Alexander Rossi fastest rookie in “eye-opening” first day on IMS oval

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INDIANAPOLIS – Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian rookie Alexander Rossi had a solid first day of practice for his first 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.

The Californian rookie completed more than 100 laps – 55 in the opening two hours of rookie orientation and then a further 52 in the final four hours in the afternoon – and was fourth overall on the speed charts with a best speed of 226.865 mph.

Rossi also was strong on the no-tow speed charts, at 222.452 mph, which was seventh there.

More than speed though, for Rossi, Monday on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval was a day to get comfortable under ideal weather conditions – mid-60s ambient and low-90s for a track temperature under somewhat overcast skies.

Rossi said there was nothing like his first day on the IMS oval, having also raced at Phoenix International Raceway and tested at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It felt fast. It was definitely eye-opening in terms of not having any kind of prior comparison to a place like this,” Rossi said in the post-practice press conference.

“I was glad we got through ROP without any issues, and this afternoon we got to work and it was a very good day for the team in general.”

The learning process of going into Turn 1 was something Rossi admitted he needed to adjust to, but acclimated to quickly.

“You think about it when you’re turning in, but then you tell yourself, ‘Well it worked last lap, so it will be fine this lap.’ The biggest thing is the group running and getting comfortable in that,” he said. “That was another new experience for me this afternoon. Hopefully we keep doing that as the week progresses.”

After primarily running in single-car runs in the earlier part of the day, Rossi got his first taste of the patented Andretti Autosport several-car practice train in the last hour of the day. Generally, Andretti Autosport runs anywhere from three to all five of its cars to simulate the tow, the draft and race runs and often ends up on top of the timesheets when it does so.

“The last 45 minutes was like that,” Rossi said. “There are a lot of groups out there, and you want to try to find a pack to see what your car does, and how its different from how you’re by yourself.

“It’s something I need to put my focus on. It’s one thing to run by yourself. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re out there with eight or nine other cars!”

Did he have a “pinch-me” moment about driving at IMS?

“Not today. I had that moment when I came here about a month ago and was wandering around and in the stands and saw the track from a very different perspective,” he said.

“I think the feeling that you’re talking about will come as we get closer to qualifying and race day. At the moment, it’s all about testing and reducing the learning curve as much as possible. And just trying to learn as much as I can.

“You have that in Monaco, for sure. The first time drove Monaco was a race weekend, so once we get to that point, then it will be a similar kind of experience.”

Rossi’s strong first day on the oval follows arguably his best race of the season on the IMS road course this weekend. He finished 10th, but that was a bit misleading since he rose as high as sixth in the race and set the fastest race lap by several tenths of a second.