INSIGHT: Rosenqvist’s season of redemption

INSIGHT: Rosenqvist’s season of redemption

Standing in the basement of the Long Beach Convention Hall last September as the NTT IndyCar Series was days away from closing the season, Felix Rosenqvist looked like he wanted to disappear.

As his Arrow McLaren SP teammate Pato O’Ward and all of the other championship contenders were surrounded by the media heading into the title-deciding weekend, Rosenqvist was there as a courtesy, ready to complete a bruising debut with AMSP and all but invisible among the coveted interview subjects. Holding 21st in the championship standings, Rosenqvist had nothing to offer and waited patiently for the media session to end.

Having survived the worst season of his career with AMSP, which included a frightening crash that sidelined the Swede for two races, Rosenqvist watched as O’Ward went on to finish third in the championship and couldn’t wait to get a fresh start in 2022.

What a difference a year makes.

Holding eighth in the championship entering Portland, Rosenqvist sits directly behind O’Ward in the standings as the 1-2 punch AMSP was seeking has become a reality.

“I was actually thinking about that the other day as well about how different it’s been,” Rosenqvist told RACER. “Even last year, by Long Beach, things were kind of going the right direction, more in qualifying than the races, but it was still a struggle.

“It was a feeling of finally, kind of being where I want to be, but then at the same time, you had all this baggage from the season because it was such a rough year. Then the offseason came, did a lot of reflecting on things and saw things I needed to do better. I wasn’t happy with the car and how it felt, and I think we really did a good job addressing all those things, especially the drivability stuff. Chevy did a very good job and I think that’s actually been one of the biggest contributors to my rise in performance this year.”

In 2021, we got to meet Rosenqvist’s unwelcome alter ego, “abnormal Felix.”

“This year just seems like wherever we go, it’s normal,” he said. “I feel like ‘normal Felix,’ Like when I do a good lap, I’m P1. When I do a half-good lap, I’m P8. And when I do a **** lap. I’m P14. And I’m never P19 or P20, which I had with the mysterious performances last year. It seems like they’re completely gone.

“I’m still not used to it. A year like that really puts you in a good way where you don’t take things for granted and those years definitely make you stronger. And now, when you have a car underneath you that you’re so much happier with, it’s so much easier to just nail down a lap where you’re thinking, ‘That wasn’t hard.’ I’m enjoying that fact, every day.”

Despite earning a pair of pole positions and visiting the podium in Toronto, a slow start to the new season put Rosenqvist in a hole he’s been digging out of since Rounds 1 and 2. He had a stellar run to fourth at the Indianapolis 500 — his best result in four appearances — and on six occasions, he’s finished inside the top seven. The next step is to add a win for AMSP, which is his primary goal over the final two races of the year.

“We had a lot of stuff happening to begin the season that were outside of our control, so on the driving side that I could control, I definitely feel like I’ve performed better,” he said. “Going for the championship became very hard, but we’ve just worked really hard to become a complete package. My group with the No. 7 car is definitely a crew that people consider dangerous at this point. It’s funny how quickly everything changed for the better. But it also feels like it was yesterday when I was standing in Long Beach thinking, ‘Hey, what the hell happened here?’”

Rosenqvist’s relationship with O’Ward is another area within AMSP that has fueled his return to form. It would be hard to find a pair of teammates who are closer than these two who dine together on a regular basis and spend free time playing miniature golf among other activities. Factor in the close bonds they’ve built within their respective car crews — like O’Ward and his No. 5 Chevy team, Rosenqvist is beloved by his No. 7 outfit — and the chemistry they’ve established on the engineering side, and AMSP struck upon a special tandem to lead its team.

“We’ve been matching each other pretty much everywhere this year,” Rosenqvist said. “In terms of pace, I feel like on one lap, I can match or beat him. And then he’s still very, very good in the races. I think that’s where I still have something to catch up. Maybe not so much on street courses and road courses, but on the ovals. Right now, he’s the strongest driver on the ovals and I think he was also the one who scored the most points on ovals this year. So that’s where I want to find a little more in myself.

“Both of us, actually, have had terrible luck this year. A lot of DNFs that we could do without where we could have been in a way better position to fight for the championship. But we go to just about every track and we’re up there, being among the fastest five, fighting for wins, doing that on a consistent basis. Everything else is up to cleaning up a few details.”

Although Rosenqvist and O’Ward have become a strong and effective duo, McLaren Racing continues to try to land Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou to take over the No. 7 Chevy in 2023 and beyond. Rosenqvist has made it clear that he wants to remain in IndyCar, preferably with AMSP, and with the team holding an option on his services, he continues to wait and see whether he or Palou will occupy the seat next year.

Rosenqvist battles Power on the streets of Nashville. Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

A good thing has happened for Rosenqvist during his climb to IndyCar’s top 10: Other teams are interested in hiring him if McLaren passes on the opportunity. Where Rosenqvist was on nobody’s short list entering the season and needed McLaren to keep his IndyCar career afloat, all of that has changed in recent months. Whether it’s AMSP or one of its rivals, Rosenqvist has no intentions to race for anyone in Formula E. IndyCar is where he’s planting longer-term roots.

“Definitely, and I feel like when you enter your fourth year in a series, and especially after the season I had last year, you start to think, ‘OK, is this is this where I should be? Am I doing good enough?” he said. “Obviously, you’re living most of the year an Atlantic Ocean away from your family and friends, and it’s a big commitment.

“But this year, I’ve definitely enjoyed so much just being back in the game and told myself I want to be here for at least the next couple of years. I’m really trying to go for something big. I feel so much more complete now as a driver, and I have a package that I can fight on all kinds of tracks for podiums and pole positions. It would be a waste to not be here right now. And I’m also just having so much fun racing.

“I think that’s what keeps all these guys in IndyCar going for so long, like Dixon and Castroneves and Power. It just becomes addicting and you want to stay in it because it’s the best racing in the world.”