Kevin Magnussen is diving into the deep end of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this weekend at Road America, but he’s had his eyes on this talent pool for a longer time than most think.
Magnussen, 28, is making his INDYCAR debut by substituting for Felix Rosenqvist in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR on Sunday, July 20 at Road America. Rosenqvist was not cleared to drive by the INDYCAR medical staff after crashing heavily Saturday, June 12 during Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit at Belle Isle.
Danish driver Magnussen comes to INDYCAR with impressive credentials. He made 119 Formula One starts between 2014-20 with the McLaren, Renault and Haas teams, scoring a second-place finish in his F1 debut at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix for McLaren.
He switched to North American racing this season, driving a Cadillac Daytona Prototype International (DPi) full time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Chip Ganassi Racing. He earned his first IMSA victory last weekend in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.
But Magnussen said he always has kept his eyes on INDYCAR as a possible career path ever since his father, F1 veteran and sports car standout Jan Magnussen, made his CART debut in 1996, when Kevin was only 3.
“It's never been a secret that INDYCAR is something that I am pretty passionate about,” Magnussen said. “It's nothing new. I've been -- my dad raced Indy cars in the mid-90s when I was only a small little kid, and I can remember back then that I was thinking, ‘I've got to do that one day.’
“But I've also never hidden the fact that I just am a passionate racing driver that loves driving cars and competing, and as I said, I'm fortunate and privileged to be able to go around and drive all these different cars. Last week I drove at an awesome track in Detroit and won. We had a lot of fun, and that's the real privilege of being me at the moment is being able to just have this much fun with what I do.”
That passion for driving and open-minded willingness to race in almost any vehicle will serve Magnussen well this weekend, as the challenge of jumping into a new series is daunting, even for the most experienced drivers.
Magnussen has never tested an INDYCAR SERIES car, which lacks the power steering of Formula One cars and sports cars. He has just one day of testing at Road America, earlier this year in the Cadillac DPi. That helps build circuit knowledge, but the mid-engine prototype drives and handles differently than an open-wheel car with more aerodynamic downforce and the engine in the rear.
So, Magnussen is using every tool in a veteran driver’s box to learn as quickly as possible. First, he traveled this week to the Arrow McLaren SP shop in Indianapolis to get fit in the car. AMSP engineers also worked with Magnussen to help him learn the intricacies of driving an INDYCAR SERIES car.
Magnussen also has studied videos of past INDYCAR SERIES races to learn more about the series and cars.
Then, when he arrived at Road America, Magnussen visited with former Haas F1 teammate Romain Grosjean, a fellow rookie this season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, for tips on how to handle this sudden transition.
“He was actually very helpful and giving advice and just kind of letting me know the obvious and most biggest differences from INDYCAR to F1,” Magnussen said of Grosjean. “But you know, I'm going to have a great team behind me this weekend to guide me through this crazy challenge, and I'm really here to just experience and enjoy and hopefully have a good result on Sunday. But most of all learn and enjoy.
“It doesn't really compare to any experience I've had. This is certainly the very least prepared I've ever been to step into a race. But at the end of the day, it's not the greatest circumstances when you've got a driver out who got hurt in a crash. I think he's (Rosenqvist) recovering very well. But yeah, when you get an opportunity like this, I'm a racing driver, a passionate one, and when an opportunity comes to go and drive an awesome race car like an Indy car, I had to take it.”
Cooperation from rival drivers is something to which Magnussen is just getting accustomed. One of the most enduring adages in F1 is that a driver’s teammate is his first target to beat, so that can lead to frosty relationships within the same garage space.
And getting tips from drivers on rival teams in F1? Forget about it. The piranha club of that paddock eats its own.
Not so in INDYCAR. In fact, O’Ward – who has two victories this season and leads the championship by one point in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet – is more than happy to share everything with his temporary teammate. That cooperation continued when O’Ward and Magnussen walked the 14-turn, 4.014-mile circuit together Thursday evening.
“I'll help in any way I can, but he's a top driver, so I'm sure he's going to get around to it very naturally,” O’Ward said. “But yeah, as I told the team and told him, I'm an open book, so anything you may need or anything you need, I'm here to help. I want both cars to be at the front this weekend.”
Practice for the REV Group Grand Prix starts at 5 p.m. (ET) Friday, with practices at 11:10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday (all live on Peacock). NTT P1 Award qualifying is live on Peacock at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, with delayed coverage at midnight Saturday on NBCSN.
Live coverage of the 55-lap race starts at noon (ET) Sunday on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network.