AP Photo/R Brent Smith
AP Photo by R. Brent Smith

Team owner Andretti confident he will re-sign Alexander Rossi

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com he is “realistically confident” he will re-sign NTT IndyCar Series star Alexander Rossi by August.

Andretti indicated it all depends on renewing NAPA as the team’s sponsor for the No. 27 Honda.

“We are working hard,” Andretti told NBC Sports.com Friday afternoon at Road America, site of Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix. “He wants to be here. We want him here. We just have to put the package to together. We are working day and night to make it happen.

“NAPA has told me they are happy with the team and with Alex and believe we have been a great value for them with sponsorship. But whenever we ask them if they are ready to renew, they are still talking about it.”

Watch Road America race at noon, et on NBC

Because Rossi’s contract expires at the end of this season, he is the biggest star available for other teams to acquire. A heavy contender for Rossi is believed to be Team Penske, but Andretti believes the entire IndyCar paddock has interest in Rossi for 2020.

Other top teams that have shown interest in Rossi include Chip Ganassi Racing and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, both Honda teams. Team Penske is a Chevrolet team.

“Technically, he can talk about the contract with anybody, but I’m sure Roger has contacted him and probably everybody in the paddock has given him a call,” Andretti said. “When you are a good talent, people are going to be after you.

“The good news is we all want to stay together, so we have to find a way to make that happen.”

Andretti is more confident he can re-sign Rossi than he was in 2017, the last time Rossi’s contract was up for renewal. At that time, Andretti was considering switching to Chevrolet, but Rossi was so determined to stay with Honda, he had a preliminary arrangement to join what is now Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Once Andretti decided to stay with Honda, Rossi quickly re-signed with Andretti Autosport.

“All sides are working very hard to make it happen,” Andretti said. “If everybody is on the same page, one way or another, we’ll figure it out.”

Rossi was asked if he is already getting tired of media reports about where he will race next season.

“Yes,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “I just focus on what we are doing. The way the schedule works, you don’t have time for down days. It’s spent shutting down one event and moving on to the next event. As a whole team, we are focused on our job. We said at the beginning of the year, we have to win this championship.

“That mental focus and ambition hasn’t changed.”

INDYCAR PHOTO BY JOE SKIBINSKIRossi looks at where this team started and how it has grown together and believes it’s a special part of his career. When Rossi came to Andretti Autosport as a rookie in 2016, he had some acclaim as the lone American driver in Formula One, but at Manor Racing, he never had a chance to show his true ability.

The team and Rossi have developed together.

“It’s been very cool for me to be part of the team’s resurgence,” Rossi said. “They were the team to beat for a really long time. They have always been strong at Indy, but when the aero kits came in 2015, the team had lost competitiveness. When I joined in 2016, there were events where in our view, we were one of the worst teams on the grid.

“To see the improvement every single year and come back to a championship level team has been really cool to witness. I love being part of this organization with Michael Andretti and JF Thormann and Rob Edwards, it’s pretty cool to see what they have done to make sure Andretti Autosport is back at the front of the series.”

Another key factor is Rossi has been extremely loyal to Honda, and Honda has been extremely loyal to Rossi and Andretti Autosport.

“The only relationships I know in this series are Andretti Autosport and Honda,” Rossi said. “Honda has been a great partner of ours. I see where they were in 2016 and what they did last year winning the manufacturers championship for the first time since 2011 and a driver’s championship.

“We are focused on giving that to them again this year.”

Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”