By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. – An all-around solid weekend in the Pacific Northwest for Felix Rosenqvist was capped off with a career equal runner-up finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.
Rosenqvist’s second career podium finish can be summarized as mastering the Firestone red compounds, solid fuel conservation and excellent teamwork by the No. 10 NTT Data squad that propelled him from the fifth starting position to the second, trailing a strong Will Power for most of the race.
It appeared that Power was on cruise control of running away with the win as he had a 7.2 second lead, but with 8 laps go – Rosenqvist’s rookie rival Santino Ferrucci’s No. 19 Cly-Del Honda lost power and brought out the third and final full course caution of the afternoon.
Ferrucci would end up 17th with a mechanical failure being the official reason of his first retirement of the year.
The caution meant Rosenqvist had one more shot of catching Power. It boiled down to the top-two with four laps remaining but Power nailed the final restart and went on to beat the rookie by 2.7885 seconds.
“I thought it was a pretty good race. We had good fuel mileage,” Rosenqvist said. “Kind of hoped there was less safety cars because a Honda are stronger than Chevy on fuel mileage but it was a flat out race. I was really strong on the reds. I thought that made our race really good. There was no degradation, so we can just do really good laps and fuel miles.”
Rosenqvist commented that a key part of unable to dethrone Power was his strength on the black compounds and struggling with a loose handling Honda.
“I definitely thought we had a chance if we put on the blacks to the end,” Rosenqvist said. “I thought Will was a bit better on the blacks, so we couldn’t really do much there. I sort of closed the gap but then I thought I used my tires a bit too much. Then I struggled at the end with a loose car.”
While it took a bit of getting used to the challenging 1.964-mile circuit, Rosenqvist was one of the more consistent cars on the grid this weekend.
He felt his Chip Ganassi Racing entry was spot-on with the true exceptions being Saturday’s qualifying despite making the Firestone Fast Six and dealing with the constant weather changes throughout the weekend.
Especially when 105-lap race was unfolded as cloud covers would arrive and then return to clear sunshine over the course of the day.
“The track is sensitive to temperature. The balance of the car changes. Not even between sessions, but also during the run,” Rosenqvist said. “It changes massively. That’s why I think at the end of the race, I had massive over steer and it kind of came out of nowhere. It’s a tricky place for sure. It’s a tricky surface to try to figure out but I thought it was some good fun this track.”
Coming into Oregon, Rosenqvist was two points behind Ferrucci in the Rookie of the Year battle. Now heading into the finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in three weeks, he’s ahead of the Dale Coyne Racing driver by 26 markers after gaining 28 points.
While Rosenqvist will have the ROTY advantage, he’s more interested on his last shot of capturing his maiden win this season and just sees the top rookie honors as a bonus to his valiant campaign.
“Normally, we would care about the real championship but we’re not fighting for it, so the Rookie of the Year is definitely a fun bonus championship,” Rosenqvist said. “It’s been pretty good, there’s a lot of good drivers like Santino, Marcus (Ericsson) and Colton (Herta). Everyone one of them have been very quick, so it’s going to be hard. I think we took a good lead today.”
The finale at Laguna Seca will take place Sept. 22 as a NTT IndyCar Series champion will be crowned in California. Rosenqvist described how he felt about the extraordinary 2.238-mile circuit when he tested there during the winter and how determined he is about getting to the top step of the podium.
“I’m pretty hungry for a win,” Rosenqvist said. “We’ve been kind of close two times. I thought Mid-Ohio was a bit closer, but we’ve definitely been there and we’ve been there on merit as well. We’ve also had a fluke result. I’m definitely aiming for a win at Laguna.
“When we tested there in January, our car felt good. Obviously, it was really cold so probably not much to read into. It’s an awesome track and I think it suits my style. It’s new for everyone, which probably benefits me because many drivers here have done awesome on most tracks. So yeah, I’m all in for Laguna.”