Rosenqvist wins pole in final race with McLaren
MONTEREY, Calif. (AP) — Felix Rosenqvist will end his tenure with Arrow McLaren Racing by starting from the pole in the IndyCar Series season finale at Laguna Seca.
Rosenqvist won his second pole of the season — first since the Texas Motor Speedway oval in March — with a lap at 1 minute, 06.6416 seconds on Saturday around the freshly paved permanent road course. Rosenqvist won the only two poles of the season for McLaren, which is still seeking its first win of the season from its three-driver lineup headed into Sunday's finale.
“A really cool way to end my way with Arrow McLaren and I just love going into this last one in the best possible position,” Rosenqvist said. “In a way it’s kind of ironic, it’s just kind of proving the pace we have. Things haven’t been straightforward. I made a lot of mistakes, the team made a lot of mistakes, but the number one thing you want to keep showing your pace.
“It’s a little emotional but a perfect way to start the final weekend."
Rosenqvist announced earlier this week that he's moving to Meyer Shank Racing next season; McLaren said David Malukas will replace him next year.
The Swede has loved his three years at McLaren but has spent the last two seasons in limbo. McLaren believed it had signed Alex Palou last year to replace Rosenqvist this season, but the deal was delayed as Palou had to finish his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing.
That was only a delay, though, and Rosenqvist has assumed all year that Palou was still going to replace him in 2024. Rosenqvist still had a shot at staying at McLaren if the team expanded to four cars, but he ultimately decided to move on rather than wait for a decision from the team.
In the end, Palou decided last month he wasn't going to McLaren at all, too late for the team to retain Rosenqvist. But McLaren has been celebrating its departing driver all weekend — his cockpit says “Thank you, Fro” in both English and Swedish — and the team had a farewell celebration with cake on Friday.
Now Rosenqvist wants to complete the farewell with his first career victory for McLaren.
Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske qualified second for an all-Chevrolet front row. Christian Lundgaard qualified third for Rahal Letterman Lanigan and his lap at 1:06.4610 in an earlier qualifying round broke the track record set 23 years ago by Helio Castroneves.
Castroneves' lap of 1:07.722 has held for more than two decades but finally undone by a repave of the course that has made the asphalt extremely fast.
The finale at Laguna Seca will be the last appearance for several drivers with their current teams.
Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco are not returning to Andretti Global next year, Malukas is leaving Dale Coyne Racing to drive for Arrow McLaren, Rosenqvist will replace Simon Pagenaud at Meyer Shank Racing and Marcus Ericsson is leaving Chip Ganassi Racing.
Ericsson, who is in his fourth season with Ganassi, won the Indianapolis 500 last year and had been lobbying since for a better contract. When nothing materialized from Ganassi, the Swede made the decision to drive for Andretti next year.
Ganassi said the offer he finally made to Ericsson — while too late — was the biggest offer he's ever had a driver turn down.
“I want him to stay. He’s a hard-working guy. Who worked harder after an Indy 500 win than he did? We liked him. We wanted to keep him," Ganassi said. "The biggest thing going against him, he had everyone telling him he was the No. 3 driver, and he wasn’t. He wasn’t the No. 3 driver. But when you have teammates like (Scott) Dixon and (Alex) Palou, and I think he felt some pressure about that, and he could be a star on a lot of other teams, and he probably will be. I’m sorry to see him go.”
Ganassi said he had to land sponsorship for Ericsson before he could make him an offer on an extension.
“I tried to keep him, believe me,” Ganassi said. “I never gave somebody such a larger offer that they declined. That’s a first. I didn’t have the money when he wanted a big offer back in February or March or something, and he was getting other people calling him.
"And I’m like, ‘I want to keep you. I’m working on it.’ But I didn’t have it then. When I finally had it, it was too late. It’s that simple. I’m not in a position to be giving drivers offers to be nicely paid without having a sponsor on a car.”
Ericsson said he's parting on good terms with the team that helped him revive his career. He flamed out after five winless Formula One seasons, moved to IndyCar for one mediocre season with Arrow McLaren, and then landed at Ganassi in 2020. He's won four races since joining Ganassi.
“I’m very thankful for Chip and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing for the opportunity there. I’ve had four amazing years together with them and we won the biggest race in the world, so we end on good terms,” Ericsson said. “I was quite clear I wanted to have an offer for a long time. He gave me an offer, but I had already sort of made up my mind then. With that said, I’m super excited about that new chapter that I’m about to start next year. I think that’s going to be great for me. I think it’s going to be a great fit.”
Ericsson will be replaced by Linus Lundqvist, another Swede, after Lundqvist spent almost this entire year sidelined when his Indy Lights championship last season failed to land him an IndyCar ride.
Despite not racing most of the year, Ganassi said Lundqvist was always on their radar and then impressed the team when he was fast at Nashville and Indianapolis as the injury replacement for Simon Pagenaud.
“We didn’t have a spot for him. I get calls from a lot of drivers, and I have to tell them we don’t have spots,” Ganassi said. "He stayed on our radar, not because of his tenaciousness, and just because of his performance. There are a lot of drivers that deserve rides at the top level of the sport in any series.”
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