SALINAS, Calif. – Earlier Saturday morning, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown explained to reporters that even in the hours and days after Alex Palou opted not to come to Arrow McLaren’s No. 6 Chevy for 2024, potentially leaving the seat back open for its incumbent Felix Rosenqvist, Brown and the team’s racing director Gavin Ward thought it best to ‘try something different’ anyways for the future.
Hours later, the Swedish IndyCar veteran got the final word.
Rosenqvist will start his final race for his home of three years, where his job so often seemed to be in question, on pole after edging Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by less than one-hundredth of a second (0.0097 seconds) in Saturday’s qualifying session for the season-finale at Laguna Seca. With the tiniest of margins over McLaughlin, who told reporters he dropped a wheel into the sand right at the start of his lap that played a key role in missing out on his third pole of the year, Rosenqvist clinched not only his second pole of 2023 but the second of his soon-to-be former team’s this season.
The 31-year-old has now recorded four poles – two each the last two seasons – during his three-year Arrow McLaren tenure that this weekend has been constantly celebrated, between a cake, an autographed spare part for him to leave with and messages of “Thank you, Fro” in both English and Swedish on the inside of the aeroscreen in his cockpit.
Next season, Rosenqvist will move onto Meyer Shank Racing on a multi-year deal, where for the first time in IndyCar, he’ll have an opportunity to “come in as a leader and build a team around me.”
“In a way, it’s kinda ironic, but it’s just kinda proving the pace we have and keep having. Things haven’t been straight forward and haven’t been good enough this year, and both the team and I have made mistakes,” Rosenqvist said Saturday after he stepped out of the car. “But as a driver, you want to keep showing your pace, and to kick off this weekend this way is perfect. It’s a bit emotional, because I love all these guys and girls, but it’s a perfect way to end things.”
What to watch at Laguna Seca: Millions of dollars, trophies, history and bragging rights up for grabs
Rosenqvist, who also started on pole this year at Texas Motor Speedway and who’s recorded a pair of podium finishes at Detroit and Portland, went on to admit Saturday that the pressure of finding a home for the future had worn on him – particularly as he totaled five DNFs and six finishes of 20th or worse. As he reflects now, he said, it may not be too much of a coincidence that he’s now recorded his best finish of his Arrow McLaren tenure last weekend in the Pacific Northwest, followed by Saturday’s pole run that he called “a gorilla lap.”
“Most of us don’t like to admit that we’re struggling or under pressure, but I’ve been in a situation for a long time where I haven’t known what my future held, and I always played it off like, ‘It’s fine, I’ve got it under control’,” he said. “Somewhere a couple months ago, I started having some bad results and DNFs, even with some things out of my control, and then you’re getting to a point where you’ve got to settle on something for next year, and it’s been stressful and actually got to me a bit.
“To have signed a multi-year contract, I couldn’t really believe how free I’d feel after that, but it’s been a good reminder for the future that when you feel stressed out, you have to take care of those things.”
Brown also told reporters Saturday morning that when Palou’s lawyers delivered the McLaren Racing CEO the news of his plans to remain at Chip Ganassi Racing for the foreseeable future, despite having signed a three-year IndyCar deal that was set to start in 2024 with Arrow McLaren last fall, Rosenqvist was already “pretty far along” in searching for a new ride, which helped soften the blow on the decision to continue to press forward toward a new young talent that ended up being 21-year-old David Malukas.
Even after Saturday, Rosenqvist said by no means is he looking back.
“I don’t really want to go into details of what we discussed, but I think it was pretty clear at some point, and I had a feeling, that they were going to move on with someone else, and I had to guard myself against that,” Rosenqvist said. “We’ve seen so many drivers, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay, good drivers who end up all a sudden without a seat. And I wanted to make sure I got ahead of that.
“As much as I love (Arrow McLaren), with (MSR), I think we can do a lot of great things together.”
IndyCar qualifying results at Laguna Seca
*The cars of Juri Vips, Santino Ferrucci and Agustin Canapino all have undergone unapproved engine changes since last weekend’s race at Portland, meaning the trio will all three drop six spots on the grid for Sunday.
1. Felix Rosenqvist
2. Scott McLaughlin
3. Christian Lundgaard
4. Josef Newgarden
5. Scott Dixon
6. Alex Palou
7. Juri Vips
8. Rinus VeeKay
9. Will Power
10. Romain Grosjean
11. Santino Ferrucci
12. Pato O’Ward
13. Agustin Canapino
14. Graham Rahal
15. Colton Herta
16. Marcus Armstrong
17. Alexander Rossi
18. Kyle Kirkwood
19. Marcus Ericsson
20. Callum Ilott
21. Tom Blomqvist
22. David Malukas
23. Benjamin Pedersen
24. Sting Ray Robb
25. Ryan Hunter-Reay
26. Devlin DeFrancesco
27. Helio Castroneves
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Felix Rosenqvist snags pole in final Arrow McLaren race: 'It's kinda ironic'