Four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti spoke like a proud parent after the Mid-Ohio race.
His student, Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist, had come within one ambitious passing attempt on teammate Scott Dixon of winning his first IndyCar race. On the way to finishing second behind Dixon, the Swede answered the mounting number of doubters who asked if Ganassi’s patience would survive the season.
Unafraid to feed Dixon a wheel while fighting for the lead, Rosenqvist also served notice to polesitter Will Power (pictured above) with a ballsy pass that took forever to complete. It was the kind of maneuver Power would pull on a heated championship rival, which made Franchitti — who raced the Aussie with the same hard-edged aggression — smile wide when his 27-year-old student executed the pass with perfection.
Of all the takeaways from Rosenqvist’s Mid-Ohio result, the most meaningful is found in his performance between the green and checkered flags. Opening the season, he drove freely and it showed. Four top-10 finishes from the first five races was everything the CGR team needed. Then he began to push too hard and started knocking corners off the No. 10 Honda, which drew the ire of Ganassi.
Rosenqvist’s reaction came in the form of caution, which manifested itself in over-thinking and leaving a few too many passing attempts unexplored. Having performed his own version of the fairy tale ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ he went from too hot to too cold, and in the latter stages of July, Rosenqvist finally found the happy medium that would unlock his full potential.
“That definitely happened,” Franchitti said. “I think it happens to a lot of rookies. I can even go back to when I was doing it…I can remember that far back, that I found it very difficult to drive on the limit and not way over it. And I had to drive it 120 percent to do a lap time. He suffered a bit with that and at St. Pete it went really well and he almost won the race. And it was probably the worst thing that could happened because his expectations went into the stratosphere. And yeah, he over-drove for a bit and Chip…Chip had a word.
“Obviously the crash at Indy was a bit of a shock, and yeah, there was that period he was a little bit gun shy. Texas probably being the biggest example of that. But then he went to Iowa and he was right where he needed to be, and Mid-Ohio, he’d run there twice before, and he felt comfortable because he’d tested there years ago. I think he just did a great job all weekend. The car, I don’t think, was particularly easy to drive. He got the most out of it in qualifying that he could. And the race, he drove a fantastic race. That pass that he did on Power, I mean…people don’t normally do that to my boy Willy P.”
Franchitti, race strategist Barry Wanser, and race engineer Julian Robertson dealt with high anxiety in the closing laps of the race as Rosenqvist’s fresher tires allowed him to scythe into Dixon’s lead. Having executed a flawless race heading into the final lap, there were prayers aplenty being said on the timing stand and more than a few instructions given over the radio to ensure CGR’s 1-2 result wasn’t ruined.
“I must admit, we were a little nervous that last lap,” he said. “I was leaning on Barry pretty heavily to remind him that it was Scott, his teammate ahead…I think I asked him three times on the last lap to remind him and he did. If it hadn’t have been Scott ahead, he would’ve probably won the race.”
Despite all of the positives coming out of Mid-Ohio, Rosenqvist will make more mistakes this year as he learns new tracks and works through the remainder of his rookie campaign. He’s nowhere close to a finished product, but as Franchitti considers all of the promise that’s been shown across 13 races, there’s a growing feeling that CGR is on the cusp of something special.
Before injuries forced his retirement, the IndyCar Series was treated to the ‘Dario and Dixie Show’ from 2009-13 where four out of five championships were won by the Scot and Kiwi and both drivers were threats to land on the podium. It’s still in its early stages, but as Sunday demonstrated, CGR might have the new ‘Dixie and Rosie Show’ in development.
“Felix had the win in his sight, he did everything we asked of him, and he did everything at the right time to get the result,” Franchitti added. “He pushed when he had to, looked after the tires when he had to, saved a bit of fuel when he had to. Attacking traffic all the time.
“You need someone that can compete with Scott on equal terms and in time, Felix, I think, will. He showed that he has the potential at Mid-Ohio. And he’s done it more than once now. That was a real statement of intent, I think, and he is showing that he has the potential, which is what the team needs.
“It’s a big part of my job to be his ‘Monday Morning Quarterback.’ To dissect his drives, pat him on the back where it’s due, but also to critique what could have been done better. But you know, that drive, that was right up there. That’s the guy we hoped we’d hired, and yeah, it’s pretty clear. Between him and Scott, that’s a strong team.”