Minutes after clinching the NTT IndyCar Series rookie of the year award Sunday, Felix Rosenqvist urged fellow European racers to follow his lead and give the series a shot.
“I would encourage anyone to come over here,” said the 27-year-old Swede after his fifth-place finish in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. “I know many guys are looking to do it. Some of my friends, they're always asking about how IndyCar, how are the ovals. That's probably the biggest question I get.”
Truth be told, performance on ovals was the key to Rosenqvist winning the rookie award. His finishes on the five ovals weren’t up to his standards -- an average finish of 17.4 -- but his ability to hold his own in an unfamiliar form of racing helped him amass 425 points in the championship, more than fellow rookies Colton Herta, Santino Ferrucci and Marcus Ericsson.
“Doing well in the championship itself for sure is not easy,” Rosenqvist said. “It's been the biggest challenge I've had.”
Rosenqvist was building a diverse international resume in single seaters and sports cars when he joined Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season. He immediately made an impression in March by starting third and finishing fourth in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla.
His first oval was the most important one -- the 103rd Indianapolis 500. There, he struggled to find speed during the month and finished 28th in the race. But two weeks later at Texas Motor Speedway, Rosenqvist seemed to find his way on ovals with a 12th-place effort. He also had respectable finishes in two other oval races -- Iowa Speedway (14th) and World Wide Technologies Raceway at Gateway (11th).
Those finishes -- along with his runner-up efforts at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Portland International Raceway -- were enough to clinch the rookie honor.
“It was a hell of a year,” Rosenqvist said. “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. I think they deserve this sixth-place finish in the championship and rookie of the year.”
In fact, as Rosenqvist said after Sunday’s race, finishing sixth in the final standings could be more significant than the rookie award. After the trouble at Indy, he dropped to 15th in points. Even after his solid oval recovery at Texas, he was 12th in the standings. But four top-five finishes in the final eight races brought him back to sixth.
“We were really far behind at one point, and I just tried to focus on the rookie championship,” Rosenqvist said. “I knew technically I could get sixth today, but I didn't know until I finished the race, and I was kind of shocked about it. … I'm actually more happy about that than the rookie title. Being sixth, that's probably best of the rest, I'd say.”
With that, he encouraged other Europeans to race in the U.S.
“I really hope that more Europeans come over here,” he said. “... Bring IndyCar more to Europe because there's a big racing audience there, as well. With me and Marcus, we probably increase that audience a lot. … Hopefully more guys come in.”