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Rosenqvist: Andretti alliance “huge” in MSR IndyCar upturn

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Felix Rosenqvist has lauded the influence of Meyer Shank Racing’s technical alliance with Andretti Global after taking pole position for the opening heat race as part of the NTT IndyCar Series’ $1 Million Challenge at the Thermal Club. 

“Obviously we lean a lot on Andretti Global,” Rosenqvist said in a post-session media availability at Thermal. “We do all the engineering stuff with them. That’s been huge actually to just dig for info, talk to those guys. It’s very open. That’s been hugely helpful to understand what this car is like, what tools we have.”

The teams’ drivers have spent a lot of time on each others’ trucks and pit stands during test days, with a sharing of ideas between the teams. It has often been referred to as there being “five cars”, especially since Andretti’s decision to downsize from four to three cars for 2024.

Rosenqvist previously mentioned - during the St. Petersburg weekend, where a seventh-place finish bettered a best race finish of 10th for the team in 2023 - that the two teams have worked closely together “a lot” to drive improvement. He credited the Andretti package as a reason behind such a strong debut weekend with the team. 

Fast forward to Thermal and Rosenqvist said he “nailed” qualifying again. “I didn’t over-push anywhere,” he said. “I think that was the right strategy. You see so many people making mistakes. If you get a gust of wind in the wrong place, you can end up in the wall.”

Andretti had a much more challenging qualifying day in windy conditions at Thermal. Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood finished 11th and 13th respectively in the opening group of 14 drivers after messy sessions. Marcus Ericsson then made a more grave error, crashing out of the second session, meaning he will start his heat race from the rear.

But Rosenqvist pipped Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin to top spot by 0.0237 seconds in the first qualifying group for their allies, with rookie teammate Tom Blomqvist fifth in the second group. This follows Rosenqvist’s second-place qualifying finish on the streets of St. Petersburg, which was the team’s best qualifying result since 2021.

Thermal qualifying saw push-to-pass on offer for the first time in qualifying, plus only one tyre set available to drivers. Rosenqvist credited the openness to use the event for experimentation, leading to a high-adrenaline, “one-and-done” session. He did a better job at adapting than anyone.

“I think the car really suits me naturally,” Rosenqvist said. “I think it benefits my driving style probably a bit more. It’s very good on the brakes, which is, I think, a bit of my strength. I think, at least on these kinds of tracks, where you have a lot of braking, a lot of straight line, hard braking, it’s been really good for me.”

For the first time in his IndyCar career, Rosenqvist is the most experienced driver within his team. He has admitted he is enjoying being a part of a lower-scale outfit, where things have clicked from the outset and he is able to bring his experiences from spells at Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow McLaren to the table.

“They had a tough year last year,” Rosenqvist said of the team. “[There was] a little bit of a rethink. I brought some ideas. [It was] kind of just a clean sheet.”

Rosenqvist’s sole career IndyCar victory came in the second of his two years at Ganassi. But Sunday’s 10-lap heat race, then maybe the ‘final’ race too, offers a chance to get back in the winners’ circle, even if not a points-paying race.

“It’s an angry pack behind in the mirror,” Rosenqvist said. “I think it’s about the start and getting away, but, man, everyone’s going to go for it. That’s the beauty and the curse of this format. Everyone is just going to give it all, and that’s what we did now and ended up first.”

Rosenqvist believes that, in the high-speed section of the track, following other cars could be difficult. There has already been a high level of degradation during nine hours of testing, when drivers were searching for clean air. It will not be “a walk in the park”, in the Swede’s words.

“I’m going to put a bumper on the rear because it’s going to be tight,” second group pole-sitter Alex Palou joked. “With the push-to-pass being enabled on the start, and the tow, it’s going to be tight. Nobody’s safe.”

Palou will have the benefit of observing Rosenqvist leading his heat to green - the first race event of this magnitude on the Thermal track. The Spaniard said he will “hopefully follow” or alternatively “just do the complete opposite depending on how he goes”.

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