DETROIT — Oliver Askew, like most race car drivers, never goes to a track without his helmet — one never knows when a team might need an emergency driver.
So he was ready when Arrow McLaren SP needed a replacement for Felix Rosenqvist on Sunday at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park. Rosenqvist was hospitalized following a violent crash a day earlier; Askew drove 12 races last year in the No. 7 but was fired at the end of the season and replaced by Rosenqvist.
The only thing he needed was the rest of his uniform: Askew was given the Arrow firesuit that Juan Pablo Montoya wore two weeks ago in the Indianapolis 500 and borrowed a pair of racing shoes from Alex Palou.
He will start 23rd in the 25-driver field after Sunday morning’s 10-minute qualifying session marred his first laps in the car. Askew had never before raced the temporary street course constructed in a downtown Detroit public park, so his qualifying laps were nothing more than a reconnaissance mission to refamiliarize himself with the car and get a look at the bumpy, 2.35-mile, 14-turn circuit.
“There’s nothing like qualifying first thing in the morning, it beats coffee, for sure,” said Askew, who was at the track until about 1 a.m. as Arrow McLaren SP repaired Rosenqvist’s car for Sunday’s race.
He said he received tips from both teammate Pato O’Ward and Rosenqvist, who was expected to be released from the hospital and potentially return to the track to watch the second race.
Askew was fired at the end of last season in part because the 24-year-old hid concussion symptoms following his crash in the Indianapolis 500. He tried to race through the symptoms and finally saw a specialist only after his performance had plummeted.
He is now seeking a new full-time ride.
Josef Newgarden won the 17th pole of his career in the qualifying session, which ended abruptly when Santino Ferrucci crashed hard into the wall. It put Rahal Letterman Lanigan on the clock with roughly 90 minutes to repair the damage before the start of the race.
Arrow McLaren SP has been vague on what caused Rosenqvist to crash at what the driver estimated to be 100 mph into a tire barrier. It appeared his throttle had stuck and the impact was so violent, Rosenqvist drove through six rows of tires and bent the retaining wall.
He was hospitalized for evaluation but appeared only to be sore from the impact.
Arrow McLaren SP said only that an investigation of the crash “eliminated driver error or any issues related to Chevrolet systems and software, including involving the throttle system.
“The sequence of events has been clearly established and the root cause identified as a singular, nonrecurrent mechanical fault. The remedy has already been implemented and the team is confident that the issue is now fully resolved.”