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 NBCSports.com, 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 NBCSports.com. “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 NBCSports.com 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 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.”
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.”