ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – Last year, it was Robert Wickens’ name whom everyone was searching to learn more about. The Canadian rookie won the pole for the NTT IndyCar Series season opener at St. Pete and was in the hunt to win in the end. He took everyone by surprise.
This year, another rookie is in the same category – Felix Rosenqvist.
Everyone had always said that if the Swedish driver ever gave IndyCar a try, he’d be an instant star. See, after a very successful career overseas in Europe, Rosenqvist came over to the United States for a try in Indy Lights. He only made 10 career starts with Belardi in 2015 and won three of them. More on this in a bit.
In that season, Rosenqvist tested for Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio and wowed them. He was running lap times close to what Scott Dixon was and Dixon is the king of Mid-Ohio. But, a ride wasn’t available for him so to Formula E he went. The Swede was on the short list to drive the No. 10 Honda last year, but he remained in Formula E and Ed Jones took the seat. But, after a ho-hum season in 2018 by Jones, out he went and in came Rosenqvist.
After his first official race weekend, he turned a lot of heads. Rosenqvist started third and by the end of his second turn of an IndyCar race, he was up to second. He took over the lead for the first time of his career on Lap 16 as the leader at the time Will Power pitted. He’d cycle back to second. On an early race restart on Lap 30, Rosenqvist made a brilliant move to pass Power for the top spot. He’d lead the next 22 laps before hitting pit lane for the second time.
Rosenqvist, led 31 laps overall en route to a fourth place finish on a hot Sunday afternoon in Florida.
“Top five is for sure satisfying, I think there was a bit more in it,” said the rookie driver. “I think some pit stops there didn’t really go as planned, but the NTT Data Honda was really good today. I think it was a good enough package to win the race. Just some small things didn’t go our way, but I’m really happy to be up here. I really have to thank my team, Chip Ganassi Racing, for starting off the season better than anyone could have expected.”
Now, Ganassi has the second team driver to give Dixon a run for his money. See, they’ve been searching for this for years.
“He’s going to certainly raise CGR’s game,” said Sunday’s winner Josef Newgarden. “He’s going to push Scott (Dixon). “We kind of already saw that this weekend in my opinion. He’s going to really make him work harder.
“You want to have strong Americans, but you need the best to compete against us, and he’s without a doubt one of those people. He’s world class.”
Since 2015, the organization has reached victory lane in the series nine times. All nine of those wins came via Dixon.
The last time CGR won a race with someone other than Dixon was with Tony Kanaan in the 2014 season finale.
Ed Jones had two top five finishes all season in 2018. Tony Kanaan had three in his final year in the No. 10 Honda in 2017. Combined, that’s five top five finishes in two years. Dixon on the other hand, had six in the final six races last year alone.
This No. 10 entry used to rival Dixon’s No. 9 in terms of wins and championships. Dario Franchitti had a five year stretch (2009-2013) of three titles (2009-2011) and 13 wins. In that same time frame, Dixon had one title (2013) to go along with 16 victories.
Since, Dixon has two championships, 11 wins and 46 top fives. The No. 10 entry has no championship hardware, one win and 22 top fives.
See the drop off?
Jones, is the best driver to push Dixon since Franchitti was with Ganassi and that’s something Dixon already notices.
“The guy has got a ton of experience in so many different cars, so it’s been really refreshing, actually, to not be in the same ecosystem and thinking of the same things,” said Dixon. “It’s kind of thinking outside the box which has been really refreshing.
“He’s a strong guy, very committed and obviously very talented and he’s going to be a hell of a fight for the whole year, and it’s nice to be working with somebody really close as far as on the speed side. He’s going to have very strong weekends this year and he’s going to be a threat.”
While this weekend was a surprise for many, don’t be shocked by it. Remember that success I said that he had in Europe? Try 65 wins in an eight year span across multiple different series’. Try eight championships from 2007 through 2014.
Remember those three Indy Lights win? All occurred on street courses like this very one at St. Pete. In fact, one of three occurred at St. Pete in just his second career Indy Lights start.
Don’t sleep on him. He will be a contender this year and is advertised.