Jeremy Milless. Photo: IndyCar

Rossi, Milless gelling early together at Andretti

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – This time last year, Alexander Rossi wasn’t even fully confirmed for any full-time ride, although by the end of February he’d been signed to a new Andretti-Herta Autosport entry ahead of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Ahead of the 2017 season, not only has he been signed for several months following his win in the 100th Indianapolis 500, but he has three exciting new elements for his program surrounding his No. 98 Honda this season.

The 25-year-old Californian has NAPA AUTO PARTS sponsorship for seven races, building on the relationship established at Indianapolis last year.

But on the box, he has a new engineer in Jeremy Milless and a new strategist in Rob Edwards.

Milless, who spent the last three years as Josef Newgarden’s engineer at Ed Carpenter Racing, switches to Michael Andretti’s team this year and replaces Tom German as Rossi’s race engineer.

Meanwhile with Bryan Herta moving to become race strategist for Marco Andretti’s No. 27 hhgregg Honda, even though the No. 98 car is still an Andretti-Herta entry, Andretti Autosport chief operating officer Rob Edwards now moves from what was the No. 26 car for Carlos Munoz to Rossi’s No. 98 as strategist there.

Milless’ strengths last year were evident at a number of circuits.  In particular, Milless helped Newgarden deliver on short ovals, with Newgarden’s beatdown in Newton, Iowa where he led 282 of 300 laps standing out.

Rossi has only had a couple tests to work with Milless thus far, but has already praised his new men on the stand.

“I’m pretty excited about Iowa,” Rossi said. “I think we all are, to kind of have that bit of information.

“But no, Jeremy has been awesome from day one of working with him at the one Sebring test we did, we were kind of up to speed with each other right away, and we’ve done some work in Indy together. I mean, it’s been a pretty seamless transition. We’re still kind of trying to learn each other’s likes and dislikes, but (it’s) the first session and it wasn’t terrible.

“It’s been a real positive having Rob Edwards as strategist on the radio; that’s also fantastic,” he added. “If Bryan is going to go to Marco, I think Rob is probably the best replacement in the year.

“I’m really happy with the team I have right now, and hopefully we can continue to move forward and develop ourselves.”

Rossi missed driving at this test last year as he’d only just finalized the deal to join the Andretti-Herta organization. He made his first oval race start here and was poised for a debut top-10 finish, prior to a puncture and a slip up the course in Turn 4.

Scott Dixon fastest on the second day of Indianapolis 500 practice

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Scott Dixon was fastest on the second day of Indy 500 practice Thursday, turning a lap at 226.102 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Takuma Sato was second, followed by Marco Andretti, Conor Daly and rookie Alex Palou.

The rest of the top 10 were: Colton Herta, Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Fernando Alonso and James Davison.

THURSDAY PRACTICE: Click here for Day 2 speeds at Indianapolis

COMBINED SPEEDS: Click here for the overall speeds from the first two days

The session had one incident as Alonso crashed with just less than an hour left in the session. The Arrow McLaren SP driver was optimistic that the car could be repaired without a backup.

Among the other notables on the speed chart Thursday: Ryan Hunter-Reay (11th); Tony Kanaan (14th); Helio Castroneves (16th); Josef Newgarden (18th); Graham Rahal (19th); Will Power (23rd); Alexander Rossi (26th) and defending race winner Simon Pagenaud (27th).

Felix Rosenqvist (24th) and rookie Dalton Kellett turned the most laps (141) around the 2.5-mile oval.

Teams mostly focused on race setup Thursday as they will receive 80 extra horsepower in the “Fast Friday” practice that will feature speeds above 230 mph for qualifying Saturday and Sunday.

The Indy 500 will take place Aug. 23; coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on NBC with the green flag at 2:30 p.m.

HOW TO WATCH THE INDY 500 ON NBCDetails for the Aug. 23 race

DAILY INDY 500 SCHEDULEClick here for all on-track activity in August at Indy