With two homegrown drivers already at the immensely successful Chip Ganassi Racing team, there is a large amount of interest in IndyCar from Sweden right now. Indy Lights-bound Rasmus Lindh wants it to continue
It has been a long time since Sweden has produced a seriously successful racer in America. Kenny Brack, the 1998 Indy Racing League champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner is its only winner in Indycar racing, there have been five overall victories in national-level sportscars in 57 years, and not a single Swede has won a race in NASCAR. But the arrival of former Formula 1 driver Marcus Ericsson and Formula E race-winner Felix Rosenqvist in IndyCar has had the potential to change that.
But there has been a presence in the background for a lengthy time. Two-time Sebring 12 Hours winner and former F1 driver Stefan Johansson has managed a number of drivers Stateside down the years – including five-time champion Scott Dixon, as well as his latest Ganassi team-mate Rosenqvist. Johansson is also managing another rapid countryman set to take on Indy Lights this year – possibly the biggest threat to Kyle Kirkwood’s potential back-to-back-to-back title successes on the Road to Indy.
Rasmus Lindh is 18 years old but his ascent through the Road to Indy has been just as fast as his 21-year-old rival. In his rookie year in single-seaters he finished a distant second to Kirkwood in USF2000 with Pabst Racing – three poles and five podiums to his name against reigning United States Formula 4 champion Kirkwood’s 12 wins and five poles.
Lindh joined Kirkwood in moving up to Indy Pro 2000 for the next year, doing so with Juncos Racing, and thrust himself into title contention with a near-perfect weekend on the Indianapolis road course, and with consistently strong results thereafter.
However, Kirkwood’s run of nine wins in 10 races was enough to beat Lindh to the crown – and the scholarship to Indy Lights of $596,700 – by two points. Despite the defeat, Lindh was pleased with the improvements made in his second year of racing.
“We did a few mistakes – both me and the team – that cost us the title,” Lindh tells Formula Scout. “I did the maximum in the end: I won the last race [at Laguna Seca] and took both pole positions so I think I am very happy with the year. But disappointing to not get [the title] after leading the whole year.”
It makes securing a seat in Indy Lights – the step immediately below IndyCar – far more difficult for Lindh given he is sans the generous financial benefit that comes with winning the title. He has at least saved money with his rapid career progression.
“It helps quite a bit because Lights is so much more expensive than Indy Pro. There are so many people around the car, the engine is more expensive, the tyres and everything, so it’s a big step.”
It is, therefore, not slam dunk where Lindh ends up for his 2020 campaign. Andretti Autosport has been mighty in recent years – and is the only Lights squad with a full-time IndyCar programme alongside – but Lindh feels that after testing with the team that it is not invincible.
“For sure Andretti is the one you want to be in, because you can use the IndyCar [outfit] as a tool and learn a little bit more about the engineering side but I’m not sure if they are the fastest right now.”
Lindh has already tested with several teams, and with HMD Motorsports he topped the post-season Sebring test. HMD debuted last year, and rookie Toby Sowery won at Portland in its shared entry with Team Pelfrey. He wants to continue racing, and could retain his seat; returning series star Santiago Urrutia has already signed with the team.
“We had a very good baseline to start off. And I think the team [HMD] is very good. It’s a new team – there are very good people around the team so I think they will be strong this year too. We are speaking with Andretti, Belardi and HMD.
“Nothing is signed yet. So, we have to wait a little bit to announce that because nothing is done. We are still speaking to a few teams that want me.”
Irrespective of which team Lindh ends up at, there will be one common factor in the way between himself and title success. Kirkwood’s record across F3 Americas and USF2000 in 2018, and Indy Pro in 2019 – an eye-watering 36 wins from 47 starts as well as all three titles – has earned him a Formula E test with the factory BMW Andretti team, who he will race for in Lights.
Yet, Lindh believes that Kirkwood is far from unbeatable. “I did a test with Andretti when he was in Andretti so now I know what his strengths and weaknesses are. That helps a little bit for me to know. Also, now I’ve grown a lot as a driver – both mentally and physically. There’s more routine.”
Johansson is not the only experienced head that Lindh can call upon, for he is in regular contact with one of his countrymen currently in the paddock.
“Me and Felix [Rosenqvist] are quite close. Felix has so much experience from all the FE stuff and also everything he’s driven with Super Formula, Formula 3, so he’s very experienced and also he can help me as IndyCar drives before us in qualifying and he can tell me how the track has changed and where they put the rubber down because IndyCar has a different tyre [supplier].”
While Rosenqvist spent years on the ladder to F1 – before heading to FE, sportscars, and pretty much anything he could get his hands on, Lindh’s path has exclusively been in the States after graduating from karts for 2018.
“[Johansson] helped me with a good deal in USF2000 and [before that] I karted in 2011 in the Florida Winter Tour. We’d always been hearing about the Road to Indy, that it’s quite good and I think it’s easier – more possible – to succeed in IndyCar than F1 because there’s not as much politics and stuff as in F1.
“I really like ovals,” Lindh responds when asked about racing on some of the United States’ most revered, but also feared, circuits. “I drove at Gateway last year where I took pole, but the race wasn’t as good for me. The ovals are good because it’s changing a lot – you don’t really know who will win the race so it’s a lot of draft and timing that you need to sort out.
“You also have all these different Formula 4 and F3 series [in Europe] that you can choose so I think it is hard to [choose] where to go. I think that’s why,” he expands. Despite FIA interventions to streamline the route to F1 in America and Europe, the Road to Indy (USF2000 > IP2000 > Indy Lights > IndyCar) still sets the standard for fast-tracking talent to the top.
The jump in performance from IP2000 to Lights is a big one, given the USF2000 and IP2000 car are built around the same key parts, but that has not stopped rookies from becoming sensations in the minimal grids seen in Lights.
Reigning champion Oliver Askew and 2018 runner-up Colton Herta took three and two races respectively as rookies at Andretti. Herta is already an IndyCar race-winner, while there are high expectations of Askew at McLaren Schmidt Peterson.
“It felt like the step from USF2000 to IP200 was not very big, but from Indy Pro to Lights was quite big because it was a completely different car. Obviously, [the AER-powered Dallara IL-15] is turbocharged – so you have to drive it a little bit different. I think the step from Lights to IndyCar isn’t that big from what I’ve heard, so this is the biggest step.”
Rosenqvist and Ericsson arriving onto the IndyCar scene in 2019 – neither taking victory but both making the podium as rookies – puts extra eyes from a passionate fanbase onto the next generation coming through, of which Lindh is Sweden’s representative. But circumstances closer to home still makes sponsorship a tentative subject.
“Sweden hasn’t been looking very much into the American racing [in recent years]. It changed now from last year because we got two IndyCar drivers, so the publicity is more on IndyCar than F1 now. So, I think that’s very good for the future for me.
“But now in Europe, we have all the electrical stuff that they want to do [with the sale of internal combustion engine cars being phased out in several countries over the next few decades]. In the US it’s not as much so that’s a bit tricky for the sponsorship. But IndyCar is going to hybrid next year so that will help quite a lot.”
Title success or not, Lindh’s goal is to race in America’s most prolific open-wheel category. The narrative of Kirkwood versus Lindh in Lights immediately follows that of the career-long battle between Askew and Rinus VeeKay. That battle went down to the season finale, and both ended up with full-time IndyCar seats after being closely matched for three years.
Lindh’s objective will be to stop Kirkwood’s crushing dominance of the RTI ladder to date – as well as fend off the returning Urrutia – a impressive feat regardless of the team he is at and deserving of an IndyCar call-up alongside his countrymen.
The factors driving Sergio Sette Camara’s IndyCar interest (February 2020)
Santiago Urrutia: The part-time farmer waiting on an IndyCar chance (December 2019)
Formula Scout’s Class of 2018 (December 2019)
How Kyle Kirkwood conquered the Road to Indy once again (October 2019)
How Askew scored the winner in Road to Indy rivalry with VeeKay (September 2019)
Rinus VeeKay: IndyCar’s answer to Max Verstappen? (March 2019)