ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – IndyCar’s future was on full display in Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America.
It was a battle between some of the newest and youngest drivers in the series. In the end, second-year driver Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden was able to chase down race leader Pato O’Ward of Mexico.
Rosenqvist passed the 21-year-old O’Ward in turn six with two laps to go and went on to claim his first win since Formula E in 2018.
“It’s great for the future of IndyCar,” third-place finisher Alexander Rossi said of the young guns’ performance. “It makes my life difficult. Every weekend you know you will have 12 to 15 very capable cars. That’s why when you win an NTT IndyCar Series race, it’s such a special thing. You know you really had to put everything together and be on your game.
“No surprise. I’ve seen firsthand how quick Colton Herta has been as a teenager coming out of Indy Lights. The fact that Felix and Pato are up there, it’s really no surprise to me.”
The 28-year-old Rossi has firmly established himself as an IndyCar star, but now he has to fend off an even younger and newer group of talent.
Second-year drivers Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and 20-year-old Colton Herta of California rounded out the top-five. Twenty-two-year-old Santino Ferrucci of Connecticut and 23-year-old Alex Palou of Spain were sixth and seventh, respectively.
Youth was showcased throughout the top 10, led by the race winner, who gave team owner Chip Ganassi his fourth-straight win to start the season after 39-year-old Scott Dixon won the first three races of 2020.
“I think we need to continue pushing,” O’Ward said after finishing a disappointing second in a race where he started on the pole and led 43 laps. “We need to be pushing our boundaries, pushing our knowledge to try and learn everything that we can every single lap, every single test, every single race. We need to find everything that we can to improve in every aspect that we can.
“It’s not easy to win an IndyCar race. Everything has to go well. You have to execute perfectly every single thing in out laps, pit stops, you have to manage your tires, your ‘push to pass,’” O’Ward added. “I think the younger generation, we’re showing that the speed is there and we’re starting to learn and we’re giving the veterans a hard time now. We want to keep it up. We want to be mixing up with them up there. The only thing that is going to make us improve is just race knowledge, laps and laps and laps.
“But I think the speed, we have proven it’s there.”
Rosenqvist became a race winner on Sunday. O’Ward showed he is capable of winning a race soon. Rossi is already a star and Herta won two races in his rookie season in 2019.
Ferrucci is rapidly becoming one of IndyCar’s most exciting drivers and Palou is living up to his reputation as one of Europe’s brightest talents.
“I think we’re showing that we’re the most competitive racing championship in the world,” O’Ward said. “Scott took the first three wins, but every top 10 and top five has been different. There is a huge mix of guys, especially when you see in qualifying that from first to 15th is three tenths. You don’t see that anywhere in the world.
“I’m really proud to be representing my team Arrow McLaren SP, my country Mexico, in such a cool championship. I think it’s so special because we race in every single type of racecourse. We have to be strong every year in order for us to be competitive and be contenders in the championship. I think that’s good.”
This day, however, belonged to Rosenqvist. He came close to scoring his first victory last year at Mid-Ohio but finished second to Dixon.
Sunday at Road America, Rosenqvist drove with incredible determination as he chased down O’Ward at the end.
He wasn’t going to be denied.
“I think in IndyCar, right now, the concept, it’s just so tight,” Rosenqvist said. “You look at qualifying. You have the top 15 within three or four tenths. That’s a difference of making a really good lap and an exceptional lap. It’s so little difference.
“If you are on the right side of that, you have a good chance to win that day. If you’re on the wrong side, you start 15th. Maybe you need a strategy to turn it around. It always seems to be a good strategy or two out there, it’s always very open. The formula of the series allows anyone to fight for the win if you have the pace, if you do a good strategy.
“You can’t really count anyone out. You just have to be there when you need to and never give up in the car. I think that’s why you see so many different results, so many different guys up in the front all the time. When you find a flow, just do the same every week. You always have to recharge, work hard, try new things every session.
“It’s hard work being in IndyCar.”
As Rosenqvist discovered Sunday at Road America, it can always be very rewarding, especially if it is winning a race.
“It’s hard to come in as a rookie and win races straight away,” Rosenqvist said. “I think Robert Wickens really showed that in 2018. I had a good season last year, but it was still very up and down. I had a couple of podiums, one pole position. Still every weekend was a big swing.
“I think you need experience. You need to learn the facts, you need to learn how the weekends go, try to find a flow, ups and downs. It probably takes a couple of years, too, before you can master it yourself without being guided by your crew.
“That’s what Dixon does really well, being consistent. He takes a lot of decisions on his own in the car. He can sort of call the race a little bit inside a helmet. Yeah, that’s something the young guns need to learn.”
As two of those younger drivers, Rosenqvist and O’Ward proved on Sunday they are quick learners.
That’s something that should carry them far in their IndyCar Series careers.