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.

Max Verstappen shows speed in Austria; Lewis Hamilton lacking pace

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull driver Max Verstappen posted the fastest time Friday, and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton lacked pace in the second practice session for the Styrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was 0.043 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas – Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes – and 0.217 ahead of Racing Point driver Sergio Perez.

“The car already feels better than last week, the balance is a lot nicer and we have made a good step,” said Verstappen, who did not finish last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian GP after starting from second.

“It is too early to say how we are looking against Mercedes, but we are quite happy. We have tried a few different directions to understand the car a bit more and we are heading the right way.”

Hamilton was only sixth fastest, about 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen. Hamilton spent a chunk of time in the garage while his team worked on his car.

“It was quite far off, so there’s a lot of work to do in the background to figure it out,” he said. “Others out there are quick and Valtteri’s obviously got good pace.”

Despite adding a new front wing to its car, struggling Ferrari had a dismal afternoon.

Charles Leclerc was only ninth quickest and 1 second slower than Verstappen, while teammate Sebastian Vettel lagged about 2 seconds behind Verstappen in 16th.

Daniel Ricciardo lost control of his Renault car early into the second session, swerving left off the track and thudding backward into a protective tire wall. He climbed out unharmed, other than a slight limp, but the left rear tire was mangled and the car was lifted off the track by a crane.

Alexander Albon spun twice, the Red Bull driver’s second spin taking him right off the track and into gravel.

Earlier, Perez was fastest in the first practice ahead of Verstappen and Bottas, with Hamilton fourth quickest and Vettel only 10th in sunny conditions.

That session was briefly interrupted when Nicholas Latifi’s Williams car pulled over to the side with a gearbox issue.

The incident brought out yellow flags, forcing drivers to slow down. But McLaren driver Lando Norris overtook Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and got a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

Norris, 20, finished third at the Austrian GP last weekend, becoming the youngest British driver in F1 history to get on the podium and third youngest in F1.

The upcoming race is changing names from last week but is at the same track. It is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

A third and final practice will be held on Saturday morning before qualifying in the afternoon, with heavy rain and storms in the forecast.

If third practice and qualifying are washed out, drivers take their grid positions from where they placed in second practice.

“It would definitely suck if we didn’t get to qualify,” said Hamilton, who started fifth and finished fourth last weekend. “It would make it challenging.”

However, qualifying also could be moved to Sunday morning.

“I don’t expect to be on pole position with this (practice) lap,” Verstappen said.