Sebring 12-hour 2014 musings, race observations

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Some observations and insights gleaned from the week at Sebring International Raceway, site of the latest Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and now run under the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship banner:

  • When it was green, it was entertaining racing. Toss out the first six hours that were caution-infested, and from hour seven on, it was some seriously impressive action between P2 and DP spec cars at the front, both GT classes and a hat tip in particular to James Gue and David Heinemeier Hansson, a pair of Silver-rated drivers who flew the flag for the beleaguered PC class in a two-stint lead battle after a series of unfortunate accidents in that category earlier in the race.
  • But Coldplay’s “Yellow” might have been the race’s perfect anthem. The 11 full-course cautions, including the last one thrown in the last hour for the stranded, off-pace and off-position Marsh Racing Corvette DP, did not allow the stars to shine for nearly as long as they should have. In total, more than five hours were spent behind the safety car.
  • And the yellows were too long. IMSA’s Scot Elkins told assembled media after the race they’ll work on improving the procedure to speed up yellow flag periods, which at the low end were anywhere from 20-25 minutes per. To be fair, Sebring’s 3.7-mile track length doesn’t help, with four-plus minute lap times under yellow.
  • Officiating/safety/etc. Without belaboring the point, the officiating mistakes admitted were unfortunate and unneeded for the series, particularly after the ending at Daytona. As for safety, the Ben Keating Viper fire was also tough to watch, but he mercifully escaped without injury.
  • David Bowie’s “Changes” was the entry list’s anthem. More than half the GT Daytona class lineups changed during the week (cars No. 13, 18, 19, 22, 27, 44, 45, 49, 71, 73, 94 and 555), seemingly by the hour depending on driver rankings. In a three-driver lineup, only one designated Platinum/Gold pro would be allowed, so that meant Silver-rated (technically amateur, with some exceptions) drivers were the hot ticket. Various inconsistencies exist within the four-tier system (these three plus Bronze) and it’s something that is probably going to be addressed going forward by the powers-that-be.
  • No P1? No problem. Early last week, I wrote that it could take some getting used to not having any P1 cars on track. With that the case, I can’t remember a Sebring in the last 15 years or so that wide-open where you had no idea how was going to win overall except for 2011, and the balance was strong between the P2 and DP-spec cars. On this front, it was entertaining and was building to an excellent crescendo before the last yellow.
  • The PC dilemma. A tough weekend for the second prototype class as a whole, as two major accidents and a high volume of spins by the amateur drivers stuck out more than the sublime qualifying lap turned in by former Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Bruno Junqueira on Friday. PC qualifying is can’t miss – Junqueira, Alex Tagliani, Colin Braun, Raphael Matos, Gunnar Jeannette, Martin Plowman, Renger van der Zande, Tom Kimber-Smith, Tonis Kasemets and Stephen Simpson are all high-quality pro drivers and put on a show on Friday. Some of the ams are better than others, but some of the spins – particularly by the No. 87 BAR1 Motorsports entry, which was involved in no less than 4 of the 11 yellows – were regrettable. Enforcing some sort of minimum standard for licensing should be something explored down the road. It might mean the cars end up with less damage, too.
  • Porsche’s ridiculously strong start. Regardless of how Porsche got its second straight GTLM win, with the officiating error that occurred, there’s still no denying that the new factory effort has come out of the gate very impressive. Porsche’s new 991-spec 911 RSR has had the measure of the field – only slightly but enough to make a difference – and been pacesetters at two widely different types of circuits. BMW had luck but not pace in Daytona; the reverse was true Saturday in Sebring. SRT Viper is close to its second win, and appears a fraction ahead of Corvette, as it sorts out its new C7.R. Ferrari is on the back foot after two devastating accidents for Matteo Malucelli.
  • Krohn’s standout drive. Krohn Racing delivered an outstanding performance to end fourth in GTLM; the privateer team is running an older Ferrari F458 Italia chassis and only doing the four NAEC rounds this year. Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson celebrated their 100th race together and third driver Andrea Bertolini proved an invaluable addition.
  • Magnus wins on track and on YouTube. Magnus Racing took the GTD class win, and also continued their usual shenanigans throughout the week in video. They began the week with the bizarre even by Magnus standards “Rediscovering SportsCar, Part 2,” and ended it with the classic Media Barons-style short sequence of videos called “the 12 Hours of Seefried,” named for new Sebring third driver Marco Seefried.
  • AIM on target in return. Second for the AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, driven by the ex-Daytona Level 5 trio of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal and new recruit Maurizio Mediani, was better than expected considering the lateness of the program coming together. Good on the Andrew Bordin/Ian Willis-led crew for their efforts.
  • Rum Bum won the livery game. Can’t say as I’d seen a tie-dye car before until the new Rum Bum/Snow Racing Porsche 911 GT America showed up. Not sure how it’s perceived in photos, but I loved the look on site.
  • There’s a month until Long Beach, and 1.5 until Monterey. Long Beach next month will have a significantly reduced grid from the 63 at Sebring as it will only include P and GTLM class cars. All four classes return at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May, but in split P/GTLM and PC/GTD races.

NHRA Brainerd winners: Leah Pritchett, Alexis DeJoria, Tanner Gray, Jerry Savoie

Photo/vidoes courtesy NHRA
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Things got a lot tighter points-wise in all four NHRA pro classes Sunday at the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd (Minnesota) International Raceway.

Just one race remains for teams to qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs: the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis from Aug. 30 – Sept. 4, the biggest race of the season.

It was definitely Ladies Day in Sunday’s final eliminations, as Leah Pritchett won Top Fuel and Alexis DeJoria captured Funny Car.

Also winning in the 17th of 24 NHRA national events this season were Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s how things played out in the Land of 10,000 Lakes:

TOP FUEL: Pritchett recorded the quickest pass in Top Fuel history (3.640 seconds at 330.63 mph) Friday night to become the No. 1 qualifier.

She then capped off the outstanding weekend by earning her fourth win of the season (3.682 seconds at 328.06 mph), defeating defending Top Fuel champ and Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown (4.001 seconds, 246.35 mph).

“I really like that these numbers and (the team’s) work ethic and consistency really backs it up when I say we have the best team because we have the best hot rod,” Pruett said. “We’re going to enjoy this win.”

All was not lost for Brown, who reached his fifth consecutive final round and regained the lead in the Top Fuel point standings from Steve Torrence.

FUNNY CAR: DeJoria, who missed several races both last season and also earlier this season, earned her first win of 2017 and the fifth of her career.

DeJoria (3.906 seconds at 330.06 mph) defeated Tommy Johnson Jr. (3.933 seconds at 324.44 mph).

She also earned the 250th national event race win by a female driver in NHRA history.

“The last two years have been really difficult,” DeJoria said. “Lots of ups and downs, injuries, no wins, we just couldn’t get up to speed with everybody else.

“We were fighting so hard out there and you start to lose yourself in it. You start to forget the love that you had in the beginning. It’s times like those that make this so much better. You really appreciate every moment. This is a huge win for us.”

PRO STOCK: Gray continues to impress in his rookie season, earning his fourth win of 2017.

The third-generation racer (6.610 seconds at 208.04 mph) defeated points leader Bo Butner (6.629 seconds at 207.85 mph) to grab the close victory.

Despite the loss, Butner has already locked himself into the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Countdown.

“I’m not sure what my team has done but they’ve got a handle on this car the last few races,” Gray said. “They got something going right for them over there. They’re making my job a whole lot easier and I’m just blessed to be able to sit in the driver’s seat.”

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: In a final round battle of teammates, reigning PSM champ Jerry Savoie earned his second win of the season (6.846 seconds at 194.80 mph) over LE Tonglet (6.910 seconds at 194.02 mph).

“The season has been really good,” Savoie said. “I’ve had some misfortune a couple times and my riding hasn’t been like it should be.

“LE is solid as a rock so when you beat him it’s pretty rewarding. He’s taught me a lot and I’ve taught him some things and we thrive off each other. We bring out the best in each other and that’s what it takes to win races.”

Despite the loss, Tonglet, who has five wins this season, remains No. 1 in the PSM standings.

The NHRA enjoys next weekend off before heading to the U.S. Nationals.

Here’s the final statistics from Brainerd:

*****************************

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett; 2. Antron Brown; 3. Steve Torrence; 4. Clay Millican; 5. Brittany Force; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Tony Schumacher; 8. Scott Palmer; 9. Shawn Langdon; 10. Chris Karamesines; 11. Terry Haddock; 12. Terry McMillen; 13. Rob Passey; 14. Steven Chrisman; 15. Luigi Novelli; 16. Troy Coughlin Jr.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Alexis DeJoria; 2. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Ron Capps; 6. Cruz Pedregon; 7. Courtney Force; 8. Jack Beckman; 9. J.R. Todd; 10. Brian Stewart; 11. Dale Creasy Jr.; 12. Tim Wilkerson; 13. Del Worsham; 14. Jonnie Lindberg; 15. Matt Hagan; 16. Jim Campbell.

PRO STOCK: 1. Tanner Gray; 2. Bo Butner; 3. Greg Anderson; 4. Jason Line; 5. Drew Skillman; 6. Allen Johnson; 7. Erica Enders; 8. Shane Gray; 9. Jeg Coughlin; 10. Deric Kramer; 11. John Gaydosh Jr; 12. Alan Prusiensky; 13. Vincent Nobile; 14. Dave River; 15. Mark Hogan.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. LE Tonglet; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Matt Smith; 5. Eddie Krawiec; 6. Hector Arana Jr; 7. Cory Reed; 8. Angie Smith; 9. Joey Gladstone; 10. Karen Stoffer; 11. Scotty Pollacheck; 12. Mike Berry; 13. Jim Underdahl; 14. Freddie Camarena; 15. Angelle Sampey; 16. Steve Johnson.

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FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Leah Pritchett, 3.682 seconds, 328.06 mph def. Antron Brown, 4.001 seconds, 246.35 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.906, 330.96 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.933, 324.44.

PRO STOCK: Tanner Gray, Chevy Camaro, 6.610, 208.04 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.629, 207.85.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.846, 194.80 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.910, 194.02.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Antron Brown, 3.695, 331.77 def. Shawn Langdon, 3.734, 318.62; Clay Millican, 3.655, 330.23 def. Chris Karamesines, 4.261, 221.67; Leah Pritchett, 3.709, 325.30 def. Rob Passey, 4.321, 247.75; Brittany Force, 3.728, 327.03 def. Steven Chrisman, Foul – Red Light; Doug Kalitta, 3.697, 328.54 def. Terry Haddock, 4.267, 226.92; Tony Schumacher, 3.711, 324.67 def. Troy Coughlin Jr., 16.216, 22.28; Steve Torrence, 3.726, 328.62 def. Luigi Novelli, 6.418, 98.82; Scott Palmer, 3.787, 327.90 def. Terry McMillen, 4.302, 194.69;

QUARTERFINALS — Pritchett, 3.715, 330.63 def. Palmer, 3.906, 257.48; Millican, 3.658, 330.47 def. Schumacher, 3.718, 327.66; Brown, 3.681, 332.43 def. Force, 3.675, 332.75; Torrence, 3.723, 328.30 def. Kalitta, 3.709, 332.10;

SEMIFINALS — Brown, 3.706, 331.61 def. Torrence, 3.726, 323.19; Pritchett, 3.666, 330.88 def. Millican, 3.792, 263.00;

FINAL — Pritchett, 3.682, 328.06 def. Brown, 4.001, 246.35.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.862, 334.90 def. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 4.808, 195.11; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.850, 331.45 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Dodge Charger, 4.168, 258.32; Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 5.714, 128.92 def. Matt Hagan, Charger, Broke; John Force, Camaro, 3.901, 333.25 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, Broke; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.922, 328.86 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 7.147, 106.26; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.290, 207.56 def. Brian Stewart, Ford Mustang, Foul – Red Light; Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 4.416, 210.05 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.650, 271.13; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.894, 330.96 def. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.973, 323.35;

QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.932, 326.48 def. C. Force, 8.099, 84.74; Hight, 3.828, 336.23 def. Capps, 3.938, 304.80; J. Force, 3.896, 335.48 def. Beckman, 9.505, 72.67; DeJoria, 3.883, 330.96 def. Pedregon, 4.505, 192.47;

SEMIFINALS — DeJoria, 3.892, 329.02 def. J. Force, 3.909, 331.94; Johnson Jr., 6.875, 128.60 def. Hight, 9.806, 78.40;

FINAL — DeJoria, 3.906, 330.96 def. Johnson Jr., 3.933, 324.44.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.659, 207.78 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.657, 207.66; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.634, 207.05 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.965, 165.42; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.588, 209.20 def. Deric Kramer, Dodge Dart, 6.691, 206.48; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.614, 208.23 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.855, 198.79; Allen Johnson, Dart, 6.641, 207.11 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, Broke; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.601, 207.69 was unopposed; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.623, 207.43 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.976, 196.90; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.621, 207.75 def. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.704, 205.51;

QUARTERFINALS — Butner, 6.619, 207.50 def. S. Gray, 6.665, 207.11; Line, 6.624, 207.27 def. Skillman, 6.628, 208.20; T. Gray, 6.620, 207.46 def. Enders, 6.648, 207.66; Anderson, 6.594, 208.30 def. Johnson, 6.628, 207.21;

SEMIFINALS — T. Gray, 6.620, 207.56 def. Line, 7.140, 159.89; Butner, 6.642, 207.37 def. Anderson, Foul – Red Light;

FINAL — T. Gray, 6.610, 208.04 def. Butner, 6.629, 207.85.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.881, 192.85 def. Mike Berry, Buell, 7.026, 190.48; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.929, 195.90 def. Angelle Sampey, 8.326, 107.91; LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.864, 194.66 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, Foul – Red Light; Angie Smith, Buell, 6.935, 193.29 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.942, 192.58; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.883, 194.91 def. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.939, 193.60; Cory Reed, 6.944, 190.03 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.960, 191.54; Matt Smith, 6.859, 194.55 def. Freddie Camarena, Suzuki, 7.104, 189.98; Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.893, 194.49 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 7.079, 190.46;

QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.845, 192.77 def. A. Smith, 7.001, 190.62; Hines, 6.918, 195.31 def. Arana Jr, 6.919, 194.24; Tonglet, 6.850, 194.77 def. Reed, 6.961, 190.00; M. Smith, 6.884, 194.21 def. Krawiec, 6.894, 194.18;

SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.869, 194.66 def. M. Smith, 9.011, 97.00; Tonglet, 6.869, 194.63 def. Hines, 6.952, 195.79;

FINAL — Savoie, 6.846, 194.80 def. Tonglet, 6.910, 194.02.

*****************************

UPDATED DRIVER STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Antron Brown, 1,513; 2. Steve Torrence, 1,482; 3. Leah Pritchett, 1,453; 4. Tony Schumacher, 1,121; 5. Brittany Force, 1,052; 6. Doug Kalitta, 1,038; 7. Clay Millican, 1,014; 8. Terry McMillen, 722; 9. Scott Palmer, 649; 10. Troy Coughlin Jr., 576.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps, 1,383; 2. Robert Hight, 1,247; 3. Matt Hagan, 1,214; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 1,180; 5. Jack Beckman, 1,160; 6. Courtney Force, 1,012; 7. John Force, 954; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 792; 9. J.R. Todd, 788; 10. Alexis DeJoria, 664.

PRO STOCK: 1. Bo Butner, 1,526; 2. Tanner Gray, 1,300; 3. Greg Anderson, 1,263; 4. Jason Line, 1,123; 5. Drew Skillman, 1,089; 6. Erica Enders, 1,044; 7. Jeg Coughlin, 1,006; 8. Vincent Nobile, 899; 9. Allen Johnson, 657; 10. Chris McGaha, 645.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. LE Tonglet, 874; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 690; 3. Jerry Savoie, 655; 4. Hector Arana Jr, 632; 5. Matt Smith, 581; 6. Andrew Hines, 529; 7. Scotty Pollacheck, 528; 8. Joey Gladstone, 427; 9. Karen Stoffer, 408; 10. Angie Smith, 394.

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Rahal, Kanaan left wanting for more at Pocono

Photo: IndyCar
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LONG POND, Pa – In the second half of the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan simply put on a show. Between laps 123 and 150, the two swapped the lead no fewer than 17 times, often doing so entering Turn 3.

It was a masterful display of overtaking from two of the sport’s best drivers, and helped define a day that saw the Verizon IndyCar Series set a record for lead changes at Pocono (42) and record more than 500 on-track passes for position.

However, despite battling for the lead and running strongly all race long, neither driver got the finishes they were looking for. Rahal in particular faded over the last two stints, with fuel strategy from others also dropping him down the order. Rahal could do no better than ninth at the checkered flag.

“We just fell back a bit there,” Rahal lamented while speaking with NBCSN’s Anders Krohn afterward. “We had a really good race car. A little too draggy on downforce. We never got (to take wing out) out at the pit stops. Unfortunately as people saw, we lost a bit of time, then we (pitted) in the middle of a group. It was all about trying to recover.”

Despite the disappointment, Rahal, who led nine laps on the day, remained upbeat and complimentary of the effort from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

“Everyone did a great job on the (No. 15 team). Strategy, we’ll see if we could be better. It’s certainly capable of running in the top 3. I didn’t have (Alexander Rossi’s) pace. When we were up with (Tony Kanaan), if that train could’ve kept going, I would’ve been perfectly cool with that. That was a lot of fun.”

Kanaan, who led for 32 circuits, was able to fare better at the finish, coming home fifth. However, he also lamented that a broken wing hampered his efforts.

Tony Kanaan led 32 laps during the ABC Supply 500 before finishing fifth. Photo: IndyCar

“That battle with Graham (Rahal) was the highlight of my race – exchanging positions back and forth for the lead,” said Kanaan. “We found out after the race that we had a broken front wing that we didn’t know about. We don’t know how it happened or when it happened. We were so strong at the beginning of the race and I couldn’t understand why we were falling back, but now we know why. Regardless, it was a great battle.”

Rahal remains sixth in the championship, but now trails leader Josef Newgarden by 76 points with three races remaining in a race that quite likely has ended his championship chances for 2017. Kanaan sits ninth in the points standings.

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Hunter-Reay finishes eighth at Pocono after brutal qualifying crash

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LONG POND, Pa. – Ryan Hunter-Reay woke up this morning not 100 percent sure he would be driving today at Pocono Raceway after suffering a brutal crash in qualifying, registered at 138Gs.

Although he was treated and released from Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest on Saturday night, he remained very sore ahead of Sunday’s race and was not officially cleared to drive until Sunday morning.

He then made the race for fans and onlookers worth the price of admission nearly entire on his own.

Starting from 21st, Hunter-Reay was immediately on the move and a lightning fast pit stop from the No. 28 DHL Honda team put him in sixth, following a lap 21 caution for debris off of Esteban Gutierrez’s car.

Hunter-Reay remained a staple at the front of the field for much of the race, taking part in what was a thrilling battle for the lead throughout, leading 12 laps in the process.

However, jumbled pit strategy late in the race saw him fall back from the front of the field and deeper into the top ten. Hunter-Reay eventually salvaged eighth.

Though exhausted, Hunter-Reay told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt afterward that it was a good result given everything that happened.

“It was a great run. We started with a lot of downforce. Took a while to get (the) balance, no warmup. getting the right downforce level, we thought ‘Hey, we have something’ leading at halfway. Didn’t get enough downforce out of it,” he said of the effort on race day.

Hunter-Reay added that he was also just happy to be racing after sustaining such a heavy accident. “Really happy to get back in the car, get a good showing in. It was a test. A mental test no doubt… physical as well. Glad to roll it back in pit lane and move forward. All told a good showing to end the weekend.”

Though some may have been surprised to see Hunter-Reay excel the way he did, teammate Alexander Rossi was not one of them.

“It’s vintage Ryan Hunter-Reay,” Rossi said of his teammate’s effort. “We’ve seen him do it time and time again. In my opinion he’s one of the best drivers on the grid. It was no surprise to me. 40 laps in, to see him behind me, I was like ‘Damn, here we go again.’ But it’s to be expected. It really shouldn’t be a shock for anyone.”

Hunter-Reay now sits 11th in the championship, five points behind James Hinchcliffe for tenth.

Podium for Rossi caps all-around statement weekend in Pocono (VIDEO)

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The importance of Alexander Rossi to both his Andretti Autosport team and the Verizon IndyCar Series as a whole was properly on display this weekend at the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, as the sophomore driver from California made his mark in several key ways.

Ending third today in what may have been his best drive this season – in a year filled with candidates – stands as a disappointment because of how good he was otherwise.

The driver of the No. 98 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda for the Andretti-Herta Autosport outfit was unlucky to qualify only sixth. Rossi battled understeer on his opening lap, then turned in what would have been the fastest single lap of qualifying on his second before Takuma Sato eclipsed it as the last driver to run.

“A lot more understeer than this morning! It really took off,” Rossi told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt Saturday after his run. “I was fortunate it wasn’t a worse situation.

“We have the fastest single lap which is some sort of consolation prize, like the participation medal when you don’t win anything,” he deadpanned.

But Sato’s pole was made possible in part by Rossi’s sprint from pit in to pit out to give Sato an update on track conditions after his run (more here from Indianapolis Star reporter Jim Ayello). That the run occurred mere moments before Ryan Hunter-Reay tattooed the wall hard off Turn 3 and could have left Sato in a fragile mental state made it all the more impressive.

Sato couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise of Rossi.

“We see Ryan’s moment. Really made my nervous because he was just in front of me. We share a lot of parts and philosophy on the car. So it’s directly expecting what he has is what I have,” Sato said in the post-qualifying press conference.

“Alexander came me before the qualifying, he give me what he felt in Lap 1 to Lap 2, Turn 1 to Turn 3. Because here it’s a lot of downshift. We had to deal with the weight jackers, had to really work on that. Everything was proactive.

“I was able to put down a great lap, and I really have to say thank you to all my team.”

Photo: IndyCar

Sunday’s race for Rossi was, like others he’s had this year, excellent if not outright fulfilling from the overall standpoint.

Rossi led only 23 laps in 2016 including 14 in the Indianapolis 500, which he won, and then 23 laps this year, only at Indianapolis.

On Sunday, he led eight times for 44 laps, nearly doubling his career total of 46 in one race.

He was rarely outside the top five, battling any of Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe for the lead more often than not throughout the race. But he wasn’t able to maintain full pace in the final stint owing to a weird issue – his fuel mixture knob came off.

He described the struggle at the end after an otherwise banner day to Hargitt.

“Nothing changed; but the fuel mixture knob came off about two-thirds of the way through, so we didn’t have full power at the end,” Rossi told NBCSN. “We know these Honda engines have something for the competition.

“The car was stellar all day. It’s a really good result. When you come so close to the win it’s difficult to swallow. But looking back at Pocono where we were last year, we didn’t finish. To be on podium is a testament to Andretti Autosport and the entire team and the work they’ve done all year.”

With Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti as teammates, Rossi said they’ve been instrumental to his growth in 500-mile races.

“I’m getting more comfortable. A lot of it that is because of the team. Amazing to work with. My teammates are fantastic. I can’t go on enough about how much they’ve gotten me up to speed on these tracks, that are very daunting for first-comers. Very fortunate to drive for this team.”

Photo: IndyCar

Rossi expanded on the final stint of the race in the post-race press conference, as he wasn’t quite able to make enough of a run on Team Penske teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden, who finished first and second.

“I don’t want to take away from what Team Penske did and Will and Josef,” he said. “They were very strong at the end, and I don’t think we could have trimmed as much as they were. We just didn’t have the balance to take that.

“I was trying, but like Josef didn’t have the speed for Will, I didn’t really have the speed for Josef. I thought we were pretty strong in Turn 3 at times, but I didn’t have enough to really pull alongside, and I think that was truly down to the mixture. But it’s racing. That’s the way it goes.

“Like I said before, those two cars were pretty strong, and it was easy to make a mistake behind them, and I knew I had to push really hard to stay in their tire tracks. That’s part of what makes IndyCar racing so great. To win here, you have to be perfect for an entire race, and Will did that today.”

Even though Rossi admitted leading – and thus burning more fuel – wasn’t an ideal scenario, it was hard to wipe the smile off his face after his second podium of the year (was second in Toronto) as he sits eighth in points.

“I had a smile on my face the whole race. It’s rare that you don’t driving IndyCars, especially at a track as awesome as this. I had fun for the entire race, and any time you’re leading, there’s some satisfaction that goes with it.”