Felix Rosen
Pato O'Ward (left) and Felix Rosenqvist at The Thermal Club. (Joe Skibinski photo)

Fast Friends: O’Ward & Rosenqvist

LONG BEACH, Calif. — When the two were teammates at Arrow McLaren’s IndyCar team from 2021 to 2023, Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist formed a very strong bond.

They were more than teammates; they were fast friends.

O’Ward was the young, playful kid and Rosenqvist was the thoughtful veteran.

O’Ward’s success on the race track often overshadowed Rosenqvist, and as Arrow McLaren CEO Zak Brown continued to build his IndyCar program, he hired Alexander Rossi and thought he had hired Alex Palou away from Chip Ganassi Racing. 

The numbers didn’t add up and Rosenqvist would be the odd man out. He signed with Meyer Shank Racing, where he is the veteran driver and Tom Blomqvist is the rookie in 2024.

Ironically, Palou chose to stay with Ganassi’s IndyCar team and his replacement, David Malukas, has yet to turn a wheel in IndyCar competition in 2024 after fracturing his left wrist in a motorbike crash in February. 

Callum Ilott has filled in for Malukas and this weekend, it’s Formula 2 winner Theo Pourchaire of France in that ride.

But O’Ward continues to be the speedy driver from Monterrey, Mexico, in Friday’s first practice for Sunday’s 49th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. O’Ward’s best lap was 1:06.6874 around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street course that makes up North America’s greatest street race.

Pato O'Ward paced the first practice session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Pato O’Ward paced the first practice session for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. (Mark Munoz photo)

O’Ward’s speed was 106.239 mph in the No. 5 Chevrolet.

Will Power of Team Penske, a two-time Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach winner in 2008 and 2012, was second at 1:06.7811 (106.090 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet for Team Penske.

Teammate Scott McLaughlin was third in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Team Penske at 1:06.8258 (106.090 mph).

And then came Rosenqvist, off to the best start of his IndyCar Series career with a pole at St. Petersburg and a seventh-place finish to Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in the season-opening race on March 10.

Rosenqvist finished third in the $1 Million Challenge at The Thermal Club on March 24. Rosenqvist was fourth at 1:06.8976 (105.965 mph) in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for Meyer Shank Racing.

When Rosenqvist joined O’Ward in the media session afterwards, he gave his friend from Mexico a hug around the neck. Earlier on Friday, O’Ward talked about how proud he was to see Rosenqvist experience success. 

“I think it’s important to have competitors that have mutual respect for each other,” O’Ward said.  “I wish I could say the same for everybody, but it’s clearly not. Yeah, he’s one of the good ones.”

The driver from Sweden appreciated the show of support from his former teammate.

“I think it’s pretty simple — we’re always competing against each other,” Rosenqvist said. “If he does a good lap, I can kind of read into it. Like, I know his strengths and weaknesses in a way. Like he did his lap today, it’s kind of a good benchmark, when I’m in another team, how you want to set the car up, those kind of things.

“It’s pretty straightforward: you go out there, you try to beat them.”

Rosenqvist is on a new team and that has given him a fresh start to the 2024 season at Meyer Shank Racing.

“I feel like they’re really behind me, which is huge,” Rosenqvist said. “I think honestly everywhere I’ve been in IndyCar; I’ve felt good support. Maybe this year it’s a bit different because I have to step into that role. I have to trust that my direction is going to be good both for me and Tom Blomqvist. He’s getting up to speed still. He’s a rookie.

“A lot of these places are new tracks and new experiences for him, where I’m kind of feeding out of what I did in the past more. It’s been working good so far. I feel like we get it right more times than we don’t. We’re not perfect obviously. We want to do better, obviously.

“It’s been gelling well between us. It’s a rewarding experience, as well, because it’s tough. Pato probably knows what it’s like when you’re the leading driver in the team. It’s also pressure that you want to take the right decision and lead the team in the right direction.

“It’s going really well so far. Happy for them to put that trust behind me, you know.”

IndyCar returns to the track for a morning practice session that starts at 11:35 a.m. ET with qualifications set for 2:25 p.m. ET.