It was reassuring, final August in Nashville, to listen to Zak Brown verify that Arrow McLaren SP could be retaining its drivers for 2022. We had been sure that Pato O’Ward wasn’t going wherever, particularly whereas McLaren dangled the Components 1 carrot in entrance of him, and we knew that Felix Rosenqvist’s deal, signed in late 2020, was multi-year.
However nonetheless, this can be a robust and swift-moving enterprise. In foolish season, one has to think about such components as get-out clauses, efficiency clauses, breaches of phrases and circumstances, and “so sue me” attitudes. In spite of everything, in September 2019, this author was assured by Sam Schmidt that James Hinchcliffe was staying onboard the imminently renamed Arrow McLaren SP staff for 2020. But, inside eight weeks, the Canadian was gone.
By late summer time of ’21, due to this fact, it was pure to fret over Rosenqvist’s future. He was two-thirds of the best way by what he now describes as “the worst season of my profession”, having struggled to adapt to the very front-downforce-heavy, pointy setup philosophy that Arrow McLaren SP had elected to observe.
His tempo was sporadically good, however his outcomes had been terrible, partly on account of that hit-and-miss pace, partly as a consequence of rotten luck. The one time Rosenqvist gave the impression to be in a doubtlessly successful place, the primary race in Detroit, his throttle caught open and he had a nasty-looking shunt that compelled him to overlook the second Motown race and likewise Highway America.
Even considering these two non-scores, 21st on the factors desk appears to be like disastrous, particularly its stark distinction with O’Ward’s tally. Pato’s momentum from 2020, when he scored 4 podium finishes and took fourth in factors, went unchecked final 12 months, and he scored his first two wins on his strategy to third within the title race.
But within the remaining third of the season there was particular progress for Rosenqvist. Craig Hampson, the staff’s director of trackside engineering, was given the duty of serving to Rosenqvist and his race engineer Blair Perschbacher counteract that twitchy, unstable rear-end setup to which O’Ward had melded properly. Because the #7 automobile’s dealing with settled, Felix grew extra assured, outpacing O’Ward in Nashville and matching him in Portland and Lengthy Seaside. In different phrases, he began to as soon as extra seem like that man whose résumé reveals he can leap into any kind of automobile and contend for victories.
Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, Lengthy Seaside 2022.
Picture by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
At Chip Ganassi Racing, these expertise had landed him IndyCar’s Rookie of the Yr title and fifth place within the championship in 2019, and in 2020 his first victory. However that triumph in Highway America went in opposition to the overall stream of the season as, like lots of his friends, the Swede hit a efficiency plateau. The brand new aeroscreen’s results on the dealing with and really feel of the vehicles was profound, and with Covid laws inflicting take a look at days to dry up, there wasn’t a lot time to know the revised nature and knock on results of the system.
“My first season simply bought higher and higher, I felt I used to be a reasonably constant entrance runner by the top of 2019,” Rosenqvist tells Autosport. “Then at my first take a look at run with the aeroscreen, I assumed I did a superb lap and I wasn’t even within the high half of the sector! And I feel that was a seamless drawback for me: you’d do a lap that didn’t really feel unhealthy, however the time wasn’t good. Then we’d do a setup change, the lap would really feel the identical because the final one, however you’d be fast. It’s like that further weight up excessive made the entire driving expertise extra numb.
“And you must drive it extra like a Prototype or GT automobile: you may’t simply ship it into the nook and instantly lean on the tyre. It favours a extra clean driving fashion, centered very a lot on nook exit. It’s like placing a few of these large bottles of water proper on the entrance of your buying cart on the grocery retailer: in the event you attempt to flip too quick it simply needs to push straight on!”
Mix that with the very specific driving method required to squeeze essentially the most from Arrow McLaren SP’s setup in 2021, and Rosenqvist had loads to be taught. Fortunately, staff president Taylor Kiel is an understanding boss.
“We’ve got gone away from the ‘pointy’ setup, for each vehicles, so there was loads higher driveability this 12 months. Qualifying [at Long Beach] was actually good, however we simply missed the stability a bit within the race…” Felix Rosenqvist
“We don’t have a ton of pre-season testing, so successfully Felix was studying within the first quarter of the season,” he observes. “Understanding the automobile, understanding the engine, determining the right way to talk together with his race engineer and the work processes concerned. He was in discovery mode.
“Quick ahead 12 months, and he’s aware of the staff, he is aware of the whole lot we’ve executed to enhance the automobile within the low season, he is aware of what to anticipate. So now Felix arrives at a circuit and simply will get on with driving the automobile. His tempo is elevated, his confidence is rising, and he simply wants that breakthrough outcome.”
And in an fascinating twist, the staff as a complete has swung towards the #7’s extra reasonable setup for 2022.
“It was much less about coping with what Felix didn’t like in Pato’s setup, and extra a need to make our vehicles simpler to drive and enhance their working window,” Kiel explains. “If we made the vehicles simpler to drive it will assist each our drivers.
“So we checked out our deficiencies throughout all sorts of monitor in comparison with our rivals final 12 months, and our main deficit was our capacity to maintain tyre life on race day. We nailed it a number of instances however we have to do it 17 instances. Our qualifying tempo, our outright tempo within the race, and our pace on begins and restarts have been excellent. We wanted to work out the right way to retain these strengths whereas enhancing our pace throughout a complete stint.”
Main the sector to the inexperienced flag in the beginning of the Texas race – one thing Rosenqvist hadn’t executed because the GP of Indianapolis three years earlier
Picture by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
That mentioned, the Arrow McLaren SP staff as a complete appeared out of kinds within the season-opener at St. Pete, however at Texas Motor Speedway, Rosenqvist bagged his first oval pole, and he and O’Ward ought to have completed at the least third and fourth, however for pitlane errors by the drivers, which in Felix’s case, was adopted by a mechanical DNF.
“At Texas [in the first stint while running second], we had plenty of degradation which was form of bizarre, as a result of we had been actually going slowly,” he says. “We’ve got some theories which will have truly been the explanation for the tyre deg! A bit complicated. Then we had a foul pitstop within the second stint as a result of I slid lengthy within the pitbox as a result of we had plenty of pickup on the tyres. I take full accountability for that. However even then, we had been operating proper behind [Jimmie] Johnson and he completed sixth. Then we had a halfshaft failure.”
At Lengthy Seaside, Rosenqvist certified fourth, however the #7 automobile cooked its alternate tyres too early within the first stint and he fell down the order, ultimately coming residence 11th. If that feels like an echo of the AMSP vehicles’ major flaw from final 12 months, Felix clarifies.
“We’ve got gone away from the ‘pointy’ setup, for each vehicles, so there was loads higher driveability this 12 months,” he says. “Qualifying was actually good, however we simply missed the stability a bit within the race. We began sporting out the fronts. I attempted to observe the lead group after which the grip simply fell off a cliff, and we had been virtually right down to the cords. I feel it may be associated slightly bit to us fixing the problems on the rear finish however then the entrance finish wasn’t sturdy sufficient so there was an excessive amount of understeer, which accelerated the tyre deg on the reds.”
Rosenqvist lies solely 16th within the factors proper now, however sounds as constructive as when he clinched that Texas pole. He is aware of every session he’s getting in a automobile which he trusts, which he can lean on, and by which he can due to this fact produce his greatest.
“That’s precisely it,” he says. “We’ve got made good steps in dealing with, and Chevrolet has made a superb step too. We’ve had two road programs this 12 months and each had been received by Chevrolet vehicles. It’s undoubtedly been a giant enchancment throughout. There are nonetheless some issues we have to perceive. However yeah, the driving expertise has been a lot extra clean, much less edge-of-a-knife this 12 months.
“The highway programs are going to be the largest factor for us. If Barber and particularly the Indy highway course are good, then I imagine we’ve a robust weapon for the entire season. It’s good to see laborious work repay, as a result of we’ve been actually working laborious on driveability points over the winter.”
Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
Picture by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
With the staff’s collective transfer to extra benign dealing with, Rosenqvist and O’Ward have nonetheless not converged when it comes to private preferences.
“We have a tendency to begin the weekend the identical, then go off in numerous instructions, after which traditionally, whoever is quickest in qualifying, we’ve gone in the direction of his setup for the race,” he says. “However typically that doesn’t work both, so we’ve discovered that Pato and I’ve some discrepancies when it comes to springs and dampers, as a result of we’ve very totally different driving types. Generally that favours him, typically it favours me, however now we find out about these variations already, we save time on race weekends, which is essential.”
Particularly so, since Arrow McLaren SP at the moment runs solely two vehicles (a state of affairs set to vary in 2023) in contrast with three for Penske, 4 for Ganassi and successfully six for Andretti Autosport/Meyer Shank Racing.
“I feel that I’ve confirmed able to standout performances, so I don’t suppose anybody is actually questioning the pace. It’s about consistency, being close to the entrance each week, regardless of the monitor” Felix Rosenqvist
“I feel being two vehicles is a robust factor for us typically,” muses Rosenqvist, who had one teammate, Scott Dixon, in his rookie season, however then two in 2020 when Ganassi employed Felix’s compatriot Marcus Ericsson. “At Arrow McLaren SP, we’ve plenty of good folks break up solely over two vehicles so it looks like a really centered program. However typically you undoubtedly miss having one other entry, so you may bounce your suggestions off a 3rd driver.”
That’s exactly what Rosenqvist can have at Indy subsequent month for the Grand Prix of Indy and, extra importantly, for the Indianapolis 500. Two-time Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya will rejoin the squad bringing his huge financial institution of information and his still-impressive skillset, though for Rosenqvist it was a special facet of JPM that left the deepest impression final 12 months.
“Juan’s suggestions is nice, however the factor that impressed me was his outspokenness in regards to the automobile,” he says. “I’m extra a driver who if I’ve a difficulty with the automobile, I’d moderately drive yet one more lap to see if I can repair it with my driving or one thing. However Juan is extra aggressive in attacking the problems with the automobile. It’s useful to have a 3rd automobile, clearly, nevertheless it’s additionally a really aggressive automobile with Juan in it, and he’s actually ruthless in looking for efficiency.
“When it comes to driving fashion on the Speedway, Pato is the one who likes the automobile most free, then there’s me, after which there’s Juan who goes for essentially the most ‘safe’ dealing with. The additional apply days you get at Indy, working with two sturdy teammates who’ve barely totally different driving types, may be very useful. By the top of the ‘Month of Could’ final 12 months, if Pato mentioned one thing, I’d know the right way to translate that in engineering phrases and apply it to how my automobile was, and the identical with what Juan mentioned. It was actually good – and enjoyable, too.”
Race engineer Craig Hampson congratulates Rosenqvist on his Texas pole
Picture by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Rosenqvist feels the identical in regards to the AMSP staff. After spending two seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, he was used to the best of excessive requirements, but he feels his present residence lacks nothing.
“Once I got here to the staff I used to be significantly impressed with the whole lot,” he says. “I really feel there’s nothing being left on the desk; each stone you may flip, we’re turning it. The quantity of labor we’re doing and the extent of consideration to element, I really feel like we deserve good outcomes proper now. The fellows engaged on the vehicles undoubtedly deserve it. Clearly I can’t give any particulars in regards to the variations between Ganassi and Arrow McLaren SP, however I can say that I’m very impressed.”
Naturally, AMSP’s progress towards the highest rank of IndyCar makes it a extremely fascinating goal for present IndyCar drivers, and F3/F2/F1 drivers pissed off by the paucity of alternatives and the expense of the few that do exist. Rosenqvist denies the imaginative and prescient of drivers lining as much as seize his experience provides stress, just because he’s all the time felt it.
“Even in my greatest seasons, there was nothing I might take as a right,” he says. “Each race, each lap virtually, I used to be preventing to show your self. So I’m conscious season with outcomes like I had final 12 months simply isn’t going to chop it: these guys’ help throughout a tough time makes me much more decided and dedicated to get good outcomes for them. And yeah, I do know there are drivers who wish to be the place I’m proper now. However there’s all the time that stress, and I feel it may be good in the event you use it in the appropriate approach.”
The burden that got here off Rosenqvist’s shoulders at Texas the place he earned pole was fairly palpable, and his convincing tempo in qualifying at Lengthy Seaside has additional boosted his confidence. Subsequent up is Barber Motorsports Park, the place final 12 months he suffered a dreadful first occasion for AMSP – together with a minor shunt in pitlane throughout apply and a spin in qualifying – whereas O’Ward took pole and completed fourth. This 12 months, Felix heads to Birmingham, AL with the sense that he’s on par together with his teammate. Nicely, virtually…
“I actually reckon that’s Pato’s greatest monitor – he’s actually spectacular at Barber,” admits Rosenqvist. “However I feel we’ve a extremely good automobile and I ought to be capable to be up there. Now I really feel like I can simply soar in and ship.”
In order that revival that began to indicate in Nashville 9 months in the past appears to be like set to proceed. However after such a fraught 2021 – “horrific” is the phrase he chooses – is he in search of to persistently contend for podiums, or would he choose a extra undulating efficiency curve that features bagging a win or two?
“Hmmm… Nicely I feel that I’ve confirmed able to standout performances, so I don’t suppose anybody is actually questioning the pace. It’s about consistency, being close to the entrance each week, regardless of the monitor. You wish to be a kind of guys who’s all the time anticipated to be there, within the high six or high seven. That’s what we’d like for our championship. After all successful a race would imply the world, it will be nice, nevertheless it doesn’t actually assist the factors if the following weekend you’re P15!
“So constant finishes close to the entrance, high threes, are what we should always purpose for. And in the event you’re up there recurrently, wins may also come.”
Picture by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images