IndyCar: Felix Rosenqvist gets up to speed on ovals watching other series

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The recent return of oval-based racing has provided entertainment for many.

For Felix Rosenqvist, it also has furthered his education.

As NASCAR and many sprint car series have hit the track again over the past few weeks, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said he intently has been watching the left-hand turn brigade on streaming and TV.

Heading into IndyCar’s season opener Saturday night on the lightning-fast high banks of Texas Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET, NBC), the research is partly a reason Rosenqvist feels “way more confident” heading into his second season in the NTT Data Series.

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“It seems like the more time you spend over here, the more you understand oval racing because it’s just something we never really watched back home,” Rosenqvist, a native of Sweden who got a place in Indianapolis, Indiana, last year as an IndyCar rookie, told “Obviously we watched the (Indy) 500, but I have to admit that most of us probably don’t really understand the concept of the racing too well.

“It can still be entertaining, but I don’t think everyone understands it. And now I start to feel that I really understand how oval racing works and how you become good at it, and what you need to be there at the end to win the race. Last year when I started, it was still a bit of a blur and like, ‘Oh, what’s going on here?’ It was kind of hard to understand when to push and when not to push and the whole perspective of what’s going on in the race. I feel that I should have made a huge leap on that (this season).”

After leading 31 laps and finishing fourth in his IndyCar debut in the 2019 season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, Rosenqvist was thrust into a trial by fire at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two months later.

Felix Rosenqvist tests his No. 18 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing at Austin, Texas, in February (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images).

He crashed in Indianapolis 500 practice May 15 and struggled to find the edge on the daunting 2.5-mile oval. He qualified 29th for the May 26 race and finished 28th (after getting caught in a multicar crash started by Graham Rahal and Sebastien Bourdais) in his first Indy 500.

Over the final oval races on the schedule, Rosenqvist didn’t crack the top 10, starting with a 12th at Texas.

He qualified a season-best ninth for an oval at Pocono Raceway but finished 22nd without turning a lap after getting caught in an opening-lap crash that started when Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi went three wide.

The scary wreck sent Rosenqvist, 28, to the hospital for a checkup, but he returned from the minor injuries the next week at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, where he finished his oval season with a best of 11th.

(Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull said it was indicative of improvement for the 2019 IndyCar Rookie of the Year that actually started at the Brickyard.

“I thought Indianapolis was good for Felix,” Hull told “We tried to drill into him you’re not going to learn how to race 500 miles unless you race the whole thing. As the race progressed, he did a better job.

“I think that was a big learning curve and really helped him. After we got into June and July, he realized how important the study of IndyCar racing is. It’s a very unique formula. It isn’t just a put your foot down formula.

“The cars are meant to be so identical to each other, you have to really focus for each racetrack how you create speed. That’s what he began to learn as the season went. It wasn’t that he wasn’t already fast. He learned how to consistently create speed. He made great progress and probably the last third of the season, we began to see it.”

But the progression has continued with oval film sessions for Rosenqvist, who was trained exclusively on road and street courses while becoming a 2015 champion in Formula 3 and a winner in Formula E and various sports car and touring series.

Hull said Rosenqvist follows NASCAR racing with a laptop by his side, watching timing and scoring to understand which drivers are getting faster throughout the course of a long green-flag run.

Rosenqvist also hones his oval race management by studying how the tracks change in other series (“that seems to be a very important thing”) as well as grasping the importance of patience. He has taken particular note about NASCAR Cup drivers rallying for top fives and victories after falling a lap down because of an early speeding penalty.

“I think in the beginning of my oval career, if you have a bad start, you would think, ‘Oh shit, the race is screwed; we’ll never get back in front,’ ” Rosenqvist said. “But that’s one of the things that if you have a fast car, you just need to take deep breaths, and you will eventually make it to the front, and it can go the same way the other way. If you start off well and then the car gets worse, then you will very quickly drop to the back. It’s one of those things you just have to breathe and stay in the game and you will be there at the end if everything allows for it.

“It’s interesting. It takes some time before you understand it, that’s for sure.”

He has a helpful teammate in five-time champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, whose 46 career victories include 22 on ovals (three at Texas).

Hull said drivers such as Dixon make their biggest impact by conserving their tires for the last third of a green-flag stint when the car becomes lighter as the fuel load burns off.

“It doesn’t come from experience alone, but what experience teaches you is the car has to be at its best when the tires are at their worst,” Hull said. “That’s what good oval drivers do generally, whether on dirt or asphalt. They create a drive style in such a way that they have tires left to have a bit more speed than people they’re racing at end of a run. That’s when they make the most track position.

“That’s the reason Felix is so intent on studying what other people do.”

Of course, there’s been hardly any studying in IndyCar, which hasn’t raced since last September at Laguna Seca. Texas will mark the end of a nearly three-month layoff for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that began with the postponement of the season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida.

With two podium finishes (second at Mid-Ohio and Portland) and a fifth at Laguna in the last three races on road courses last year, Rosenqvist is cautiously optimistic about regaining his form in his NTT-sponsored No. 10 Dallara-Honda.

But with IndyCar beginning its Aeroscreen era Saturday night on the 1.5-mile oval north of Fort Worth, Texas, drivers will be adapting to racing for the first time with a 17.3-pound ballistic canopy (which will offer much greater head protection).

Rosenqvist also expects there naturally will be some rust as “we were probably better drivers in Laguna than we are now because of the down time, so it’s going to take some time to get back to that level for sure.

“I’m pretty confident we’ve done everything to be prepared, but you never really know,” said Rosenqvist, whose car will honor former NTT CEO John McCain, who died in February. “Every year when you’ve been out of the car, it’s always different when you step in again. Sometimes, you jump in and feel you’ve done it all winter, and sometimes you feel really rusty and everything feels really quick, and you almost get dizzy the first couple of laps. You never really know what you’re going to get.

“But I think it’s going to be tough. From standing still for five months to going 200 mph, that’s going to be a big change no matter how well we prepare and also the way your body is affected by G forces. That’s something you also can’t train for when you’re at home. I’m not worried, but I know it’s going to be a big task, and my mind is set that it’s going to be a big challenge.”

A view of the aeroscreen on Felix Rosenqvist’s No. 10 Dallara-Honda that will become standard on all cars in the NTT IndyCar Series this season (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.