Runner-up Alexander Rossi recaps another wild day at the Indy 500

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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.

FULL INDIANAPOLIS 500 COVERAGE: All of NBCSports.com’s 2019 stories over two weeks in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

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.

Rossi remains “The Story” in INDYCAR in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – 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 of the race, 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 missing from deeming Rossi’s race complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pits 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 one-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 third three of the four 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 frontstraight 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 just 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-of-a-second behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he was never 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 NBC Sports.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 the 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 like with Honda. Both him 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 NBC Sports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there, I think we’re getting there,” Andretti said. “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 10 years from now 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, that 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.”