Photo: IndyCar/Chris Jones

Here’s What Drivers Said after Saturday night’s IndyCar race at Phoenix

Leave a comment

Here’s what all 23 drivers entered in Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix IndyCar race at ISM Raceway had to say after Josef Newgarden took the checkered flag:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN, winner: “We had everything, we had the whole package with Team Chevy power. We had the fuel mileage from Team Chevy that we needed. Just being able to have Verizon on the car finally and get victories for them feels so good. They’ve done so much for the sport and for Team Penske. It’s a Team Penske win tonight, I’ll tell you that. It wasn’t me. This was a team effort tonight that got it done.”

ROBERT WICKENS, finished 2nd: “It’s a dream come true. All I wanted to do was finish every lap of my oval debut. So, to come home P2 and even lead tonight, you can never expect that as a rookie. It’s so hard here, but the team did a great job. The car was great all day. James (Hinchcliffe) and I were quick so I think it’s really encouraging for things to come.” (About if there was anything he could do to hold off Josef Newgarden): “I did as much as I could without crashing both of us, so I don’t think there’s any stopping him. I think once he built up the courage to just out brake me around the outside, it was pretty easy. But congratulations to him. You know, these INDYCAR races are so much longer than what I’m used to. It’s confusing. I didn’t know where he was at one point and then he popped up in the lead and (Ed) Jones got ahead of me there. But I’m still happy with how it turned out.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI, finished 3rd: “We had a strong start but then had a mishap on the first stop. It was unfortunate, but the important thing is that my crew is okay, that’s always my first concern. I didn’t challenge the box that hard, it was a stop under yellow so there wasn’t a need to – I went to turn right to line up and (the car) just went straight. Then we didn’t get the yellow we needed, so we had to completely unlap ourselves and come back through the field. The Military To Motorsports Honda was by far the best car on track, I think, and it deserved to win. It wasn’t meant to be today, but I’m happy to stand on the podium.”

SCOTT DIXON, finished 4th: “We just didn’t get the run we needed to on (Alexander) Rossi there at the end when it counted. All in all, it was a good day for us. The weekend didn’t start out great, but we survived with the PNC Bank car and got some good points tonight.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY, finished 5th: “I’m disappointed not to finish P2 tonight. I think we had the car to do that. A top five is nice, but we’re looking for podiums and wins. We had some issues in the pits tonight. I made a mistake on the first one – then we pitted a little bit too early, a little bit too late on one of them. But, it was an exciting race at the end and congrats to Josef on the win and to Alexander on the podium. I just wish we would have gone green a little bit sooner there at the end of the race; that would have made the show, I think. I’m not really sure what took so long that time to get back to green, but definitely a shame to not get back at it soon and have more time to get the DHL Honda to the podium it deserved.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, finished 6th: “Not the ending we wanted, but that last restart starting second – huge credit to the team. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have done an incredible job since the test here in February when we were at the bottom [of the time sheets], to get two cars in the top six in both qualifying and the race. Huge congrats to Robbie (Wickens) on his first podium. I think the Arrow Electronics guys really did an incredible job today, picked up a lot of spots on pit lane which is huge for a short oval like this. Restarting second on that last restart, I thought maybe we had a shot at it. We took a gamble, other guys took a gamble – it’s tough to tell how it went in terms of stopping for tires on the last restart; Alex [Rossi], Robbie and I decided not to. Ultimately the new tire guy won, but track position is key at a place like this, and we made a call – that call was right. I’m proud of the guys. Stinks to lose a couple spots so late in the race like that when we were running at the top all day, but good points day, and huge for the team.”

ED CARPENTER, finished 7th: “This was really a race where you had to race your own car. We were able to get a top 10 out of it and stayed on the lead lap, which is really hard to do when you start at the back on a short oval. We were just trying to have a clean race. I felt like that would give us a chance to work forward and it mostly did. We just ran out of steam at the end. I screwed up a little bit on my in-lap on the second-to-last pit stop and that maybe cost us a position. Then, I just couldn’t get Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) after that last restart. I really don’t like the blocking rules on ovals, I don’t think there’s a place for it in oval racing. We can’t seem to get away from it, but it is what it is. There’s a lot of positives to take away from this. The Fuzzy’s Vodka guys had great pit stops all night. We ended last season on some bad luck, so it’s nice to be able to roll the car on the truck. We have a little more work to do on our short oval package, but I’ll take tonight’s finish.”

TONY KANAAN, finished 8th: “It was a big improvement for the team. We’ve been aiming to finish in the top 10 and we did that tonight. We have our struggles, and there are things we need to fix and we’re doing it one piece at a time. I think we had a great weekend. We were in the top six all weekend long. I’m happy with the progress, but there’s a lot more work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL, finished 9th: “It wasn’t bad. I’m a little disappointed that we lost spots there. We were trying to go really long on our stints – which was the whole goal – and frankly, it should have worked.  There were a couple of times there that yellows should have come out and they didn’t, and because of that, we paid the price running on old tires. Strategy and history shows that that’s the best way to do it, so we stuck to our plan but it didn’t quite work out today, but ultimately we got a top 10 for the One Cure team and that’s a heck of a lot better than we did last year here. We will just keep our heads down and keep pounding away. We’re not bad, but we need to continue improving on a day-to-day basis. We need to show up close (to the right setup) at Long Beach and we should be able to.”

SIMON PAGENAUD, finished 10th: “We practiced on pit road all weekend long, and I don’t know, for some reason it was super slippery tonight. I was honestly taking it easy on pit road because I knew that I had good track position and a good car. There was no need to push the limits. There was nothing I could have done differently in that situation. In fact, I’ve been replaying it over in my head and I would have done the same thing every time. It is what it is and we got shuffled back and had to make the best of it, but the car had too much understeer. I couldn’t get rid of it. It was better at the end of the race, but it was too late at that point. Congrats to Josef (Newgarden) and Team Penske on getting a win early in the season. A little disappointed and frustrated though because we had a good car this weekend.”

TAKUMA SATO, finished 11th: “It was a tough weekend.  After we had the positive test, we came here and had a difficult time. Going into qualifying there were so many unknowns and we had to change the car so much. After that, it was the same scenario in the race. I never got comfortable. It was very tough out there, and in the end, the strategy did not play out well. We started 13th and finished 11th, so not a good weekend at all. The timing of the pit stop was key and I think we stayed out too long. When the tires started to go off, there was quite a battle. I was able to overtake a few cars.  It was a frustrating night.”

MARCO ANDRETTI, finished 12th: “Nice work to the Oberto Circle K crew for getting me in and out of the pits smoothly all night. We had a big day ahead of us from the start, starting 20th after a dropped skid in qualifying. Tonight, I think we were just down on COP all day. The number was just so low that we didn’t trust it – I think we were around five percent low off of what my teammates were running. We were just way behind on front wing all day and just kind of hanging on. I’m not thrilled to finish P12, but with what we were working with all day it was a decent result for us. We put the 98 to its limits tonight for sure.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, finished 13th: “We were pretty much in control of the race and things were looking good. Then the first and almost only yellow came out. We paraded around for two or three laps and all I was thinking about was hitting my marks when we pitted. I didn’t scrub my tires. I didn’t pay attention that my tires loaded up with a bunch of junk and next thing I knew I was on the concrete in the pit lane. I tried to slow down and locked up the wheels instantly and nothing happened. Nothing. I just skated and two guys left with me. That was the failed moment of the race because after that there were no yellows until all the pit stops were completed. So, that was that. We just never recovered from going down a lap because of the drive-through penalty. I made a bunch of passes and recovered a decent amount of positions, but nothing to put us where we belonged. So, pretty disappointing overall for sure.”

SPENCER PIGOT, finished 14th: “That was definitely a difficult race. At the beginning, it was so tricky and I was really on edge. We made the car a bit better throughout the race. We just struggled with having the grip and balance to get close to guys and run in the pack after the peak grip of the tires wore off. The good thing is we finished the race and brought the car home. Now we have to look forward to Long Beach and get back to running up at the front.”

GABBY CHAVES, finished 15th: “It was a long and trying night for us. In spite of not having the race we wanted to have, we were able to learn a lot of things that will help us develop the car and move forward faster. We hung in there, learned and gained a lot. Now we’ll keep our heads up and look forward to the next one, turn the page and keep moving forward to Long Beach.”

ZACH VEACH, finished 16th: “I’m extremely thankful. I think we had a much better showing tonight than in St. Pete. It was really hard to fight for 16th. We had a small mishap at the end, running 13th or 12th so I think we should have finished a little bit better. My Group One Thousand One guys have done a great job all weekend. We started a little behind with a mechanical issue earlier in the weekend and in qualifying. Starting last was tough, but we did the best we could to work through the field. The important thing, as Michael says, is every race I just have to complete every lap. We completed every lap here, and in St. Pete. If we do that, we’ll be pretty strong at the end of the year.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL, finished 17th: “Tonight’s race was definitely a step in the right direction for us. We made some progress with the set-up and by the end of the race the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet felt the best it had all weekend. We learned a lot and we got a huge amount of information that will help us moving forward.”

MAX CHILTON, finished 18th: “It was a tough weekend for the team, but every time we’re on track we’re learning and making progress. That race was just tough. We didn’t qualify well and starting so far back on the grid on a track that’s already difficult to pass on made it even harder to gain any positions. By the end of the race we had quite good pace, we just couldn’t move forward at all. I’m ready to move on from tonight’s race and get to Long Beach to see what we can do there.”

MATHEUS LEIST, finished 19th: “My first oval done, my first complete race in the Verizon IndyCar Series done, so lots of new stuff learned. We made a lot of passes which was good, not too many guys were passing. I was feeling good physically in the car, I’m not tired at all. Today wasn’t our day, wasn’t my day, but I want to say thanks to the team. I think we had a car to finish in the top seven. On to Long Beach now.”

ED JONES , finished 20th: “Obviously it was a long race and we didn’t know what to expect coming in with the NTT DATA car. The car actually handled a little better than expected. The tire degradation wasn’t that bad and my guys did some great pit stops tonight. Every time we came in we made up positions. I just got into the turn, and it just started going straight and there was nothing I could do. We were second and having a great run, and I’m looking forward to improving upon that and getting better for the next race.”

KYLE KAISER, finished 21st: “Obviously, I’m a little disappointed with the way things ended, but I am extremely happy with how the car was and effort from the team. I think we had a really nice race car. We had strong pace and were running times with the guys who were running up front. The Chevy engine was great the whole time. We had some good runs and got some good passes in and I learned a ton. I’m a rookie with a rookie team, so we are out here on a super steep learning curve. Being able to go out there and run that many laps and learn as much as I did was very valuable. I’m looking forward to getting back in the car at Long Beach and building on what we learned from this weekend.”

WILL POWER, finished 22nd: “I was having a good race, actually. I felt like we had a pretty good Verizon Chevy. (Alexander) Rossi ran up on the inside of me pretty late and I got on the brakes once I saw him go to the inside because I knew the marbles were pretty bad. I was going pretty slow and still got up into the wall because it was like being on ice. Disappointed for the guys, but we will just have to move on, have a couple of good races and get back in the hunt. I am determined for Long Beach, Barber, the Indy road course and the Indy 500. Happy to see Josef (Newgarden) in victory lane tonight, though.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI, finished 23rd: “We were running well, but then I caught a group of cars and I ran a bit hard. There was a lot of turbulence, and with that group of cars I wasn’t expecting that much difference, and the Paysafe car just went away from me. Once you get in the gray, you just go straight into the wall.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Alexander Rossi remains the story in IndyCar in 2019

3 Comments

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”