Late puncture halts Rossi’s impressive oval debut

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – You wouldn’t have known Alexander Rossi was making his oval debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series – or overall – based on his performance this evening in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

Rossi only had had one brief test at the track, separate from IndyCar’s official preseason test in February, in mid-March.

On Saturday night, the driver of the No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda has the misleading stat line of starting and finishing 14th, because he ran close to the top five and on the lead lap most of the race.

On a day when passing was difficult, Rossi drove hard and ran as high as sixth on Lap 196, but then needed to take on a splash of fuel in a closed pit.

That meant he’d have to restart the next sequence at the back of the field for taking service in a closed pit.

It dropped him back to 14th, and as such, he wasn’t able to recover from there in the remainder of the race. A slow puncture on the last stint led to some debris on track and after slight contact in Turn 4, Rossi continued but INDYCAR threw the yellow flag on Lap 248. It meant the race ended under yellow.

“I think we need to look at it; I was in pits before they were closed, and we didn’t want to lose a lap,” Rossi told NBC Sports post-race.

“There’s some things we need to look at. Generally the race was good to us, with the car coming to me towards the end, but unfortunately we had a slow puncture on the last stint.

“I think all in all it was a positive day for my first oval. I know we could have easily been top-10, and maybe top-five. So ending 14th is disappointing.”

Rossi admitted on Friday that he felt there was more to come after his qualifying run, which he didn’t feel happy with, and said he’d be better in the race. The words proved prescient.

“I figured today’s race would be good. Qualifying was unrepresentative and given what we were capable of, today was, pretty much as expected, to be honest,” he said.

“It was very hard to pass,” he added. “Restarts were the only opportunity. It was hard to find another line.”

As was the case for fellow first-year driver Conor Daly in St. Petersburg, the result did not match the drive for Rossi, and may prove a positive harbinger of things to come from here.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.



Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III