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Magical start to IndyCar season continues for Felix Rosenqvist

LONG BEACH, California – Felix Rosenqvist’s wave of success in 2024 has rolled into this California seaside community like one of the waves off the Pacific Ocean.

Rosenqvist took on the best driver in IndyCar Series qualifying history, Team Penske’s Will Power, in Saturday’s Firestone Fast Six Qualifications for Sunday’s 49th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

No driver in IndyCar history has won more poles than Power, who has 70 including last year’s sweep at Iowa Speedway in the Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Saturday’s qualifications were setting up perfectly for Power, who was the last driver at speed during the final “Fast Six” session that would determine the pole.

Rosenqvist had the fastest time around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course that makes up North America’s greatest street race. All that was left was to see if his lap at 1:06.0127 for a speed of 107.317 would withstand Power’s final assault.

When Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske crossed the finish line, his time was 1:06.0211 (107.311 mph).

Power missed it by 0.0039-of-a-second.

Instead of Power celebrating his 71st pole, it was Rosenqvist with his sixth career IndyCar pole.

It was also the first IndyCar Series pole for Meyer Shank Racing.

“It's a bit unexpected,” Rosenqvist said afterwards. “I didn't think I had it. Everyone is so on it here, especially considering Q2 (second segment of qualifications), I had to nail it.

“I had a big moment out of Turn 5. I don't think I lost a lot of time, but I was still worried. We finished quite early as well. We were sitting in the car forever waiting.

“I was so excited to get it. Just a couple of thousandths in front of Will. That means a lot to beat this guy for pole. He's got a couple under his belt.

“It's tight out there. You have to be your best self every lap out there.”

Rosenqvist entered the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season with a point to prove.

Five years ago, he was on the verge of becoming IndyCar’s newest star as a rookie driver at Chip Ganassi Racing.

It was the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Rosenqvist started third and finished fourth in Ganassi’s No. 10 NTT Data Honda. He led 33 laps in the race before Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden took charge for the victory.

It looked like Rosenqvist’s star was on the rise. He scored his first career IndyCar win in 2020 in the second race of a doubleheader at Road America on July 12, 2020, battling a young rookie from Arrow McLaren Racing named Pato O’Ward.

At the end of that season, Rosenqvist left Ganassi and joined Arrow McLaren as CEO Zak Brown was building his IndyCar Series operation.

But seven races into his relationship at Arrow McLaren, Rosenqvist was injured in a crash at Detroit’s Belle Isle. He missed two races before returning to action at Mid-Ohio but was quickly surpassed by teammate Pato O’Ward.

He finished 21st in the final IndyCar standings in 2021 but battled back to ninth in the standings during a winless 2022. It took a strong finish to the end of the season for Rosenqvist to retain his ride as Arrow McLaren expanded to three cars for 2023 with the addition of Alexander Rossi joining the operation from Andretti Global.

By the end of 2023, Rosenqvist was out at Arrow McLaren and found a new home at Meyer Shank Racing. With Simon Pagenaud unable to continue his racing career because of lingering effects from an injury at Mid-Ohio on July 1, and Helio Castroneves moving into an ownership role, Rosenqvist would become the veteran driver on the team owned by Michael Shank and Jim Meyer.

Teamed with rookie driver Tom Blomqvist, Rosenqvist is now the veteran driver and can’t be overlooked or underappreciated.

That is why he is out to prove a point in 2024.

A change of scenery on a new racing team is working out for Rosenqvist, a highly acclaimed driver from Europe who is well-liked in the paddock but seems to suffer from hard luck from time to time.

He hopes to make the most of his new opportunity at Meyer Shank.

“It's just been really nice to come to Meyer Shank Racing,” Rosenqvist said. “It's been a super easy transition both with people and the car, which is nice.

“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.

 

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“With the amount of testing we have, that's very important because you don't have time to try to learn the car. I'm really happy about that.

“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. Yeah, super good.”

Overlooked and underappreciated has been the story of Rosenqvist’s IndyCar career. But he has time to turn it around and is making huge steps forward in 2024.

“I don't look back at my five years with any regrets or anything,” he said. “I want to be teammates with the quickest guys, and I think I've been with some of the absolute quickest guys for sure, which has taught me a lot.

“Obviously, a little bit of different scenario now. I have to take that leader role obviously a bit more. We're a two-car team, and Tom is a rookie. So obviously we know each other from the past, and we have a really good relationship, and trying to get him up to speed as quickly as possible.

“It's a little bit of a difference, but I feel like I'm ready for that after quite a while in the series now. I think every year you learn something, and you bring that with you, but at this point I have quite a lot of experience in the bag.

“Yeah, feels good to be in that role.”

It feels even better to be on pole at a legendary race on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is behind held for the 49th time on Sunday. It is North America’s greatest street race and is considered the second biggest street race in the world behind Monaco’s Formula One Grand Prix.

On March 24, Rosenqvist was the fastest driver in qualifications for the $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club, that was a non-championship race, and the statistics aren’t considered “official” IndyCar records.

On Saturday, this competition counted and Rosenqvist is able to continue his outstanding start to the 2024 season.

He qualified second and finished seventh in the March 10 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

On Sunday, he will start on the pole in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, attempting to claim the second win of his career.

“It's been good so far, for sure,” Rosenqvist said in a question directed to him by NBCSports.com. “I think everything has gelled pretty quickly. That always helps.

"I found myself previously, when you have to adapt, it takes a while before you gel with a car. Yeah, that time has literally been zero this year.

“I feel like I have the team behind me, for sure. Obviously, a bit more of me pulling the shots, calling the shots this year, which has worked well. It's almost, like, surprising how I feel like we're making the right changes to the car. We follow the track evolution well. We're really on it on the stand.

“I think it's impressive what these guys are doing at Meyer Shank Racing. They just gave me a package to be up there straightaway. Hugely impressive.”

In many ways, Rosenqvist’s career has been like a puzzle. He believes at Meyer Shank Racing; he has found the right fit for the final open that can make his career complete.

“If you ask me today, yes, but you never know tomorrow,” the savvy veteran driver said. “I think it's important to keep your feet on the ground, keep working. There's so much more we want to do and improve. Lots of things that you can always improve.

“We just kind of want to focus on ourselves, keep doing what we're doing. Excited to get to the ovals soon to see how that feels.

“Obviously, second race of the year, so we're early days.”

Although it was the driver’s sixth career pole, it was the first IndyCar pole for team owners Michael Shank and Jim Meyer.

“I think it's awesome,” Rosenqvist said. “As I said, the team has just been behind me. I feel like they believe that I can do it. That makes me believe that I can do it in a way.

“Everyone is on the same page. I'm really proud of them. I think they've been close a couple times in the past.

“Obviously, we still have that win to get, both for me and the team. They won the Indianapolis 500 in 2021. My last win was in 2020.

“We still have that to get that done again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500