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.”

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.