Rossi charges back up to P3 after early penalty at ISM Raceway

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It didn’t net him a victory, but Alexander Rossi’s drive in the Desert Diamond West Casino Phoenix Grand Prix was likely the drive of the night.

After starting fourth, Rossi quickly moved into third and stayed there through the opening stint, behind Simon Pagenaud and race leader Sebastien Bourdais.

However, Rossi’s night took a dramatic turn in the opening round of pit stops after a Lap 41 caution for Pietro Fittipaldi, who stopped in Turn 1 after brushing the wall. During the stops, both Rossi and Bourdais slid into their pit stalls and each clipped a member of their respective pit crews.

Both drivers were assessed drive-through penalties and fell off the lead lap and outside the Top 20.

Yet, while Bourdais struggled the rest of the night and finished one lap down in 13th, Rossi put on maybe the best drive of his career.

Without the aid of a caution, Rossi carved his way through the field to unlap himself, and cracked the top 10 after the last round of green flag pit stops.

He then made quick work of people like Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter, Tony Kanaan, and Ryan Hunter-Reay to climb up to sixth in the closing stages, and had even worked his way up to the lead group before the final caution – for a crashed Ed Jones on Lap 230.

Andretti Autosport elected to keep Rossi out rather than pit for fresh tires, which put him in third on the final restart with seven laps to go.

Though he lost a spot to Josef Newgarden, Rossi gained that position back after passing James Hinchcliffe, and ultimately ended a roller coaster night in third, mirroring his result from the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last month.

Rossi’s charge back through the field featured a number of aggressive moves, and he totaled 53 passes for position on the night. As he explained afterward, the aggression was necessary to make up for his early mistake.

“We had to. We were two laps down. No yellow coming to save us. We had to unlap ourselves and try to do something,” he asserted in the post-race press conference.

Rossi also gave an enormous amount of credit to his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda team, revealing that his performance came down to the car’s strong pace.

“I mean, I don’t care how frustrated or how much you want to pass cars, if you don’t have the car to do it, then you’re not going to do it,” he detailed. “The only reason I was able to do that was because the team gave me an unbelievable car.

“We spent so much of our time and brain effort and research in the time between the open test and here on focusing on tire life. Hopefully it’s something that we can keep an advantage on people going forward for the next short ovals.”

Rossi’s back-to-back third-place finishes have him second in the championship after two races, five points behind ISM Raceway winner Josef Newgarden.

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).