By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — He qualified third, finished fourth and had about as perfect of a debut as one could hope for in the NTT IndyCar Series in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Felix Rosenqvist made a pass for the lead against Will Power on Lap 24 in a move that most veterans might consider not making. Locking up the front tires and nearly touching the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner, the Swede made the pass stick in a move that made many wonder who exactly this guy was that Chip Ganassi Racing hired.
Rosenqvist wasn’t exactly well known in American motorsports culture before this weekend. Other than a half-season stint in Indy Lights in 2016, Rosenqvist’s only other American starts came with a pair of Rolex 24 at Daytona starts and some Formula E races in New York City. His pedigree is stout with an FIA Formula 3 European Championship, two wins and two runner-up finishes at Macau, two wins in the Masters of Formula 3 and three Indy Lights victories from ten races.
Everyone was on notice when Rosenqvist went around Power and started to gap the 2014 NTT IndyCar Series champion but they were more on notice when he saved his car from hitting the wall after exiting the pits next to Power.
“I thought it was pretty obvious that we would come out side by side,” said Rosenqvist. “I even lifted slightly so I think if I would’ve stayed on it I would’ve been in front of him or still side by side but [Power] didn’t seem to have any intentions of opening up a little room for me there so I had to panic brake there in the last moment and that was a shame.
“We lost a lot of ground because of that and I don’t know whose fault it was but I guess it’s one of those things that it’s really hard, in the moment you sort of had to do whatever you do and this time we ended up losing a lot from it. But it was good practice.”
Rosenqvist fell to fourth after the sequence of pit stops following eventual race winner Josef Newgarden, Power and Scott Dixon leapfrogging him. The pit stops were a weak point for the No. 10 NTT Data Honda.
“It was basically the details that we failed on,” said Rosenqvist. “The pit stops, pit out was a bit messy two times, the third pit stop was really really good, I think actually we gained a bit back on Will there so it’s one of those things you have to learn, you know you cannot really practice it too much without actually racing and listening to the communications between the spotter and the team and strategy and all that so it was a really long race and I’m happy its over, to be honest.”
After falling to fourth, Rosenqvist was unable to gain any more positions on the 1.8 mile street circuit and ended up just off the podium. While being off the podium can be disappointing, making sure everyone remembers you was just as important.
“You have to make a statement and show what you want, I’m not here to play around,” said Rosenqvist. “But I really respect the guys like Scott and Will and Josef, you can see how good these guys race and they are champions for a reason and I think they showed that they are still much better racers than me. Maybe I had the speed outright on one lap but yeah, I have a lot to work on in the races and that’s how you win championships.”
If St. Petersburg is any indication, then the IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas on March 24th will be exciting to watch.