar with the term “Groundhog Day.”

The talented NTT IndyCar Series driver from Sweden admits he never saw the famed 1993 comedy classic that featured Bill Murray as a Pittsburgh television weatherman who woke up every day only to discover it was still Groundhog Day.

Rosenqvist admitted to, however, that he is going to great lengths to fight off boredom during this unexpected shutdown because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For the second-year Chip Ganassi Racing racer who drives the NTT Data Honda, it’s a cross between “Groundhog Day” and “Dumb and Dumber.”

“It’s weird,” Rosenqvist told “I’ve never had it before where I actively tried to not bore myself. I’m cooking different things that I’ve never cooked before. I’ve tried different things to stay active to mix up your life a little bit. It’s so easy to sit inside and watch TV.

“You feel like you are becoming dumb after a while by not doing anything.

“For me, the biggest challenge is mentally. How can you stay sane through this because it’s so odd?

“It’s definitely weird.”

Rosenqvist has immersed himself in the sim racing world. He competes in various sim races, including the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

The second-year IndyCar driver finished second in the opening round at Watkins Glen International. Last week at virtual Barber Motorsports Park, Rosenqvist had what he thought was the race-winning strategy but took out leading contender Sage Karam late in the contest.

“I had a perfect scenario with the strategy I had,” Rosenqvist said. “I stayed out longer and short filled and short-filled and was able to get out in front of Sage Karam and Will Power. That was the plan starting from third to do something different. Then, Sage and I had a crash that was a racing incident. It was a bit more my fault than his.

“We went for it pretty hard and didn’t give much room to each other. It’s difficult to race close like that in a sim race. We wanted to win. There is not much glory in finishing second in a sim race, so we went for the win. It was a good race. It was interesting to follow, even looking afterward.

“I’m going to go for that first win soon.”

Next up in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge is virtual Michigan Speedway. It’s a track IndyCar has not competed at since 2007.

When the sim racing challenge began two weeks after the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was canceled March 13, some drivers looked at it as a game. Because race drivers are highly competitive individuals, it didn’t take long for it to become serious business.

Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden told that he spent $5,000 on a sim rig and computer equipment so he could participate. Other IndyCar drivers, such as the injured and recovering Robert Wickens, have had special equipment made so he could compete.

It’s serious business in the virtual world.

“It’s going to change for a lot of racing drivers,” Rosenqvist predicted. “In America, a lot of drivers weren’t into sim racing that much. We do sim preps at Honda, and Chevrolet has a sim in North Carolina. We are familiar with going on a sim, but now it is more accessible. I think this might continue in some shape or form after we get going properly again.

“It’s fun. It’s a fun thing to do when you want to kill a few hours. We had a relaxed race last Friday at Indy in the Indy 250. Almost all of the drivers participated in it. There were a lot of familiar faces on there. It was competitive and fun, and hopefully, it will continue like that.

“Hopefully, we get a proper series starting up with prize money so people can start making a living from it. People that race at home that aren’t professional drivers. I think the sim business is a great way to get started in the sport.”

Because these drivers represent sponsors, they have to approach the virtual racing game the same as actual racing.

Case in point was last Sunday’s NASCAR race at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway. After Bubba Wallace ran out of his limit on replacement cars, he quit the game rather than run the remaining laps at the back of the pack.

Wallace was rebuked by his sponsor, Blu-Emu, which was sponsoring his virtual car and has a sponsorship with Wallace’s Richard Petty Motorsports team in real NASCAR.

“It’s an interesting line, and I think it always evolves,” Rosenqvist said. “It starts out as a fun thing, but it becomes more of than a game. Some of the drivers are pretty open about it and don’t care about it and don’t want to invest any money or whatever.

“I’m the opposite. I’ve taken it pretty seriously. It’s the only way right now I can give any value to my sponsor, NTT Data, and the other sponsors on the team. When you represent a sponsor, you can’t do it half-ass as well. You are competing with other cars and their sponsors and you have to show yourself in a good way and be competitive and win.

“Whenever there is a competition going, I take it seriously. I owe my team and my sponsor when I’m representing that with my livery.”

Driver Felix Rosenqvist — Getty Images

In the meantime, Rosenqvist is keeping fit by working out at home, just like many of his fellow IndyCar competitors.

“Normal training, the same as during the offseason,” Rosenqvist said. “I’ve had some neck issues the last couple of days. Apart from that, it’s been pretty smooth with working out. No real changes.

“We have the sim racing going on. That has been fun. It’s getting more serious every day. It’s more hours added on the simulator. It’s not too bad, to be honest.”

Because Rosenqvist is hunkered down at his home on the north side of Indianapolis, he won’t be able to travel to Sweden during the downtime. But he continues to keep in contact with family and friends back in the Scandinavian country.

“I’ve been texting and emailing,” he said. “I haven’t been able to see anyone. My parents came to St. Pete and I saw them for a bit in Florida. Otherwise, we have been in Indiana the whole time. We are pretty lucky. Imagine if this had happened 20 years ago. I’m happy we have FaceTime and Skype. It’s pretty convenient to see and talk to people.

“People are getting pretty creative now with different ways of engaging with the fans. IndyCar had that autograph session the other day which was pretty cool. We have to look at new ways to engage the fans. Technology makes a lot of that possible.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test


THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”

Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500