Timing of yellow flag costly to Rossi at Detroit

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DETROIT – In a timed race, Alexander Rossi was denied victory because Josef Newgarden pitted in the nick of time.

It went down like this:

A torrential downpour delayed the start of Saturday’s Race #1 in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix by nearly 90 minutes, turning Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series contest into a “timed race.”

Because of the delay, the race distance of 70 laps was changed to 75 minutes to help fit it into the NBC broadcast window. The field started on treaded rain tires, but with the track surface drying, Newgarden pitted for racing slicks on Lap 18.

Just as he came to a stop, the race course went full-course caution after Ed Jones stuffed his Chevrolet into the tire barrier in Turn 7.

Newgarden went on to lead the remainder of the 75-minute race, defeating pole-sitter Alexander Rossi by 0.8237-of-a-second.

The pit stop call was made at the right time by Newgarden’s crew at Team Penske, but the timing of the yellow flag left Rossi feeling blue.

“Again, we’re on the wrong side of the yellow,” Rossi said on finishing runner-up again after coming one spot short in last Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500. “It’s part of the NTT IndyCar Series. Josef did a good job, didn’t make any mistakes there on the last stint. I think we were definitely kind of on another planet.

“I tried to push him into a mistake. We were flat out. But he’s a great driver and isn’t going to make mistakes. Ultimately with a one-groove racetrack like that, couldn’t go offline because it’s wet.”

Teams and drivers were trying to determine the right time to bail out on the rain tires because they are much slower on a dry track than the racing slicks. Marco Andretti was the first to make the change and he had to hold on to his car with all he had, because much of the course was still wet.

But,with the surface rapidly drying, Newgarden’s race strategist and Team Penske president Tim Cindric determined Lap 18 was when Newgarden need to change to the dry tires.

Rossi was still on track leading the race, when Newgarden was in his pit box, Jones crashed, and the yellow flag waved.

At that point, Rossi had to wait until the pits were opened during the caution. Per INDYCAR rules, the pits are closed immediately after a caution in order to pack up behind the safety car.

Once the pits were open, Rossi led the field down pit lane to change tires and refuel, but Newgarden could remain on track. That made him the race leader and Rossi was the first car behind him when the race restarted on Lap 22.

Essentially, fate dealt Rossi another detour from Victory Lane.

“It’s annoying,” Rossi said. “That’s now three times, COTA (Circuit of the Americas), Indy and here. It’s part of it. It ebbs and flows. It’s out of our control.

“I think as a team; we did everything right. We executed. We got on pole. We controlled the race in the wet. We had a great pit stop, huge execution moment for the boys in the pits. They did a good job there to ensure we stayed in front of Scott Dixon and Will Power.

“It was a flawless day for the team. Ultimately it didn’t go our way to be on the top step.”

INDYCAR PHOTORossi believes Scott Dixon and himself were the best in the field in full wet conditions. But Newgarden was able to hang tough and got the right call at the right time.

“He just got lucky with the yellow,” Rossi said. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We were waiting until we were in a window to make it on one stop. The wets were just about to kind of be at the end of their life. The track was about to be dry. Everything was working kind of as we wanted.

“It’s just the car went into the wall right when Josef was in. Nothing you can do about that. That’s just the way races fall sometimes, the way it works.

“You still have to go out and finish it. Like I said, we were on a different level compared to everyone else. He didn’t make any mistakes, did what he had to do to bring it home.

“I think the best two cars ultimately were towards the front.”

For Rossi and the other 21 NTT IndyCar Series drivers competing at Detroit this weekend, they get to sleep this one off and start all over again Sunday morning with another round of qualifications (10:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN) before the race at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

“Obviously we have a really fast car in the dry,” Rossi said. “We’ll go out tomorrow morning and try to execute in qualifying again. Ultimately, we came in farther back in the championship than we went in just because Josef won. So that sucks. But also, the way it is.

“Who knows how it’s going to go tomorrow? Obviously, they have a fast car. Scott is fast. The Ganassi boys are quick. My teammates are quick. It’s going to be tight tomorrow. It’s going to require the normal amount of kind of perfection that we need over an IndyCar weekend to win. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but I think we have a good car.

“If we have a dry race tomorrow, hopefully we can start up front and have, more or less, a drama-free day.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”