The season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma was always going to be an uphill battle for Alexander Rossi.
Championship leader Scott Dixon, who led Rossi by 29 points entering the weekend, outqualified Rossi – second to Rossi’s sixth – giving him a theoretical advantage before the race even began.
Things only got worse for Rossi when the green flag waved, as a disastrous first lap saw him make contact with his Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, damaging Rossi’s front wing and then cutting the right-front tire on the way back to the pits.
Rossi ran in 25th after the stop for a new wing, and all appeared lost in terms of his championship hopes.
However, he got a lifeline on Lap 44, when the race’s only full-course caution was flown after Graham Rahal pulled off on the back straightaway after losing power. It came seconds after Rossi completed his third pit stop of the day, and after he managed to stay just ahead of teammate and race leader Ryan Hunter-Reay to stay on the lead lap.
The yellow allowed Rossi to catch back up to the field, and he even pitted again under caution for a splash of fuel and a set of Firestone alternate reds.
He restarted the race in 20th on Lap 50, but was immediately on the charge. A chaotic restart saw him gain five spots in one lap, and he was back in the Top 10 by Lap 52.
Inside of the 20 laps to go, with final stops complete, Rossi found himself all the way up to fifth. However, Dixon remained ahead of him on track – Dixon ran second, where he ran for most of the race, behind Hunter-Reay.
What’s more, Rossi was in fuel-save mode in the final stint, and he surrendered a pair of positions to Marco Andretti and then Sebastien Bourdais.
In the end, Rossi took the checkered flag in seventh to end a trying day that saw his championship effort come up short.
“I got a good start and then, I don’t if (Marco) lifted or if I misjudged it. But, it is what it is, and it was going to be a tough day to beat Scott anyway,” Rossi lamented while talking to NBCSN’s Kevin Lee about the opening lap contact.
Rossi added, “But at the end of the day, this Napa No. 27 Andretti Autosport team did such a good job. It was unfortunate for it to go out like that. I wish I could replay that a million more times. But, it’s the way it is. The team did a great job to get me back on the road to recovery after the mistake that I made.”
However, Rossi still feels the 2018 season produced plenty of positives and is confident he and the team can build on it going into the 2019 season.
“At the end of the day, we have to look at 2018 and be pretty happy with it,” he said to Kevin Lee. “Obviously, you’re disappointed to come away second, and the first loser, but we have lots to work on and lots to improve upon for next year.”
Rossi ended up 57 points behind Dixon in the championship fight.