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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Alexander Rossi

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. In seventh place, Alexander Rossi leapt up to the top-finishing Andretti driver in the standings, won another race with a wreath, and firmly established himself as one of the leading lights of the championship in an entirely more comfortable second season.

Alexander Rossi, No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2016: 11th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 7th, 2 Top-5, 6 Top-10, 23 Laps Led, 14.3 Avg. Start, 11.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 7th Place, 1 Win, 1 Pole, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 99 Laps Led, 8.6 Avg. Start, 9.5 Avg. Finish

In a single sentence, Alexander Rossi was the most improved driver of IndyCar, season 2017 – and it wasn’t even close.

Rossi’s on-track results grew exponentially as his embrace of being a key part of IndyCar’s present, and its future, grew along with it as the year went on. It made covering his sophomore season a joy as his proper integration into the series truly felt achieved this season, whereas last year it was a slower process negatively affected by poor performance.

That Rossi’s results were as good as they were this year spoke volumes of his adaptation to new circumstances. He had to learn the dynamic of working with a new engineer in Jeremy Milless and also lost Bryan Herta as his race strategist, but got a like-for-like replacement on the box in veteran strategy whiz and Andretti Autosport COO Rob Edwards. Milless, considering he was coming from working with Josef Newgarden on a Chevrolet kit at Ed Carpenter Racing, acclimated incredibly well to his new team and his new kit, even if the results took a few races to come good.

And interestingly, they could have been even better. As we wrote earlier this year, between a puncture at St. Petersburg, engine failure at Long Beachfueling issue at Indy and being trapped in a “Ganassi sandwich” at Texas, Rossi lost close to 100 points alone between those four races. But he went on a tear from Toronto through the Watkins Glen, with five straight races between first and sixth, capped off by another fuel issue-turned-recovery drive to win at “The Glen” and defeat Scott Dixon in a straight fight. Rossi ended 148 points back of Newgarden in the championship, P7 and top Andretti Autosport entry, but could well have ended as high as third – perhaps even second – had he caught a few breaks.

Where Rossi starred as much if not more so than on-track was in his development outside the car, and shaped up as a driver IndyCar was truly lucky to have. Rossi grew into one of the year’s more candid, insightful quotes – never missing an opportunity to explain something in a smart, refined, mature level. He performed some ambassadorial tasks, particularly in the run up to the Sonoma finale. He wrote some great blogs for RACER’s website. He bonded with friends and fellow drivers Conor Daly and James Hinchcliffe, with he and Daly set to appear on the new season of “The Amazing Race.” He perpetually poked fun at Marco Andretti on Instagram. He coined his No. 98 car “baby girl” and never missed an opportunity to thank NAPA Auto Parts for their support; NAPA and Andretti Autosport rewarded him with a two-year extension at year’s end. His advice offered to teammate Takuma Sato before Pocono qualifying spoke to his selflessness and dedication to his team. Thanks for that should be extended to his personal assistant Liza Markle, who rocked it in her first year working with him this year, but also to Rossi’s family and close friends around him – particularly his dad Pieter who’s been there all the way.

Going into his rookie year in IndyCar, I didn’t know how to feel about the American driver who’d long pursued his F1 dream coming into the series in what felt at first like a last-minute, last-ditch arrangement. After the conclusion of his second year, for me anyway, now it’s hard to imagine IndyCar without him.

BREAKING: John Force taken to hospital after Phoenix eliminations crash

Photo courtesy NHRA
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16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has been taken to a local hospital for evaluation and examination following a wicked crash with fellow Funny Car driver Johnnie Lindberg.

The crash occurred during the quarterfinals of Sunday’s final eliminations in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Force was headed for a win when the engine on his Peak Chevrolet Camaro blew up just as it crossed the finish line, destroying the body. Lindberg, meanwhile, lost traction about one-third of the way down-track, but then got back into the gas to try and catch Force.

Force appeared to lose control of the body-less car and went across from the left lane he was in to the right-hand lane, where he hit the retaining wall in front of Lindberg.

Lindberg tried to avoid Force, but couldn’t. To make matters worse, the body on Lindberg’s car then came off and Force’s and Lindberg’s cars got tangled up in Lindberg’s parachute, sending both chassis’ into the left retaining wall.

Lindberg emerged from his Funny Car under his own power and was checked at the medical center before heading back to his pit.

Force, meanwhile, was helped out of his mangled wreck by the NHRA Safety Safari and was transported by ambulance to the hospital due to the severity of the impact.

Even though Force will be credited with the round win, he obviously will not be able to continue for the remainder of the eliminations.

To add insult to injury, NHRA officials charged Force with oiling down the racetrack, his third of the season in just the first two races. That will cost him 15 points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings and a fine of $4,000.

Here are several posts from social media, including video of the incident from NHRA:

This is the second time Force has had an engine explode and the body blew off in the last two weeks. He also wrecked during the qualifying Feb. 9 for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Here’s the video of that wreck:

MORE: John Force taken to hospital as a precaution after Funny Car motor explodes.

We’ll update Force’s condition when it becomes available.

Follow @JerryBonkowski