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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SIM STAR: Felix Rosenqvist enjoys virtual racing on a rig

“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).

Jett Lawrence wins Pro Motocross opener, remains perfect at Fox Raceway; Hunter wins in 250s

How they finished in the 450 Overall at Fox Raceway
Align Media

PALA, California – In his 450 bike debut, Jett Lawrence scored a perfect round at Fox Raceway in Pala, California to win Pro Motocross Round 1. He posted the fastest time in both qualification sessions, won the holeshot in both motos, and scored a pair of wins to take the overall victory and the early points’ lead.

Chase Sexton stalked Jett Lawrence throughout Moto 2, but could not find his way past. – Align Media

No one seriously questioned Lawrence’s opportunity to make noise in the 450 class. Few would have been surprised to see him podium in his Pro Motocross National, but Lawrence outperformed all expectations by dominating Moto 1. He entered the weekend with zero points and his eye on 20th in the standings so he would receive an automatic invitation to the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

He well surpassed expectations.

“It’s awesome,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “I can finally smile. I’ve been trying to stay serious and not get too excited with emotions coming up – and now I can finally let loose. The second one was a little harder, I couldn’t hear him but I’d look back and I’d still see the red bike. It was like a chess match.”

By the end of the race, Lawrence made up 30 percent of the points he needed to claim 20th and served notice that he will be one of the favorites to win the championship. He closed the gap even further in Moto 2, but the two races had entirely different storylines.

While Lawrence was able to run away from the field in the first race and win with a 10-second advantage, Honda teammate and defending Monster Energy Supercross champion Chase Sexton pressured him for the entire 30 minutes plus two laps that made up Moto 2.

Lawrence is the 16th rider to win in his first Pro Motocross race, the 10th to do so in an opener and second youngest, (behind Rick Johnson, 17 when he won at Hangtown in 1982).

Sexton was within two seconds of Lawrence for the entire moto. He rode a patient race with the realistic expectation that the 450 rookie Lawrence might make a mistake. Lawrence bounced from rut to rut in this race, but would not be forced into losing his focus.

“Toward the finish line area I had some decent lines, I thought maybe, if I could get close enough, I could make a move,” Sexton said. “I tried my hardest; I got close. I made a bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and messed up. Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little like last year.”

With his 1-1 finish and the overall victory, Lawrence remains perfect at Fox Raceway after sweeping Victory Lane in five rounds his 250 career.

Dylan Ferrandis returned to the track after suffering a concussion in the Supercross season in Round 4 in Houston. He attempted to return for the Daytona Supercross race, but another hard crash on Media Day set him on the sideline.

“Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position, so got together with the team and we made it happen,” Ferrandis said. “It was very hard. [Aaron Plessinger] was pushing me and I had to dig very deep.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Fox Raceway

In a pre-race news conference, he indicated that the best course of action was to get up to speed before he fully sent his bike into the turns. But adrenalin is a wonderful factor and once he got into the pace of the race, he held off charges from Cooper Webb in Moto 1 and Plessinger in Moto 2. Ferrandis’ 3-3 finishes in the two races earned 40 points and puts him back in the conversation to be among the top 20 in the combined SuperMotocross standings.

Plessinger and Webb each ended the day with 34 points. Plessinger won the tiebreaker for fifth overall in the standings. But it was an adventurous afternoon for Plessinger who had to overcome a pair of falls in the first Moto to finish fifth.

Round 1 of the Pro Motocross season marked the return of Webb after he suffered a Supercross series ending concussion in a heat race at Nashville.

“This was a last minute decision,” Webb said. “I sat out last summer and I didn’t want to do that again. Once I got cleared from the doctor, it was game on.”

The battle between Lawrence and Sexton gave Honda a 1-2 finish in this race for the second straight year, but perhaps most importantly, it provided a glimpse of what can be expected during the opening rounds.

I think there is more to come from Chase,” Lawrence said. “He had that crash in practice so it rung his head a bit, but I know it’s going to be a war in the outdoor season. I know there’s going to be times when I’m behind Chase and can’t get around him. It’s going to be an awesome season and I can’t wait to race my teammate.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Jett wasn’t the only Lawrence to win Fox Raceway Motocross. Hunter’s win in the 250 class marked the first time in history that brothers won a Motocross National on the same day.

The reigning 250 East Supercross champion scored the overall victory with a third in Moto 1 and a victory in Moto 2. A poor start in the first race forced Lawrence to mount a charge from behind. Riding with discomfort, Lawrence was out of his rhythm early. A spirited battle with Jo Shimoda and Justin Cooper for third through fifth forced him to push through the pain of an injury suffered at the start of the week.

“The start was crucial,” Lawrence said. “I had a massive crash Monday and could barely ride press day for three laps, I was in so much pain. This one goes out to Dr. [Rey Gubernick]. He has magic hands.”

Lawrence’s strong start to Moto 2 put him in a better zone and he pulled an eight-second advantage over the second-place rider.

Haiden Deegan got a taste of the Motocross series last year, but that was all it was: a nibble.

Deegan failed to crack the top 10 in either of two starts and had some questions for himself before the race began. Deegan did not believe there were high expectations placed on him for this race, which is precisely how he described his first Supercross attempt. In that inaugural SX race, he finished fourth and was as surprised as anyone in the field.

Again: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Deegan surprised himself again by finishing second in only his third Motocross National. He finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2, giving him a second-place finish overall.

“I’m actually a little surprised,” Deegan said. “A lot of people said I wouldn’t even be close to this. I guess we’re proving people wrong and that’s what we’ve got to do Second place in my first full season. I’m hyped.”

Deegan is closing in on his first 250 win.

Click here for 250 overall results

RJ Hampshire had to overcome a pair of falls in Moto 2 to score the final podium position in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire made a statement in Moto 1. An entirely new discipline allowed Hampshire to grab an early advantage. But then a poor start to Moto 2 provided an entirely different challenge. Two falls on Lap 1 dropped Hampshire to 39th in the running order.

“I didn’t have a great start and got mayhem in that second corner and went down,” Hampshire said. “Picked [myself] up in last and made some really good passes and then going uphill on the [backstretch], someone got out of whack – took me out and I was dead last again. I didn’t really know if I had a shot at the podium, but I was digging really deep.”

It took half of the race to get back into the points in 20th, but Hampshire kept digging. Passing riders one at a time, he climbed to 11th in Moto 2 and salvaged enough points to give him the third position overall.

Maximus Vohland made a statement of his own by holding off a determined Lawrence on the last two laps. Lawrence was able to pressure Vohland when they were slowed by a lapped rider who fell in front of the battle.

Tom Vialle was in a position to take the final overall podium spot with a solid third-place finish in the second moto. He did everything he could, but Hampshire’s determined charge from the back of the pack was capped off with a two-position advance on the final lap to slide onto the final step of the box.

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury
Cooper Webb returns to action at Pala
Caden Braswell joins Troy Lee Design
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Supercross finale