IndyCar Rookie of the Year candidates review 2019 performances

Michael Eubanks

MONTEREY, Calif – If this year’s IndyCar rookie class is any indicator of the NTT series’ future, one could make the argument that said future will be a bright one.

IndyCar Rookie of the Year candidates Felix Rosenqvist, Santino Ferrucci, and Colton Herta have demonstrated they belong this season, and all three are probable championship contenders in the coming years.

NBC Sports recently interviewed the three drivers to discuss their rookie seasons. Below are their thoughts on some memorable 2019 performances:

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Rosenqvist discusses “roller coaster” rookie season

Prior to the start of the season, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist was expected to be a top candidate for Rookie of the Year and also a contender for race victories.

Rosenqvist looked capable after starting third, finishing fourth and leading 31 laps in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, in March. He then finished in the top 10 at three of the next four races, winning his first pole position on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

But the oval races that make up the middle of the season proved to be difficult for Rosenqvist to adapt. His best finish on an oval this year was 11th at Gateway.

Joe Sibinski/IndyCar
Joe Sibinski/IndyCar

“I’ve been working a lot with (four-time series champion) Dario [Franchitti] to try to improve,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports. “Early on in the season, I was really aggressive, and I was making mistakes. Now I’m driving much more calm.

“Dario has been the No. 1 guy for me to just help me through that whole roller coaster of inputs and feedback. We’re not there yet, but he’s been there every lap I’ve done on an oval, and it’s been just huge to have that.”

Having overcome his midseason slump, Rosenqvist collected a pair of runner-up finishes at Mid-Ohio and Portland. Overall, Rosenqvist, said he’d rate his 2019 performance as a “seven out of 10”.

“It’s been very good in some senses, and it’s been less good in others,” said Rosenqvist, who has endured another up-and-down weekend at Laguna Seca. “It was kind of hard to know what to expect when I joined IndyCar.

“With the first race in St. Petersburg, I put very high expectations on myself and kind of felt I’d win races halfway through this season, which wasn’t the case.

At the end of the season we really dug ourselves out of it and came back really strong, so it was really a roller coaster in the last couple of races.”

Entering the final race of the season, Rosenqvist, 27, leads the Rookie of the Year standings over Santino Ferrucci by 29 points. Though he said his primary focus is to finish the season as high as possible in the championship standings, he still feels a need to win the Rookie of the Year title.

“The expectations have been high, and that’s why I feel I have to win it,” Rosenqvist said.

Ferrucci happy with the decision to return stateside

Though Santino Ferrucci admits his racing goal has always been to follow his childhood hero Michael Schumacher’s footsteps and race in Formula One, the Woodbury, Connecticut, native said he feels at home in the series after spending several seasons in Europe pursing an F1 ride.

Ferrucci first took the opportunity to race in IndyCar during last year’s doubleheader weekend at Belle Isle. He made two more starts at Portland and Sonoma last season before being announced as the full-time driver of the No. 19 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing in 2019.

“When I actually got the opportunity last year to do an IndyCar race, with how our season was going in Europe, I thought ‘Why not? It’d be nice to race on home soil,’ ” Ferrucci said. “One of the things I was most looking forward to was being able to drive to the race myself. I haven’t had done that in seven or eight years, and it was nice to have a road trip.

“Then the experience I got out of it reminded me of why I wanted to be a driver. It was a really cool experience, and I kind of set my focus on making sure I could come back here and race more.”

Joe Sibinski/IndyCar
Joe Sibinski/IndyCar

Now that he’s back stateside, Ferrucci feels confident that his decision he made to race in IndyCar was the right one.

I have no interest in going back overseas to race,” Ferrucci said. “I like being home.”

“I like being with my friends and my family and this team. I like the fact that it’s basically, with the exception of California and Portland, a two and a half hour flight to everywhere we race. The atmosphere is nice.

I think IndyCar is more old school in a sense. It’s a good environment for the fans, and it’s a family event. Where in Europe, you don’t quite get that warm and fuzzy feeling.

“Here, you have little kids walking around who will come ask for autographs. You don’t really have that in Europe. Everything there is really quiet, and it’s kind of really on its own planet, whereas here we like to think of ourselves as a big family.”

Joining the IndyCar paddock full time this season has also allowed Ferrucci to also try something he had never done before; race on ovals. In his oval debut in the Indianapolis 500, Ferrucci, 21, finished seventh.

“With Indy, I learned so much,” Ferrucci said. “I learned so much from Texas after and then Iowa, Gateway and Pocono. Going back to the Indy 500 next year, I think we’ll be in contention to win the race just based on how we finished and what we were able to do on the ovals this season.”

Herta hopeful to cap off great weekend with ROTY title 

It’s been a great weekend so far for 19-year-old Colton Herta.

The California native first made headlines Saturday morning when it was announced that his current team of Harding Steinbrenner Racing would join forces with Andretti Autosport next season. Herta then won his third and final pole position of the 2019 season.

Now Herta hopes to cap off the season by overcoming a 49-point deficit to win the Rookie of the Year title, which is possible depending on the race results for Rosenqvist and Ferrucci.

“I think as we’ve seen, we’ve all had good weekends, but we’ve had equally terrible weekends. I hate to say it, but I’m wishing for terrible weekends for these guys, then I just need to win the race. Easy as that, right?” Herta joked during an IndyCar media event Wednesday night with Rosenqvist and Ferrucci.

“But honestly, it’s been a true honor racing with these guys. I think a lot of us will be in the series for a long time. I’m glad to be part of a rookie class that has been profiled as one of the higher ones that have come through IndyCar.

Joe Sibinski/IndyCar
Joe Sibinski/IndyCar

Herta’s rookie season has been memorable, to say the least. In March, he became the youngest winner in series history when he won IndyCar’s inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas, and would follow up by becoming the youngest pole winner at Road America a few months later.

When asked by NBC Sports earlier this month at Portland International Raceway to grade his rookie season on a 1 to 10 scale, Herta gave himself a seven.

Obviously, some of the DNFs lowered that score, but I think it’s still pretty high just because of the pace that we’ve had,” Herta said. “Pretty much everywhere that we’ve gone, we’ve never really been outside of the top seven or eight in pace, so we’ve always been there at the pointy end of the grid.”

Live coverage of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey begins this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

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