Colton Herta's record-setting race victory in just his third NTT IndyCar Series start, along with another race win at season's end, highlighted one of the strongest rookie classes in recent seasons.
Herta won INDYCAR's inaugural event at Circuit of The Americas and the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca but finished second to Chip Ganassi Racing's Felix Rosenqvist for the annual Rookie-of-the-Year Award. In winning COTA, Herta became the youngest race winner in open-wheel racing history, celebrating just ahead of his 19th birthday. The record had stood since Graham Rahal's victory in St. Petersburg, Fla., early in the 2008 season.
Herta's father, Bryan, said the winning moment "felt like Christmas" to him.
Before his rookie season, Rosenqvist (pictured below) had raced on just two American ovals during his 2016 season in Indy Lights. When he reached the NTT IndyCar Series in 2019, he knew oval tracks would be an aspect of his game that needed attention.
Attend he did. With help from experienced racers like Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, Rosenqvist worked hard on his oval skills. He crashed during practice at Indianapolis, then recovered to finish eighth in the race. From there, Rosenqvist finished 12th at Texas and 14th at Iowa before a bad crash at Pocono. He bounced back again six days later by finishing 11th at Gateway.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” Rosenqvist said in August as he pursued three other talented drivers for the top-rookie award. “Some drivers naturally perform better immediately on ovals. … I’ve had to learn the hard way with the big crash at Indy. It has to happen at some point, and that first crash is always tough. It was good to have it done early on, I think.”
In the end, Rosenqvist’s fifth-place finish in the season finale at Laguna Seca gave him a five-point victory over Colton Herta in what became a celebration of one of the strongest rookie classes in recent years.
While Herta won two the races, Rosenqvist’s consistency (six top-five finishes, including runner-up efforts at Mid-Ohio and Portland) led to the top rookie honor. Two other newcomers, Santino Ferrucci and Marcus Ericsson, also turned in impressive performances in 2019.
Like Rosenqvist, Ferrucci had little experience on ovals, yet his fourth-place finishes at Texas, Pocono and Gateway helped keep him in the chase for the award. The final results were Rosenqvist 425, Herta 420, Ferrucci 351 and Ericsson 290.
After claiming the award, Rosenqvist, who joined Chip Ganassi Racing after a well-rounded career that included four seasons in Formula Three, talked about what the success of 2019’s four freshmen could mean to the IndyCar Series in the future: interest in the series from young drivers in Europe.
“I would encourage anyone to come over here,” Rosenqvist said. “I know many guys are looking to do it. Some of my friends, they're always asking about IndyCar and how are the ovals. That's probably the biggest question I get.”
His answer? Ovals are difficult but not overwhelming. Immediately after the 2019 season ended, Rosenqvist focused his offseason training on venues like Indy, Texas, Iowa and Gateway.
“Doing well in the championship itself for sure is not easy,” he said. “It's been the biggest challenge I've had.”