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 

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance
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LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).