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.”
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.”