ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – INDYCAR, meet Felix Rosenqvist. Felix, say hello to INDYCAR.
Rosenqvist, a 27-year-old veteran of Formula E and Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires among a wide-ranging racing resume, formally introduced himself to the NTT IndyCar Series on Saturday by landing a place on the second row for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“We have some things to work on, but the potential of the car seems really good,” the native of Varnamo, Sweden, said after qualifying third with a lap of 1 minute 0.6884 seconds (106.775 mph) during the climactic Firestone Fast Six session. “(It’s) just really good fun being up here. I don't know about the race. It's just about forgetting everything we've done so far this weekend and just put that in the history books and aim for the race, see what we can do there.”
Rosenqvist, driving the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, ran through final preparations for the race by placing 14th in Sunday morning’s 30-minute warmup practice. Takuma Sato led the session in the No. 30 Panasonic/Seeman Holtz Honda with a lap of 1:010942 (106.066 mph). Graham Rahal made it a 1-2 sweep for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in the session, putting the No. 15 United Rentals Honda second on the warmup timesheet with a lap of 1:01.1753 (105.925 mph).
FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG: Warmup practice results I Combined practice results
Rosenqvist will start behind Team Penske front-row teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden in the 110-lap race on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street course. Power won the pole in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet with a lap of 1:00.4594 (107.179 mph).
Rosenqvist’s journey to the Firestone Fast Six was unique. He made it through an unusual first round during which two red flags prevented several drivers, including defending champion Sebastien Bourdais, from putting down a fast lap. He was initially a spot shy of making it to the Firestone Fast Six in the second round, but Colton Herta was penalized for qualifying interference and had his top two laps negated, opening the door for Rosenqvist to advance.
He then outperformed teammate Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport aces Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi in the final round to qualify third.
“It was a bit of a Christmas Day for us today,” Rosenqvist said. “Group 1 was just really messy. I didn't really have a lap and I was just worried I wouldn't go through. Luckily just made it through that one.”
Rosenqvist, whose most significant victory to date was winning the Macau Grand Prix in 2015, will start next to his teammate, the five-time champion. Rosenqvist said he’ll be careful at the start of the 110-lap race.
“I think the golden rule is don't take your teammate out,” he said. “Until then, I guess we're racing like everyone else but with extra respect.”
Dixon cautioned about Turn 1 on the first lap, which has produced trouble in previous St. Pete races.
“There's always lots going on,” Dixon said. “I think it's not just going to be Felix. The competition is really tight this weekend, so there's not going to be much give. And as always, there's a lot of built-up tension I think in the offseason, so Turn 1 is definitely going to be interesting.”