until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Rosenqvist's big IndyCar gamble is his last-chance saloon

by Jack Benyon
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

“I had the two best team-mates in IndyCar with [Scott] Dixon and Pato [O’Ward]. I've learned so much, but I feel like if I got a chance to kind of run the ship, I think I have more potential.”

It definitely feels like Felix Rosenqvist’s latest move, from McLaren to Meyer Shank Racing, is make-or-break time for the Swede to start emerging as more than merely just a very quick driver destined to be somebody’s understudy.

He was IndyCar's rookie of the year in 2019 having arrived at Ganassi fresh from race-winning escapades in Formula E. But he didn't kick on as many expected the following year - with the highlight being his first and only IndyCar race win so far - before he chose to move to McLaren. Alex Palou replaced him at Ganassi and won the title, while Rosenqvost finished 21st in the standings in his first year at McLaren.

Rosenqvist made breakthroughs with the team across 2022 and 2023 to make the car more drivable both generally and for his own style. He was closer to O'Ward but he was still well beaten, and by team newcomer Alexander Rossi too this year.

It’s certainly disappointing - if you rate Rosenqvist highly from his days in Formula E and Formula 3, like many do - that he’s been comfortably beaten by three IndyCar team-mates now.

Of course you can't overlook the fact that Dixon had been at Ganassi for 15 or so years before Rosenqvist arrived - even if he did win the 2020 title while Rosenqvist was only 11th as a sophomore - and while O’Ward had only one season at McLaren before Rosenqvist arrived, the car had clearly been optimised for him and took time to adapt to.

Either way, it feels like even if you are willing to give Rosenqvist the benefit of the doubt, his Shank move feels like his last chance to prove he's one of IndyCar’s elite.

“I feel like I'm pretty good at adapting to my surroundings and environments,” says Rosenqvist, “But if you look at both Dixon and Pato, they're the heroes of their team.

"They're the guys who got their teams to the next level and people don't forget that and they're their main guys.

“I think especially at McLaren, it was very hard to adapt to the car initially, Pato probably has a very different driving style than most of us.

“But he's a phenomenal driver, and he's delivering with our car and I think that was a great challenge. I think we got there eventually, now we're at the point where we're fast, pretty much anywhere.

“But I think for other reasons, we just haven't been able to do the results that we need to do, there's been too many things going on, too many mistakes, both on the driver and team side and that's the difference.”

Chasing a team leader role was crucial in Rosenqvist's last big IndyCar move ahead of 2021 and it’s likely - given that new team-mate Tom Blomqvvist is both a rookie and really struggled in his three 2023 race outings - he will have a big chance at possessing that role at Shank.

And that's played a significant role in his decision-making over where to go in 2024.

After that poor 2021 season, it always felt that Rosenqvist was on the backfoot at McLaren. The team clearly loves him as a person and rates him highly, but its signing of Rossi and initial 'signing' of Palou for 2023 left Rosenqvist as the odd one out.

He got a reprieve with Palou not joining this year, and then it looked like the same thing would happen for 2024 as Rosenqvist had been told he could leave before Palou made it clear he wouldn’t join after all.

McLaren would have likely signed Rosenqvist again for 2024, but he’d made his decision to leave.

He talked about wanting to find a "home" when he joined McLaren, and he's used that line again with this move.

“Sometimes you need a change,” he says. "I think it will be good for me to be a team leader at Shank, and to kind of drive the team in the direction I want it, because that's something I haven't frankly done in IndyCar.

“When I was back in Formula E, for example, I was kind of the one driving the car in that direction I wanted it and I think it was successful, so I'm looking forward to being back in that role.

“And I feel like I'm ready after five years in IndyCar [to do the same].

“I know the car well enough. I know the tracks, I know the strategy. I feel like I know what the team needs to perform, because also I've been at two very successful teams.

“I think it's exciting. We can build something really good at Shank, they have great partners, they have great ambitions. They're very hungry to take the next step as a team, kind of like McLaren was three years ago, to be honest.

“So yeah, I feel like I'm ready for that journey.”

But Shank is of course a very different prospect from the team Rosenqvist leaves.

The team - part-owned by F1 overlord Liberty Media - built itself up well from punchy part-timer to full-time from 2020.

It won the Indianapolis 500 in 2021 and signed Simon Pagenaud from Penske for 2022.

But its progress stalled badly in 2023.

The team struggled to get the tyres into the right window and keep them there and made critical errors in race strategy and pitstops. It was unable to take advantage of opportunities like its rivals did, something crucial in such a congested midfield.

It felt like every team around Shank made steps for 2023 and it didn’t, as second-year team Juncos had a better average finish across two cars.

Although Pagenaud’s concussion after nine races meant a host of rolling substitutes, having only Dale Coyne and AJ Foyt be worse in terms of average finish across all cars shows how much work there is to do here.

While it felt like Castroneves was ready for a step away from full-time competition, Pagenaud’s a different case having won the championship in 2016 and being a regular race winner and podium finisher in his final years with Penske.

Rosenqvist’s record of being fast but inconsistent in races may appear an incompatible combo for a team that also struggles with race execution. Both driver and team clearly have the same goal for improvement.

Rosenqvist is at least theoretically more adaptable as a driver than Pagenaud, even if he lacks the gravitas of Pagenaud’s experience and results.

How does Rosenqvist view Shank and the opportunity then, given he was the one who made the decision to jump ship?

“It's a team that has very big ambitions,” he says.

“If you talk to Mike [Shank] and Jim [Meyer], they're not just here to participate.

“I think it's a very similar scenario to how Schmidt Peterson [which became McLaren for 2020] was a few years ago, like, 'how do we take this, we're doing good results and now we've been on the podium, we've been in the Fast Six, even won the Indy 500, but how do we launch this into the next level?'

“Step one is you get great partners, which they have. Step two is the technical side, which they have now with Andretti. And I think, step three is, I think they probably need more people.

“They need good people that are quality, guys on the engineering side and it just comes down to the details on anything, on how they operate as a team, what's the vibe in the team. Those are the things I really look forward to seeing and seeing if I can change things that were like low hanging fruit.

“It's hard for me to say it from outside, what are the strengths, what are the weaknesses?

“I think the ambition is there.

“They're also in the same situation, kind of like a little reset.

“Gone from having two of the most experienced drivers on the grid to a more fresh line-up.

“It'll be interesting to see what that does to the team as well. No one knows, but I think they're in the same boat. They want to reset and kind of take a big stab at improving.”

It’s a gamble for Rosenqvist to head for a team with so much to do, and it’s a gamble for a team that had two Indy 500 winners and a previous champion to go in another direction for someone who has never been a number one driver in IndyCar - and might never be.

It seems like there’s a lot of opportunity and, perhaps more importantly, motivation, for Rosenqvist and Shank to prove everybody wrong and consistently realise their potential in a way neither has done so far in IndyCar.

It might not be the most obvious or well-matched pairing for driver and team. But there’s nowhere to hide for either.

Both Shank and Rosenqvist have to make this move work, or face the consequences.

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