A heavily-anticipated move in IndyCar’s ‘Silly Season’ has finally been announced, and it is a very exciting one. Felix Rosenqvist will join reigning champion Scott Dixon at Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019. Super-rookie Robert Wickens was a very exciting addition to the grid for 2018, and Rosenqvist comes with a similarly-juicy reputation from his European racing.
Rosenqvist already has a history in the United States, albeit a brief one. He started 10 Indy Lights races in 2016, finishing 12th overall. What this fails to recognise, however, is that despite starting just over half of the races in the season, he finished with more wins than eventual champion Ed Jones – the man he replaces at Ganassi.
He already has a few tests under his belt. In his short time in an Indy car, he has impressed his new team boss, the owner of the eponymous team, on each occasion. Chip Ganassi is not the easiest man to impress and has had some incredibly good drivers in his stable in the past. This is the boss who has cemented his team as one of IndyCar’s juggernauts and won titles with names such as Vasser, Zanardi, Montoya, Franchitti and Dixon – a total of 12 times between them.
The Swedish driver comes off the back of a very impressive time in Formula E – a series which somewhat harshly has this reputation for being a retirement home for Formula 1 drivers, or a bit on the side for drivers in DTM or the World Endurance Championship. In his rookie campaign against some of the strongest drivers in the world, Rosenqvist finished in a brilliant third place. The series’ fourth season should have featured a serious title campaign from him, but after two wins from the first three races, it completely derailed.
Regardless of a second season which was not up to scratch, Rosenqvist established himself as a fierce competitor at a very high level in a series that can be difficult to adapt to. That, and his brilliant ability to ‘plug in and play’ whatever the car or series, is putting the 26-year-old in the discussion over the best drivers currently outside of F1.
So why exactly will Rosenqvist be so good at IndyCar?
As mentioned earlier, Rosenqvist’s ability to step into a car and be up to speed immediately is a very useful tool. It is a massively useful tool in current-day IndyCar with the recent reduction in practice time. It is something that really helped Wickens in his rookie campaign. Having a car that puts it more in the hands of the drivers compared to the manufacturer aero kit era is likely to help those jumping straight in with little or no IndyCar experience. It showed in 2018, with the impressive performances shown at one stage or another by most of the rookies.
Street circuit prowess
Rosenqvist is an absolute master of the famed Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix – winning it twice and with one runner-up spot. Macau, with its history and fearsome heritage, is one of the few races drivers want to win once as they come up through the ranks, and very few have won it more than once. Combined with his FE reputation, he is regarded as a Keke Rosberg-like ‘Street Fighter’. He even has that thrilling sideways driving style to match. There is no current driver within IndyCar who comes across as the absolute best on a street circuit, and this may be an area where Rosenqvist may be able to establish himself as one of the toughest. Other street circuit victories? Pau and Norisring in F3. A rich reputation.
Extensive racing CV despite youth
Prior to 2016, despite being the reigning F3 champion, Rosenqvist’s CV was limited to pretty much just that – F3. Since then, he has become fearsome in Lights, GT racing, endurance racing, DTM, FE, Super Formula, Super GT and Porsches. All within three seasons. IndyCar is a series where the most versatile drivers thrive, and having a strong background is ideal. All of this experience, developed in Europe, the United States and in Japan, is of a major benefit to driver and team.
One-make series prowess
Rosenqvist’s domination of the F3 European championship in 2015 was somewhat overdue, but what a commanding performance it was. With the differences only being in engines and minor alterations to the chassis in that championship, the fundamentals are not too dissimilar to IndyCar. Admittedly, it was Rosenqvist’s sixth attempt at an F3 championship, but the job was very much done in style. It is the driver and the fractions found within setup that makes all the difference at that level, and a similar philosophy applies in IndyCar.
His FE stint was exceptional, despite no title
FE is an unbelievably difficult series to adapt to, as current champion Jean-Eric Vergne showed. Rookies generally tend to struggle in the series, regardless of his or her background. Rosenqvist was a serious exception to this rule in the 2016-17 season. Within two rounds, he had secured his first pole, podium and fastest lap in the series. He also firmly shaded his more experienced (in both FE and motorsport terms) team-mate Nick Heidfeld, a man who himself has a record that does not do justice, and finished third in the championship. He also took a mighty fine win at Berlin and added three second-place finishes to his tally before the end of the season. The likes of e.dams Renault and Audi Abt Schaeffler were teams simply out of reach, but Rosenqvist asserted himself as best of the rest and one of three standout drivers of the season with Mahindra.
Rosenqvist’s team-mate next year is none other than five-time champion Scott Dixon. He will be able to learn from one of the series’ greatest of all time while establishing himself as one to watch in 2019. With at least four rookies in the field, IndyCar is looking to have a very strong field again next year. A title run is a long shot, but Rosenqvist will surely be a big factor in the championship fight.