Alexander Rossi

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Andretti Autosport breaks long drought on road/street courses

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Andretti Autosport’s struggles on road and street circuits over the last two years have been well documented.

In fact, the last time the team won on a permanent road course was back in April of 2014, when Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Barber Motorsports Park, with Marco Andretti finishing second in what was a 1-2 for the team. Carlos Munoz then delivered the team’s most recent win on a street course a year later, in a rain-shortened Detroit race one, leading Andretti in a 1-2 finish there.

However, their only wins since then have come at the Indianapolis 500 (Alexander Rossi in 2016, and Takuma Sato in 2017), with road and street circuits being especially problematic for the Michael Andretti-led squad.

For instance, at last year’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, all four cars qualified 15th or worse – Rossi was 15th, Munoz was 16th, Andretti 18th, and Hunter-Reay 19th – with Rossi the only one to finish inside the top ten in eight.

Owing to the offseason personnel adjustments that have seen the team make strides in their setups, plus a good test at Watkins Glen several weeks ago, this weekend was a far different story.

Rossi was fast all weekend, securing the pole on Saturday and overcoming a fuel issue to lead the most laps and win on Sunday, while Hunter-Reay ran solidly all race long to finish third.

Even though Marco Andretti (16th) and Takuma Sato (19th) languished at the bottom of the order, the results for Rossi and Hunter-Reay are the team’s best on a road course since Hunter-Reay’s aforementioned Barber triumph.

The turnaround is quite noteworthy, as Hunter-Reay discussed afterward.

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third at Watkins Glen, leading four laps in the process. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s nice to see the turnaround the team has had. Last year as a team here, we all qualified (15th) or worse. We were the worst team in the paddock last year. Heck of a turnaround. Great job on that. Happy for the (No. 98) team. Alex did a great job,” Hunter-Reay said of the performance.

This also serves as a shot of momentum for the team ahead of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in two weeks, with Sonoma Raceway being one of the team’s better tracks, as Rossi described.

Alexander Rossi celebrates with his team in Victory Lane at Watkins Glen. Photo: IndyCar

“We had a strong test there. We were very strong there last year. It’s probably one of our strongest tracks outside of Indianapolis,” Rossi asserted. “I have high expectations. We need to really make sure that, again, we tick all the boxes throughout the weekend. Hopefully we can climb a couple spots in the championship.”

However, for Hunter-Reay the victory does not relieve any pressure in any way, as he still does not have a road/street course win since that Barber victory, and has not won a race period since Pocono in 2015.

“(2014) since our last road course win, that’s too long. No pressure relief at all. Got to get on it,” Hunter-Reay finished.

With their results, Rossi moved up to sixth in the championship standings, with Hunter-Reay jumping up to ninth. Takuma Sato now sits ninth and Marco Andretti 13th respectively.

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Rossi caps dream weekend in Watkins Glen with first win of the year (VIDEO)

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Alexander Rossi took the biggest bite possible out of the Big Apple this weekend in the picturesque, Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, at Watkins Glen International.

On Friday, he announced a new contract with Andretti Autosport.

On Saturday, he scored his first Verizon IndyCar Series pole.

On Sunday, he led the most laps, controlled the pace of the race, rebounded from a changed fuel hose, saved fuel, yet still pushed hard, and defended against Scott Dixon to win his first race of the season. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third.

The driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda continued his late-season surge – he’s now finished between first and sixth in each of the last five races – as he rolled to a key victory.

Meanwhile the IndyCar championship has turned on its head, following contact leaving pit road between Josef Newgarden and Sebastien Bourdais. Newgarden locked up the brakes exiting pit road and bounced of the armco, with Bourdais hitting the back of Newgarden’s car and leaving the championship leader in big trouble in the final 20 laps of the race.

Newgarden struggled to even make the flag, following repairs exerted by the Team Penske team get his No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet to the finish. He finished 18th, off the lead lap, for his worst finish since Texas (13th after an accident), and snapped a streak of finishing first, second or sixth in each of the last six races.

Although Newgarden still leads the championship, this now gives teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud a realistic shot, along with Dixon, who now trails Newgarden unofficially by three points, in pursuit of his fifth title. The four drivers are unofficially covered by less than 40 points, Castroneves 22 back and Pagenaud 34 back, heading to the double points season finale in Sonoma in two weeks.

The race started with the field on Firestone’s wet weather tires but the threat of rain, which came earlier for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race, never materialized. Instead it featured a mad dash of drivers peeling into the pits after the race start to change onto dry weather slicks, most of whom went onto Firestone’s red alternate tires but with Rossi and Hunter-Reay going onto the black primary tires.

Castroneves emerged at the head of the queue after those pit stops, but Rossi got back in front after the next round, caused when teammate Takuma Sato slowed entering the Boot. Five drivers (Spencer Pigot, JR Hildebrand, Max Chilton, Marco Andretti and Jack Harvey) had pitted prior to the caution so moved forward to the front.

In this stanza, Rossi’s team encountered an issue as it needed to change its fuel probe, which was malfunctioning. And because Rossi hadn’t got all the fuel on board on his last stop, it forced him into an earlier next stop, which occurred on Lap 24.

This forced Rossi off sequence and dropped him down the order, but a minor miracle occurred a couple laps later thanks to his soon-to-be-departed teammate, Sato, again. Sato spun and resumed but INDYCAR called a full-course caution on Lap 27, which then forced the rest of the field back into the pits and helped Rossi, Chilton, and the Ed Carpenter Racing pair of Pigot and Hildebrand, who were also off sequence.

Rossi and Chilton were able to push deep enough into this stint to where they could make it home on one final stop while the Carpenter twins could not, both pitting before the scheduled “get home” lap of Lap 42.

The Newgarden incident then followed which put the race under another full course caution, and set up a final dash to the finish.

But Rossi beat Dixon in a straight fight to secure the victory.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Rossi’s win is the obvious, and along with Ryan Hunter-Reay it put two Andretti Autosport cars on the podium – a first for the team since the 2016 Indianapolis 500, also won by Rossi. … Graham Rahal and Will Power recovered from 10th and eighth starting spots to end fifth and sixth. … After tough seasons, two more Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton banked top-10s in seventh and eighth, Chilton having defended well against Simon Pagenaud for eighth. … Carlos Munoz completed the top-10 for Foyt. … Jack Harvey finished 14th for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in his first road course race.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Newgarden leads this group, and 18th is his second worst finish of the year aside of 19th in the Indianapolis 500. … Sato brought out two cautions in a tough afternoon, with wastegate issues and a spin. … James Hinchcliffe brought out the first caution of the race with major gearbox issues, and ended 21st and last behind Tony Kanaan, caught up in the Newgarden/Bourdais contact.

NOTABLE: This win by Rossi snapped Team Penske and Chevrolet’s five-race win streak, in Chevrolet’s 100th race. … This was Honda’s first win since Road America (Dixon) and its first podium sweep since Detroit race one, when Rahal beat home Dixon and Hinchcliffe. … Dixon banks his sixth podium at Watkins Glen.

QUOTABLE: Rossi, on the win: “We had an issue in the beginning with some fuel, the fuel thing, but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s a huge team effort. I’ve talked about so much how much we’ve improved, I’m so happy we’re finally able to win.”

RESULTS

WATKINS GLEN, New York – Results Sunday of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 60, Running
3. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 60, Running
4. (6) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 60, Running
5. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 60, Running
6. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 60, Running
7. (5) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 60, Running
8. (19) Max Chilton, Honda, 60, Running
9. (12) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 60, Running
10. (11) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 60, Running
11. (14) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 60, Running
12. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 60, Running
13. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 60, Running
14. (18) Jack Harvey, Honda, 60, Running
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 60, Running
16. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 60, Running
17. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 60, Running
18. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 58, Running
19. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 56, Running
20. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 46, Contact
21. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 5, Mechanical

Race Statistics:
Winner’s average speed: 118.865 mph
Time of Race: 1:42:03.9024
Margin of victory: 0.9514 of a second
Cautions: 4 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 6 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Rossi 1
Castroneves 2-14
Pigot 15-22
Rossi 23
Hunter-Reay 24-27
Rossi 28-42
Dixon 43-44
Newgarden 45
Rossi 46-60

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 560, Dixon 557, Castroneves 538, Pagenaud 526, Power 492, Rossi 476, Rahal 466, Sato 421, Kanaan 375, Hunter-Reay 373.

Stability, excitement fuels Rossi’s extension with Andretti

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Within the last couple weeks, Alexander Rossi has really showcased how he’s solidified his stature within the Verizon IndyCar Series, and Friday’s formal confirmation he’ll be back with Andretti Autosport for two more years at least was a great sign of that.

What’s been fascinating to watch this year, as the driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda sits seventh in points going into this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN), is how well he’s gelled with the three new components of his effort – Andretti Autosport technical director Eric Bretzman, engineer Jeremy Milless and strategist Rob Edwards.

Altogether Rossi is Andretti Autosport’s highest-placed car in the championship – seventh entering this weekend’s race – on the heels of two podium finishes (second in Toronto and third at Pocono).

Rossi has been able to assist Milless, who engineered a Chevrolet last year for Josef Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing, in certain areas with the Honda package whereas Milless has brought fresh ideas from what worked on a Chevrolet kit. Milless replaced Tom German as Rossi’s race engineer; German, now at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, sits one spot ahead in the championship in sixth place.

“With the addition of Eric coming onboard, the technical director, he kind of brought everything back into a circle, if you will, which was a positive, improved our damper program. We’ve improved everything from pit stops, car build. I mean, it’s a whole lot of things to making a car fast than just the dampers you put on it,” Rossi said Friday.

“Also with the addition to my engineer, Jeremy Milless, brought another mental philosophy and approach from a different manufacturer, so we got some insight into that, what was working for them.”

For Edwards, he’s taken over as strategist from Bryan Herta. In 2017, Herta’s name still remains part of this entry, the No. 98 Andretti-Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian car, as a co-entrant.

Herta told NBC Sports Friday that he will continue with Andretti Autosport into 2018, but the identity of which car will be the Andretti-Herta entry is still to be determined.

The Rossi entry could still be labeled the Andretti-Herta car, as it has the last two years, or that designation could switch. Herta has moved to Marco Andretti’s pit stand this year as his race strategist. The car number nor team name designation was not identified in today’s Rossi extension.

“We’ll be back with Andretti, and there will be a 98 car with the team,” Herta told NBC Sports.

Edwards, meanwhile, has worked well with Rossi throughout the year. Rossi admitted Friday that the overall combination of the new elements didn’t really click until the month of May in Indianapolis.

“You wouldn’t have seen it, but, I mean, it took us probably through the month of May to really start to be on the same page, which I think is fairly normal and natural,” Rossi said.

“Not because either of us were doing anything wrong, you’re not on the same communication wavelength yet. Under pressure situations and crunch time, being able to kind of take the information I have and relay it in an efficient way, make decisions based on that, that’s something that comes with time. I think we’re at that point now.”

Michael Andretti hailed Rossi when speaking about him on Thursday in the paddock, prior to official confirmation that Rossi would continue for another two years.

“I think he’s done exactly what I thought he’d do (in his second year). He learned a lot last year. He’s put it to good use this year. A lot of places, he’s been our best car,” Andretti said.

Rossi also hailed NAPA Auto Parts, which has now built and cultivated a trio of drivers it backs – Rossi in IndyCar, Ron Capps in NHRA and Chase Elliott in NASCAR – over the last several years. They helped put Rossi’s name more on the map in North America, he said.

“When we did win, it obviously put the entire program under a spotlight for 12 months, thanks to the media tours that the Verizon IndyCar Series puts together, and the national and global exposure that NAPA got, that I got, and kind of my name and brand being developed in the United States, which was something that was severely lacking at the beginning of 2016, because I had been overseas for so long. It really gave us the opportunity to show NAPA, you know, what this series could offer, what I could offer, what Andretti Autosport could offer,” Rossi said.

“They obviously re-upped for 2016 in a slightly bigger role. They’re doing that again for 2018, which was a huge thing for the series. It’s massive to have one of the premier auto parts manufacturers involved in the championship, to have a household name, brand and company put the effort into remaining with us and the team and the series. It’s a huge thing for everyone. It’s a big honor to be able to represent them and try and get them as good of results as possible.”

The advice Rossi gave about how new drivers coming from an F1 or other international series environment should approach IndyCar is simple: leave nothing on the table for every session. It may have stemmed from a conversation at St. Petersburg in 2016, when Rossi made his IndyCar debut, where preseason concern was expressed he might not have full focus on IndyCar.

“To not underestimate any element of the championship,” Rossi admitted. “You really have to bring your best effort from Thursday morning when you get here to Sunday night. That’s not just in the race car.

“I mean, an example that I’ll give, in Mid-Ohio, we led P3. We were really good in Q1. Went to Q2, I made one rear spring change, and I only last half a tenth or a tenth (of a second), but it was enough to not make me advance to the Fast Six. It was one spring change, like one step. It’s not like we revolutionized the car, put on a whole new package. It was one little thing.

“It actually didn’t hurt performance that much, but it didn’t give us the extra tenth we needed. That’s how on it you have to be for every single lap and session. If not, you make that mistakes, you can very quickly — it may be the difference of not only not getting into the Fast Six, it could be the difference of not getting into the top 12, then you’re starting 14th, you have to recover all weekend.

“It’s every decision you make you need to be sure about. I think I underestimated that. I think a lot of guys underestimate that coming in. It’s not just the competitiveness of how good the guys are on the track, it’s the decisions you make in the hours between each session that’s also super critical.”

The extension caps off what has been a stressful few months for Rossi, his family and his team amidst all the silly season speculation, and sees him assured within the same team where he’s laid his groundwork in IndyCar.

“Racing can take the focus away from a lot of people for the task at hand,” he said. “For the next year, you just have to focus on winning races. It’s kind of easy to get caught up in what’s happening. You can start to kind of lose morale at times among the team because there’s just the unknown, right? They know you’re talking to other teams. It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved.”

Rossi, NAPA Auto Parts re-up with Andretti in multi-year deal

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Alexander Rossi and NAPA Auto Parts have re-upped (Merriam-Webster definition of re-up here) with Andretti Autosport in a new multi-year agreement, announced Friday morning ahead of this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.

Rossi was coy on his future status earlier this week, having explored alternative Honda team options in the wake of speculation Andretti Autosport could shift engine manufacturers from Honda to Chevrolet.

However, the Andretti and Honda renewal was confirmed on Thursday morning, and Rossi’s renewal has now been confirmed on Friday. Interestingly, this was called an Andretti Autosport signing, not an Andretti-Herta Autosport signing as part of the release.

Michael Andretti told NBC Sports Thursday in the paddock he hoped “Rossi would remain part of the family,” and now he will.

NAPA AUTO PARTS has, more importantly, upped its support of the team to a 10-race, co-primary sponsorship.

“It’s great to have NAPA AUTO PARTS return in support of Alexander and the team. NAPA has been a fantastic partner, and we look forward to building on the success of the relationship,” Andretti said in a release. “Alexander has been a great ambassador both on and off the track and, with only two years of IndyCar experience, he’s proven that he is a true competitor as well.”

Rossi has confirmed a two-year extension through 2019.

“As always, this silly season is a challenging one for everyone involved, but I am very thankful to have such incredible support from Andretti Autosport, NAPA AUTO PARTS and Honda, and to extend our deal through 2019,” said Rossi. “The improvements that we have made this year and the relationships that I have built within the team over the past two seasons created the foundation for a very exciting future.

“NAPA is pleased to continue its partnership with Andretti Autosport and Alexander Rossi,” said Gaylord Spencer, NAPA’s Senior Vice President of Marketing. “As you know, this partnership began in May 2016 taking the NAPA colors into the winner’s circle at the 100th Running of the Indy 500, what an incredible experience.Moving into 2017, the partnership expanded and is now continuing to grow. We’re excited to continue this relationship with Alexander, the Andretti organization and the IndyCar fan base.”

Rossi: ‘I love this championship, and where it’s heading’

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Just over a week ago, it was key to note how big of a role Alexander Rossi played for the benefit of his Andretti Autosport team at Pocono Raceway and after another solid night Saturday at Gateway Motorsports Park, it was interesting to see how happy he was – again – after another good oval race in his impressive sophomore season.

For a driver who once was down on ovals before having ever raced on them, Rossi is now through two seasons of oval racing as he continues to grow and develop even further beyond his initial oval campaign last year.

More to the point, as one of perhaps the most highly coveted drivers within the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock for 2018, Rossi is at ease with where he’s at in life, with the series and with ovals.

Well, mostly, on the oval bit.

“I mean it’s like, I’m glad we’re done for the year,” Rossi laughed Saturday night after the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline, where he finished sixth in the No. 98 ShopAndretti.com/Curb Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport, second among Hondas.

“I love the speedways. I’ve gotten totally comfortable on those. But the short oval stuff, I’m still white knuckling it sometimes. I think a lot of guys are.

“It’s so intense to drive with the amount of downforce on, and how committed you have to be to succeed. It’s still something I’m not fully OK with yet.”

As for the series itself, it’s fascinating to see that the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion is now so firmly entrenched in the IndyCar paddock that any F1 talk seems so far off at this point.

In just two years, but particularly this second season, Rossi’s candor and effervescence is showing through in a positive light as he grows more comfortable within the paddock.

And his results have improved along with that – he sits seventh in points, having overtaken teammate Takuma Sato, and only 14 points behind Graham Rahal as he looks to be the second highest-scoring Honda driver this year.

Whereas in 2016 Rossi had only six top-10 finishes, he has nine this year, including four in a row now with a second, sixth, third and sixth since Toronto. He’s also qualified better at every track this year than he has last year, save for Phoenix (14th in 2016, 15th in 2017) with 10 top-10 starts compared to just three last year.

“I’m trying. I’ve learned a lot off-track and on; the Andretti Autosport team has helped me with that so much,” Rossi reflected. “The IndyCar staff and media have really helped me off track, and that’s made a big difference. I owe a big thanks to all those guys, so it’s positive.

“I love this championship. I love where this is heading. I’m really happy to be here.”

Photo: IndyCar

Where Rossi is heading for 2018 remains a big question mark. Like with several other drivers and teams, Rossi could be in a spot where his future won’t be settled until Andretti Autosport determines whether it stays with Honda or switches to Chevrolet. Rossi and Honda are developing a close working relationship and his name has been rumored at a couple other teams.

Speculation about Rossi’s future is just that. For once though, it’s not about if he stays in IndyCar, but where he’ll be on the grid.

Saturday night’s race at Gateway was a prime example of how smart Rossi can race given the aero kit deficiencies between the more draggy Honda package versus the more slippery Chevrolet package on the short ovals.

Finishing sixth, Rossi said, was almost like a win considering there were three Penskes and Scott Dixon, who ended second, ahead of him.

Seeing Rossi in the top-six along with fellow 26-year-old or younger Americans Conor Daly and Josef Newgarden, who’ve all returned home to America after fellow stints abroad, was also fun to witness from a future outlook perspective.

“It was one of those nights where you’ll be happy with a P6,” Rossi said. “Because Scott did a typical Scott right?

“We had his pace, but it was one of those things, whenever someone cycled out, we fell back slightly. But to come out sixth with the deficiencies was just what we were looking for.”