SALINAS, Calif – The attention now is on the championship battle in the NTT IndyCar Series. But, one race that’s also up for grabs is Rookie of the Year.
Heading into the season finale, it’s likely down to just two of the four drivers who can take home the distinction of being the top first year driver. While three of the four are still eligible, Santino Ferrucci and Felix Rosenqvist are the drivers in the cat birds seat.
Rosenqvist leads Ferrucci by 26 points. Herta, is 49 points out himself. Yes, double points are on the line this weekend but other than Rosenqvist, I don’t think any of them can win.
So, it’s not like the double points are going to be too noticeable.
See, all three of Ferrucci’s top 10 finishes since Texas in June have come on ovals. All four of Rosenqvist’s top 10’s in his recent seven race stretch have been on road or street courses.
Sunday’s a natural road course.
“Yeah, the run on the last couple of road courses has been really good, especially on these kind of tracks,” Rosenqvist said on Friday. “It just seems like we’ve been getting better and better each weekend, especially the race pace has been really good.”
On natural road courses this season, Ferrucci has finishes of 20th, 15th, 10th, 19th, 12th and 17th respectively. On the same tracks, Rosenqvist has finished 23rd, 10th, eighth, sixth, second and second respectively.
What about Herta? He’s finished first, 24th, 23rd, eighth, eighth and fourth respectively.
So far this weekend, Rosenqvist and Herta are looking like legitimate race winning contenders. Herta, was second and first respectively in the two test sessions on Thursday while Rosenqvist was third in each session himself.
Another reason to why this could be a good weekend for them is due to this being a new track on the schedule. It’s not like they have a disadvantage compared to the veterans. This is basically a new track for everyone.
“Yeah, so it’s nice to end the season on a track like this that’s also new for everyone,” Rosenqvist continued. “Kind of resets the field a little bit, I guess. Yeah, it’s good fun, as well. It’s a very tricky track I guess you can see in the video there. There’s a lot of mistakes going on, and it’s definitely not easy to put all the laps together. Yeah, it was great yesterday and great today. I think we’ve been about three-ish all the time, so looks promising for the weekend.”
It paid off. The rookies went 1-2-3 in the first practice session of the day on Friday.
“I think being in obviously a new place, maybe not for everyone, but the last time someone raced here in IndyCar was 2004,” Rosenqvist said on why the rookies were so strong so far this weekend. “I think it sort of resets everything. No one has a bunch of experience here. There’s no magic lines anywhere that someone has been working on for the past couple years. Yeah, it maybe shows that the rookie field is really strong. But as I said, we all had an extra set of tires today, which obviously helps. I think all of us kind of did our best times with the first set or close to, anyway, to be in the top three anyway. Yeah, it’s cool to see.”
Plus, this track races a lot like Mid-Ohio, a place where Rosenqvist so narrowly missed out on earning his first career win. He’s scored the fifth most points on the season on these types of tracks. His teammate Scott Dixon has scored the most.
Despite all of that, Rosenqvist says that the Rookie class has delivered on their high expectations this season. There was a Formula E driver (Rosenqvist) and ex F1 driver (Ericsson), a driver on the verge of an F1 seat (Ferrucci) and the Indy Lights champion (Herta).
All have showed flashes of brilliance throughout the 2019 campaign.
“I think the rookies have definitely made a statement this year,” Rosenqvist said. “Having raced all over the planet, I would say that INDYCAR is the toughest beast yet to master for me. I think Colton Herta and I have had similar years where it took off a bit too fast, and then the reality of INDYCAR struck us, and a change of approach was needed.
“I have definitely calmed down during the year, trying to take what’s there every weekend instead of forcing myself into errors – trying to go for the top spot at any cost. I also think that’s why I’m the leading rookie right now. The speed has been there from the start, but it’s just so much more needed to take the points every weekend. Speed alone will not give you success in this championship.
“It’s cool that there is a battle going on between Santino (Ferrucci), Colton and I for Laguna. I’ve been on quite a streak on the road courses lately and I feel hungry for that first win, and Laguna would be just the right place to get it done. Being with Chip Ganassi Racing for my rookie season has been more helpful than anything. The team has given me access to everything in order to become ready to win races. I think the field is so tight these days that literally anyone can be fast, but what CGR does differently is getting all the details right, and that’s why they normally come out on top!.
On top of that, we’ve had a different winner in all six natural road course races run this season. Why not a seventh?