Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

Alexander Rossi deals with another second-place finish to Team Penske

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FORT WORTH, Texas – One of the most determined and aggressive drivers in the NTT IndyCar Series, Alexander Rossi doesn’t like finishing in second place. But in three of the last four races, Rossi has finished second, all three times to drivers from Team Penske.

It began in the 103rdIndianapolis 500 when he was locked in an incredible duel with Simon Pagenaud over the final 14 laps of the race. He made what seemed the race-winning pass going into Turn 1 with two laps to go, but by the time the two drivers made it to Turn 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pagenaud made the race-winning pass going into that corner.

A week ago Saturday in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, Rossi finished second to another Team Penske driver, NTT IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden.

In the closing laps of Saturday night’s DXC Technology at Texas Motor Speedway, Newgarden used a brilliant pit strategy by pitting under yellow on his next-to-last stop to top off with fuel and get on fresh Firestone tires. Despite losing track position, Newgarden was able to run 8-10 mph faster than any driver on the track, and that allowed him to be in position for a short pit stop on his final stop.

The team short-filled Newgarden’s Chevrolet, and by the time the final round of pit stops cycled through, Newgarden was in the lead on Lap 203 of the 248-lap race.

In order to get to the checkered flag first, however, he would need to fend off a challenge from Rossi’s Honda.

Several times, Rossi tried to go to the outside of Newgarden’s Chevrolet entering Turn 1. Each time, Rossi had to back off because the outside lane was too slippery to complete the pass.

As Rossi stood on pit road after finishing second by 0.8164 seconds, Newgarden was in Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway with fire flaming into the air and the winner firing off a pair of the “Six Shooters” that are awarded to drivers that win at Texas Motor Speedway.

As Newgarden celebrated, Rossi somberly explained the end of the race.

“The second lane never came in,” Rossi said. “It’s disappointing because, he was really nowhere all night. They called a great race and he had a fast car. Once he got track position, there wasn’t much I could do. I could get halfway around him in Turn 1, but then the front of the car would take off and I couldn’t complete the pass.

“He drove it as he should. He covered the outside and there wasn’t much I could do. It was close in the Colton Herta-Scott Dixon incident (crash on Lap 229) and I was lucky to get through that. Going down to the apron at high speed is always sketchy. Luck was on our side today, we were able to come through and get second-place, but it’s still disappointing. Without that yellow, Scott Dixon and I were looking good on fuel.

“We learned one thing from last year – you have to keep collecting points and eventually we will get there. But what is disappointing is the guy we are chasing in the championship is the one that came out on top.”

Rossi believes his No. 27 Honda worked best when he was able to get a run on Newgarden off Turns 3 and 4. But the racing groove in Turn 1 where a driver could make his car stick was about a lane-and-a-half.

“I tried it like six times, and it never worked, so I doubt it would have worked if I tried another three or four times,” Rossi said. “Maybe I could have taken a bit more of risk, but it was pretty low percentage. I didn’t think a lot of guys were making it happen. Ultimately then it became about trying to beat him for the line. But we took out a lot of the tire life going in lane two there, so we just didn’t have the rear tires there at the end to stay close to him.

“That sucks. I didn’t see him up front all day. All of a sudden, he appears in P1, so… Obviously they’re doing a good job. He had a fast car once he got in front.”

Rossi has been in prime position to win three of the last four races. Instead, he has been beaten each time by a driver from Team Penske – once to Pagenaud and twice to Newgarden.

“When you have a Penske Chevrolet driven by someone as good as Josef, there’s only so much you can do, right?” Rossi responded. “Yeah, it sucks.

“We’re always there, but we’re always playing the bridesmaid as of late.”

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.