INDIANAPOLIS – An understandably dejected Alexander Rossi sat down in the postrace news conference and gave the short version of an extremely eventful Indianapolis 500.
“Yeah. I mean, there’s not much to say,” he said. “I think you all saw it.”
Indeed, we had, but it still was worth hearing Andretti Autosport’s cerebral star calmly deconstruct his wild day in finishing second to Simon Pagenaud after a compelling battle that followed an eventful race for the No. 27 Dallara-Honda.
From pit stop problems to angry radio transmissions about rivals to furious attempts to pass, Rossi was the show in the Indy 500 for the second consecutive season.
He had the lead on the final restart with 14 laps remaining, but he couldn’t fend off Pagenaud on the straightaways despite staying glued to the Team Penske Chevrolet.
Rossi fought his way back to the front into Turn 1 on Lap 198 of 200, but Pagenaud reclaimed the lead for good entering the first corner on the next lap.
“We just didn’t have the straight-line speed,” said Rossi, who wasn’t faulting Honda, noting the “ebb and flow” of Indy 500 competition (and for the edge Chevys had in power, they had inferior fuel economy). “There’s not much we can do about that from my side inside the car. Obviously (Pagenaud’s) guys fully deserve it. They were on pole.
“He led probably 70% of the laps. Yeah, I mean, he was a deserving winner for sure. But that last yellow really hurt us because we were doing a lot better on fuel mileage than he was, so that was the first kind of nail in the proverbial coffin. We didn’t have the speed out front. I was flat for the last 15 laps, and there’s not much more you can do.”
The 2016 Indy 500 winner already had overcome so much. Rossi was comfortably in the lead and in control with better fuel mileage than Pagenaud when he stopped under green on Lap 138. His team struggled to refill the car because of a bad fuel probe, losing precious seconds in the pits.
Rossi caught a slight break with a caution that kept him in fifth, but it was little consolation as the third time in four Indy 500 races he had a fueling problem.
“I think you can understand why I was upset,” he said. “It can’t happen. I mean, it wasn’t a human error, it was a mechanical problem, but still, it’s not something that we can have here. It’s the biggest race in the world, and 75 percent of the time we can’t get fuel in the race car.
“We need to address that for sure, but I think the whole 27 NAPA Andretti Honda boys did a great job of recovering. (Strategist) Rob Edwards, as always, is exceptional at being the kind of steady voice and very, very helpful for me in terms of kind of getting back to center and just focusing on getting back to where we needed to be.”
The stop didn’t affect Rossi’s result, but the final caution for a five-car crash did.
“They recovered nicely,” he said. “Our last pit stop was mega, got us back into the lead before that final yellow came out, which, was probably the thing that ultimately cost us the race.”
After starting ninth, Rossi mostly bided his time in the first half before taking his first lead on Lap 102 and then turned on his trademark aggression. He was a sight to behold even when he couldn’t complete passes on the treacherous outside lane (such as when he tried to get by Sebastien Bourdais on the restart after the fueling problem).
He also was apoplectic on his team radio about what he felt were unfair blocking maneuvers by the lapped cars of Helio Castroneves and Oriol Servia.
“I think it was one of the most disrespectful things I’ve ever seen in a race car, to be honest,” Rossi said of Servia. “He’s a lap down and defending, putting me to the wall at 230 miles an hour. It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable for him, and it’s unacceptable that IndyCar allowed it to happen as long as they did.”
Pagenaud was blocking as well on the final lap, and Edwards radioed Rossi that the team put in a request for IndyCar stewards to take a look at it, though Rossi wasn’t expecting a repeat of the Kentucky Derby.
“I mean, yeah, (Pagenaud) was moving in reaction for sure, but the last lap of the Indy 500, they’re not going to do anything about it,” he said. “It’s kind of irrelevant.”
As was having another chance at trying to win the race.
Asked how badly he wanted to get back in the car, Rossi smiled wryly.
“I mean, it would be the same result, so not that badly, to be honest,” he said.