Of all the attributes Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist happens to possess, the Swede’s honesty is almost as impressive as his raw speed. Coming off his first taste of the No. 10 Honda at Texas Motor Speedway for his rookie oval test last Friday, the 27-year-old left the 1.5-mile facility with a healthy dose of respect for the challenge that lies ahead.
“If that doesn’t prepare me, nothing will,” Rosenqvist told RACER. “I was pretty nervous, because it’s been a lot of thoughts for me about the ovals, and it’s something you never know really know how it’s gonna go, so it had gone through my mind quite a lot. I want to get that day done as soon as possible, to just see how much work I have to do, because I know I have to do a lot of work to get up to speed. No-one becomes an oval master in one day.”
During his brief forays into Indy Lights, Rosenqvist raced on the one-mile Phoenix oval and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Having only limited experience in slower cars to draw upon, Rosenqvist looked to teammate Scott Dixon and driver coach Dario Franchitti – owners of four combined Indy 500 wins – to ease him through the process of lapping the Texas high banks at 220mph.
“To do my rookie test at Texas was like…it made me nervous, but I treated it with respect,” he said. “We took it pretty slowly to start with. Dario was there as well, and we started out with Scott doing some laps in my car to see that everything was okay, which was nice to have that kind of help, and then we just took it pretty slowly – we said there’s no rush, and Dario said take your time, don’t put the car into a oversteer balance in the first two hours…
“But it was amazing, the track is… it’s so fast. I got pretty dizzy, to be fair, especially before lunch, after jumping out of the car because it’s such a different sensation than anything I’ve done. But everything felt good and it was a positive experience, and the car felt good. I have confidence in the car.”
The constant high speeds at Texas were another revelation for Rosenqvist.
“It’s small compared to Indy, and that you can feel that when you drive,” he continued. “It’s just an endless turning. It’s bumpy as well, which I think makes you feel the speed more. I’ve heard about the speeds you’re doing at Texas, which are relatively close to Indy, but then when you see the size of the track, it’s like ‘man, are we really going around here at 220 miles an hour?’ And I think we had up to 30 mile an hour winds. So it was right at the limit where you would stop running basically, and so that made it even more interesting.”
Coming off a fourth-place debut at St. Petersburg, Rosenqvist demonstrated his aptitude in another unique IndyCar environment during the rookie test. Although no speeds were published, it’s believed he was right with Dixon at the end of the day.
“I think it’s fair to say that I’m working with all the best people you can possibly work with to get up to speed on an oval, and I think what’s rare is that I’m able to speak in a racer’s language,” he said. “When you have a feeling of something happening to the car, sometimes it’s not as easy to speak to your engineer because they’ve probably never driven a race car. So whatever happens, by saying something to Dario, he would immediately know what I’m talking about, and he would normally immediately be able to give me an answer in two seconds, like just do that, or try that.
“The speed of the learning process is so much quicker, even on the road course, because the technical difficulty of these circuits in America is very different to what I’m used to, and he just knows all these small things that really helps. Maybe not when you do your qualifying lap at the end of the day, but getting up to speed, it’s a huge benefit to have people like that around.”
Rosenqvist has a lot more oval miles to turn before it feels natural to the road race ace. But he does concede that after hating the exercise a few years ago, the art of turning left is something he’s starting to enjoy
“Honestly, my first experience when I did Lights at Phoenix, I didn’t feel comfortable, and I don’t know why,” he said. “If it was the driver, or if it was the car set-up or whatever, I don’t know, but I was s****ing myself, and I didn’t want to drive. I was just praying for that whole weekend to end. And now it was a very different experience.
“I felt I took my time in a different way, and things made sense, and I understood what was going on, and I think I was fast as well. I had good pace, and then I was just wanting to run in traffic, but I feel a different confidence. I’m not scared, but going into Indy, I feel more hungry and excited, and that hunger to learn how it is to drive in traffic, etc. So yeah, I think that’s a result of just working with the right people. I gotta say it was fun, but I still respect it a lot, let’s put it that way.”