Arrow McLaren SP came close to winning the NTT IndyCar Series championship in its second season with Pato O’Ward, who captured two wins and posed a regular threat for podiums throughout the year. The same could not be said for new teammate Felix Rosenqvist, who arrived from Chip Ganassi Racing with a win and high expectations that he’d help form a strong duo with O’Ward.
And while 2021 was a lost season in many regards for Rosenqvist, who got off to a slow start and then missed two rounds while recovering from the crash that sent his car full speed into the barriers at Detroit, improvements were seen later in the year with an eighth at Nashville and sixth at Portland.
Heading into the new year, AMSP president Taylor Kiel says the team’s focus is to develop chassis setups that suit Rosenqvist’s needs while eliminating any other shortcomings that kept the Swede from showing his full potential.
“That’s the absolute priority this offseason,” Kiel said. “Winning a championship is certainly the goal. And having Felix fighting as well only benefits the program in total. So we’ve spent a ton of time looking race by race, event by event, situation by situation, where we fell down on that side of the team. And I think ultimately, it wasn’t one single thing. It was really a comedy of errors across the season.
“At the beginning of the season, Felix wasn’t totally comfortable with the package that we developed as a team, whereas Pato had a year of experience with the car, and admittedly, we had really developed the car around Pato and his driving style. And as you know, it’s very unique.”
O’Ward’s penchant for rag-dolling his No. 5 Chevy around most circuits is a spectacular thing to watch that also delivers big results. As the team deduced in pre-season testing, Rosenqvist – and even month of May teammate Juan Pablo Montoya – found the Mexican’s chassis setups to be nearly undrivable. Developing something that worked for the rest of the AMSP drivers became a challenge that improved, but wasn’t necessarily solved, by the end of the season.
“As he likes to point out, Pato’s got very fast hands, he drives a car on the limit, and he’s able to do that easily – or it appears easy,” Kiel continued. “It certainly raises eyebrows on the timing stand often, but he’s able to do that and produce lap time. Felix, that’s not his style.
“And it’s not to say that Felix’s style isn’t quick, because it’s proven to be quick, and that’s ultimately why we signed him. But we took a step back and decided to go in a different direction for Felix, and you started to see the pace and results of that towards the end of the season. That stuff doesn’t happen overnight, especially when you’re limited with track testing and the other things that you really need to change course like that. So we’re heading in the right direction there with him.”
Beyond personalizing the chassis setups for Rosenqvist, Kiel says the No. 7 Chevy team is working on cleaning up the rest of the issues that blighted their season.
“There were errors on pit lane, there were errors from Felix and his driving, speeding penalties,” he said. “Those types of things, they just they just kill you. It’s like watching a football game and you’re driving down the field and you get a holding penalty; those things just absolutely kill you. And that’s really what happened to us. We lost a tire and a pitstop in Texas, where Felix would have been right there challenging when he had an arguably a better car than (race winner) Pato did. At Indianapolis, he was leading an alternate strategy, get a pit lane speeding penalty.
“Detroit, he had his big accident. Again, he was leading (race winner) Marcus (Ericsson) on that strategy. There’s a lot of ifs and buts. I can even go all the way back to Barber if he doesn’t have his spin in qualifying. The whole season could have been different. What I’m confident in is Felix, and his ability and our team’s ability to rally and rebound.”
According to Kiel, AMSP’s review process for the No. 7 entry has produced solid returns that should bring Rosenqvist and O’Ward closer together on the timing and race result sheets.
“I know for a fact that we’ve done our homework, we’ve identified the areas that we need to shore up, and we’ll likely make some small changes all over the place in an effort to right-size things a little bit,” he said. “But ultimately, it comes down to execution, and our guys and girls on pit lane doing their jobs, and our engineers doing their jobs and our drivers doing their jobs. I know that we’ve got the right people in all those roles. We just need to execute.
“So 2022 gives us an opportunity to do that, and an opportunity to prove that Felix is a top-shelf driver, and the combination of Pato and Felix can be potent for us. That’s certainly my expectation. Throughout the entire season, Felix was an absolute professional, and never hung his head and never pointed the finger. I would have to imagine this probably one of his toughest years in motorsport. So we’re going to do our part to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. And I think he’s going to come into 2022 totally invigorated and ready to go and ready to ready to go to battle with Pato and go try to win a championship.”