By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
MONTEREY, California – The toughest crop of rookies in recent memory for the NTT IndyCar Series wrapped up their grinding seasons and the man who stood on top of the peddle stool was Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist.
Although rookie rival Colton Herta went on to steal the headlines by putting on a flawless performance in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, it was Rosenqvist who took Rookie of the Year honors by five points over the 19-year-old.
The sixth place finisher became the first Chip Ganassi Racing rookie to earn that honor since Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999 when he also won the season’s CART title.
While he’s said that winning an INDYCAR race would mean more than taking ROTY, he was more thrilled to finish sixth in the championship standings because he knew that his No. 10 NTT Data Honda was “best of the rest” this season.
“I’m actually more happy about that than the rookie title,” Rosenqvist said. “Being sixth, that’s probably best of the rest. I’d say, all the guys in front of me have done a better job for sure, but all the Penske guys and Scott (Dixon) and (Alexander) Rossi, they’ve done a hell of a job this year, so hopefully we can be in that mix next year.”
The road to finishing sixth at Laguna Seca and in the overall points table had to be earned by hauling his way towards the front as he was a man possessed.
This was a result after Rosenqvist blasted Race Control during Saturday’s qualifying which saw him starting 14th instead of being poised for not only a Firestone Fast Six berth but perhaps a shot at the pole.
“(Saturday) was a tough day. We were all — if I didn’t get angry, I think there was something wrong with me,” Rosenqvist said. “We all go 100 percent into this with full hearts, and when something like that happens, which I still think was pretty bad decision, but anyways, that’s passed, an opportunity to get angry. It’s part of the show, I guess, for you guys.”
Rosenqvist described his first outing at the 2.238-mile as an interesting one after dealing with many hurdles like tire degradation, the bane of many driver’s existence this weekend.
“It was not just being aggressive all the time,” Rosenqvist said. “It was kind of pick your moment and then after that trying to save the tires, trying to save the fuel.
“You can feel every time you push through a corner properly, the next corner you’re just on high. It was really tricky managing that, but I think we did a really good job with it. We were really good on the reds, maybe a little bit worse on the blacks, at least compared to the Penske cars. They seemed to come back a bit at the end of the stint.”
A show it was as he was one of the few competitors to make moves during long green flag runs, including getting by eventual series champion Josef Newgarden for sixth in the Corkscrew on Lap 34 as the crowd loved every bit of his overtake.
The rally proved to be pivotal as several laps later, the only full-course caution of the 90-lap race came out when Conor Daly spun at the Andretti Hairpin.
From there, the team’s strategy shined bright and Rosenqvist ended his season on a high and praised their efforts on a solid season that saw him score two runner-up finishes at Mid-Ohio and Portland, and led the field to the green flag at the Indianapolis Grand Prix.
“Yeah, strategy was perfect, I’d say. That safety car helped us a little bit for sure,” Rosenqvist said. “Yeah, it was a hell of a year. My Chip Ganassi NTT DATA crew has just been flawless all season, especially the pit crew.
“They’ve just never done any mistakes, just a few slip-ups, but I think we had the most solid crew of anyone this year, and I think they deserve this sixth finish in the championship and Rookie of the Year. Really good finish.”