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Rosenqvist ‘on another planet’ as IndyCar trials split practice format

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Felix Rosenqvist has topped the opening practice session of the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season on the streets of St. Petersburg. The Swede, making his debut for Meyer Shank Racing, finished almost half-a-second clear of former teammate Pato O’Ward.

“Felix is on another planet out there,” Team Penske’s Will Power remarked post-session. “But everyone else is extremely close.”

Behind Rosenqvist, only 0.3 seconds split 12 drivers at the chequered flag. O’Ward, Marcus Armstrong, Power, Rinus VeeKay and Scott McLaughlin were all within one-tenth of one another inside the top six. 

Romain Grosjean was seventh, ahead of Colton Herta and reigning champion Alex Palou. Arrow McLaren substitute Callum Ilott, who is replacing the injured David Malukas this weekend, rounded out the top 10 and was quicker than teammate Alexander Rossi, despite having only run with the team during one hybrid test day on the Homestead-Miami roval.

Rosenqvist set the pace in the initial all-car 20-minute segment ahead of Power and new Juncos Hollinger Racing acquisition Grosjean, who was another transferred driver to get up to speed in impressive fashion.

The field was then split into two groups based on their pit stall numbers, each alternating and completing two 10-minute segments before the end of the session. This was part of a trialled new practice format, which was expected to reduce traffic and prevent the usual lull during the session, during which cars remain in the pit lane due to a limited tyre allocation.

Power was a fan of the new format, suggesting there was “more room on track and less backing up” compared to the usual 75-minute full-field sessions. 

“It’s a very similar flow to qualifying,” he continued. “You get the 10 minutes, so you have to get a run done. I didn’t mind it. It’s been very difficult in the past just to get a lap, and each time you went out, you got clear runs. For me, I liked the format.”

Power’s teammate, McLaughlin, was one driver to show possible drawbacks to the format. The Kiwi caught some debris, appearing to be a plastic bag, on his No.3 car, which meant he had to abort a run and enter the pits. A minor issue like this can have a more significant impact in a shortened session.

McLaughlin’s struggles were compounded by two red flags in the first of the 10-minute segments, with both Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Kyffin Simpson and the returning Pietro Fittipaldi - for Rahal Letterman Lanigan (RLL) - stalling in the turn 10 run-off. The second red flag of a segment sees the clock continue, eating into drivers’ practice programmes.

It was Andretti Global’s Colton Herta leading the field after the first round of 10-minute segments, with Rosenqvist’s early time holding its own in second-place. Another strong performance came from Ganassi sophomore Armstrong, who slotted in behind Rosenqvist before briefly jumping to the head of the field during the final 10 minutes.

The final running for each group saw most drivers swap primary tyres for the faster alternates, but Rosenqvist remained the standout driver for a Meyer Shank team searching for an improvement on a difficult 2023. O’Ward’s late effort to go second, ahead of Armstrong, was no match.

Roseqnvist is one of 12 new driver-team combinations this season having departed McLaren in the off-season, with only Penske not undergoing any change. Now driving the No.60 car for MSR, the sixth-year driver feels everything has clicked from the outset, even considering limited off-season running with his new team.

“It’s been a super easy transition both with people and the car, which is nice,” Rosenqvist said. “I think it’s also no secret when I went to McLaren it was a big learning curve with the car. Obviously I was a bit worried that it was going to be the same here, but it’s been the direct opposite. It clicked from lap one pretty much…

“The team has been super, super nice. It’s obviously a smaller group, which is good I think because it's just so much easier to get to know everyone and get up to speed quickly.”

Rookie performance is always another watchpoint on the opening weekend of the season. And Linus Lundqvist, whose three-race run as deputy for Simon Pagenaud at Meyer Shank last year saw him recruited by Ganassi, was the fastest of the crop in 18th-place.

Ed Carpenter Racing were another team to come out of the blocks quickly, as has been deemed necessary after a tough 2023 season. Reigning Indy NXT champion Christian Rasmussen was one place back from Lundqvist, while his more experienced teammate VeeKay continued some momentum from the back end of 2023 to feature inside the top five.

Simpson, at only 19 years old, was 23rd and third-best rookie, with sportscar ace but IndyCar rookie Tom Blomqvist 25th for Meyer Shank in only his fourth outing with the team after a session marred by some mechanical gremlins.

Blomqvist’s fellow sportscar veteran Colin Braun, who only drove an IndyCar for the first time in the recent group test at Sebring, was the slowest of the runners. He ended the session a little over one second off the pace but logged a valuable 25 laps as he continued to learn for Dale Coyne Racing, for whom Braun will drive the No.51 car on an initial two-race deal. 

Jack Harvey was in Coyne’s No.18 car, and given they only announced their driver lineup three days before running commenced, it was creditable that he ended the session in 21st-place. He was faster than Graham Rahal and Fittipaldi for his former team, RLL, as he looks to reignite his IndyCar career across a 14-race schedule in 2024.


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