Every young aspiring race driver has a moment that defines his or her career. Thursday’s Verizon IndyCar Series test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could do exactly that for Felix Rosenqvist, Robin Frijns, Jack Harvey, RC Enerson and Zachary Claman De Melo.
The five drivers from varying backgrounds will be handed the keys to some of the more established rides the series has to offer as they try their hand in impressing teams around the 13-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course in advance of The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio race weekend July 29-31.
The accolades for each of the respective drivers speak for themselves.
Rosenqvist is coming off a remarkable weekend sweep of back-to-back Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires wins in Toronto and will share the test session with defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
The Belardi Auto Racing driver is the only two-time winner of the Macau Grand Prix, reigning European F3 champion and has scored a series-leading three Indy Lights wins in just 10 starts this season.
Mike Hull, managing director for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, believes that the 24-year-old Swede is a rare talent who has the “ability” to make it at the next level.
“Felix has won every form of formula car racing he's ever driven and won championships in addition to races,” said Hull. “He is one of those guys that didn't come from a financial background, but an ability background, and that's what makes him very special.”
Hull’s praise of the reigning Macau Grand Prix winner was evident when going further in-depth to describe Rosenqvist.
“I think that race drivers like Felix stand head and shoulders above many of their peers because they possess the kind of intellect that it takes to be patient and at the same time know how to perform,” said Hull.
“They have an enormous natural ability and the track or the key in racing is to be able to match natural ability in a team environment to get the most out of it together and I think that's what he possesses.”
Hull added that splitting seat time with Dixon will help Rosenqvist for a variety of reasons, none more so than being able to rely on the 35-year-old four-time series champion and the team’s engineering staff to improve throughout his inaugural experience in an Indy car.
“The way the system is set up for us (Chip Ganassi Racing) this year with INDYCAR is each full-season entrant can run one car in combination with an Indy Lights driver,” Hull explained. “So it will be the same car that Scott and Felix will share on Thursday.
“We will have test time organized that will include both of them in the car equally and I think it's a terrific measure for Felix, because first of all, he's jumping in the deep end with an Indy car and then he’ll have to figure out how he can match his ability to the race car. He is going to have a lot of help with Scott Dixon, with the engineering staff we have, with driver overlays (comparing their laps around the circuit) – which helps both drivers.
“I think it's a terrific experience.”
For the other trio of drivers, the opportunity is all the same.
Harvey spent the past two seasons competing in Indy Lights with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, both times finishing runner-up in the championship. Despite spending a majority of this season out of an Indy car, the 23-year-old Brit goes to familiar territory at Mid-Ohio, having swept both races in 2014 and will be on hand for his former Indy Lights team.
Although the youngest of the bunch at 18, Claman De Melo has scored a trio of top-fives during his rookie Indy Lights campaign with Juncos Racing. The Canadian will also be piloting a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in the test at Lexington, Ohio.
Ryan Hunter-Reay will share the No. 28 DHL Honda with former Formula One test driver turned Andretti Autosport Formula E pilot Frijns. The 24-year-old Dutchman has three junior formula championships under his belt, including the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 Series title. Frijns spent the just-completed Honda Indy Toronto weekend absorbing as much information as he could in the Andretti pits.
Enerson will spend the day in a Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Enerson competed in the first eight Indy Lights races this season for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, with a best finish of third place at Phoenix International Raceway, before focusing his attention on securing a Verizon IndyCar Series ride in the future.
The combination of shared days between drivers and teams is something Hull believes is a benefit not only to the young drivers testing, but also to the future of INDYCAR.
"In my opinion, with the way INDYCAR has established the rules for a shared day like what we're going to do, it benefits the Indy Lights driver more than it does the Indy car driver – or in my opinion, it should,” said Hull.
“If the team is working hard to support the future of Indy car racing with young guys like Felix, then they're doing a disservice to the test rules.
“We will work really, really hard for Felix to see he gets everything he should get and more than he probably realizes that he will when we test there.”
A number of Verizon IndyCar Series veterans are also scheduled to test Thursday, including: Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato for AJ Foyt Racing; Tony Kanaan for Chip Ganassi Racing; Conor Daly for Dale Coyne Racing; Spencer Pigot and JR Hildebrand for Ed Carpenter Racing; Sebastien Bourdais for KVSH Racing; defending race winner Graham Rahal for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing; and Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, 2016 championship leader Simon Pagenaud and Will Power for Team Penske.
Thursday’s test day will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET. Fans who have already purchased a ticket to the Honda Indy 200 and VIP season pass holders will be admitted free, otherwise the entry fee is $10. The keyhole and infield will be open for viewing and the concession stand in the lower paddock will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More information is available at www.MidOhio.com.