The first time Felix Rosenqvist drove an Indy car at Mid-Ohio in 2016 it was Scott Dixon’s, so nothing like a little added pressure right out of the gate. But not only did Rosenqvist adapt quickly to the Dallara-Honda, he wrung it out around the tight, twisty road course and had Chip Ganassi’s team members shaking their collective heads in admiration.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” confessed Chris Simmons, who just finished engineering Dixon’s fifth IndyCar championship. “We had a long list of things to test and didn’t know what we’d get through but he got through a good bit. And he was on pace right away and his feedback was good.
“I was also impressed with his fitness because he ran about 100 laps and only got out of the car a couple times — and Mid-Ohio is a workout.
“But the real eye-opener was that after lunch Dixie drove and there were only two corners that Scott went faster than Felix and, as we all know, Scott is pretty good at Mid-Ohio.”
When they returned last summer for another test, Rosenqvist delivered again.
“The two corners he lacked a little to Scott, he caught up. Very impressive,” said Simmons.
Officially confirmed last week as Dixon’s teammate for 2019 in the NTT Data Honda, the 26-year-old Swede looks like Ganassi’s best young hire since Juan Pablo Montoya descended on CART in 1999. He’s won in everything he’s driven the past decade and he’s driven just about everything — racking up 75 victories in 18 different categories around the world.
From the FIA Euro Formula 3 championship to a trio of wins in Formula E to three triumphs in Indy Lights to the Macau Grand Prix (twice) to Pau to Formula Renault to wins in the Porsche Cup to running DTM for Mercedes and competing at Le Mans, Rosenqvist responds to the challenge.
“Prototypes, single-seaters, Formula E, Super GT in Japan, DTM — the kid has been on the sharp end of everything,” said Stefan Johansson, the former F1 and IndyCar driver who manages both Dixon and Rosenqvist. “He’s got the ability to figure things out quickly, which is always a good sign, and knows what he wants.”
What the native of Vaxjo (same hometown as Johansson) wanted most was an F1 drive and was in the crosshairs after capturing that F3 title. But talent isn’t enough and after his two tests with Ganassi and a little prodding from Stefan, Felix refocused on IndyCar.
“Obviously when he started, he dreamed of F1 like everybody but I think he became disillusioned with system pretty early on,” said Johansson, who drove for Ferrari and McLaren before coming to America with Tony Bettenhausen’s CART team. “Unless you’re part of a program or have big financial backers, it’s not going to happen.
“Dumping Formula E (his job the past two years) meant he’s given up on the F1 dream, but I told him I want him to enjoy his racing and the place to do that is IndyCar. Everyone loves the variety, the rawness of the tracks and variety — and so will Felix.”
So now he’s paired with one of IndyCar’s most accomplished racers and it goes without saying there’s pressure to get the No. 10 car its first win since 2014. But Felix didn’t leave Formula E and a nice salary without a multi-year deal over here, so he’s going to get more of a chance than Ed Jones. And from what we saw briefly in 2016 when he won three out of 10 Lights starts, this kid is pretty unflappable.
“He’s very similar to Scott — no big song and dance, nothing flamboyant, he just gets on with the job,” said Johansson. “And now he’s paired with one of the best five drivers in the world, so he’ll learn a lot.
“Felix is a special kid, you’ll see.”