IndyCar: Alexander Rossi dominates at Mid-Ohio, cuts Dixon’s lead in points

Leave a comment

Pole-sitter Alexander Rossi dominated en route to victory in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Rossi led 66 of the race’s 90 laps, including the final 34 laps, capturing his second win of the 2018 season (also won at Long Beach). He finished a commanding 12.8285 seconds ahead of runner-up Robert Wickens to capture the fourth win of his IndyCar career.

It’s also the first time in Rossi’s three-season IndyCar career that he’s won more than one race in a season – and there are still four more races remaining for the Andretti Autosport driver to add to his 2018 wins mark.

“It’s what we needed,” Rossi told CNBC. “We said coming into this weekend that we had to execute for five weekends in a row. This is the start of that, hopefully.

“It was great strategy early today. We knew we could two-stop if we committed early and that’s what we did.”

Ironically, while doing a celebratory burnout, Rossi spun into the frontstretch grass and got stuck. He had to wait to be pulled out so he could move on to victory lane.

This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Will Power, finished third, leaving him still winless in his career at the 2.2-mile permanent road course in north-central Ohio.

Defending race winner Josef Newgarden finished right behind his Team Penske teammate in fourth, while points leader Scott Dixon rallied to finish fifth.

Dixon came into Sunday’s race with a commanding 62-point lead in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings over Newgarden and a 70-point lead over Rossi.

After Sunday’s race, Dixon leads Rossi by 46 points and has a 60-point edge over Newgarden.

“We’re thinking about (the championship), but we’re also focused on just race wins,” Rossi said. “We’ll take a very well-deserved break before Pocono (the next IndyCar race on August 19), we’ve been strong there the last two years and just try to do what we did today.”

Added Newgarden, “We did what we could to try and cover our bases with Scott and some of the other championship runners and it didn’t work out. For the most part, it just didn’t fall the way we needed it to. … It’s IndyCar racing. You can’t predict these perfectly every time.

“You make the best bet possible and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. It was an okay day. We gained some ground on Scott, which is good, and it tightens up the battle a little bit, but we need to make up more ground in the next race.”

Sebastien Bourdais rallied from the back of the field to finish sixth, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal and Ohio native and IndyCar rookie Zach Veach.

Rossi regained the lead on Lap 50. By Lap 58, he had built a one-lap lead over Wickens and Newgarden. Rossi made his final pit stop on Lap 60, turning the lead over to Wickens, who still had one more pit stop himself.

Rossi finally regained the lead for the final time when Wickens pitted on Lap 66.

Among incidents in the race:

* While there were numerous incidents during the three practices and qualifying Friday and Saturday that brought about red flag stoppages, there were zero yellow caution flags in today’s race, a rarity.

* Pole-sitter Alexander Rossi almost caused a huge crash on the opening lap when appeared to he brake-check the field heading into Turn 1. Race Control officials reviewed the incident but chose not to penalize Rossi.

* Max Chilton, who started with a career-best sixth position, was sent to the back of the field after being assessed a drive-through penalty for tapping Takuma Sato. Sato did a 360-degree spun but did not hit any other car or wall at the end of the front straight in the Lap 2 incident.

Chilton went off-strategy and pitted on Lap 11 and suffered additional time when his team struggled on the pit stop wit a defective air gun to take his left side tires off.

All that combined led to Chilton falling to last in the 24-car field, where he finished.

* Déjà vu: Josef Newgarden passed Will Power at the end of the back stretch to win last year’s race, and then did it again Sunday to take the lead from Rossi on Lap 27. However, the lead was short-lived as Newgarden quickly came into the pits on the following lap. Rossi regained the lead, choosing to stay out for two more laps, hoping to make the finish on just two pit stops.

* Shortly after Rossi finally pitted, Robert Wickens took the lead on Lap 30 and quickly built up a 13-plus second lead over Will Power. Wickens pitted on Lap 40, turning over the lead to Power.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

Honda Photo
Honda Photo
Leave a comment

One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

Getty Images

Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500