INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Alexander Rossi: IndyCar’s version of Kyle Busch

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi is a fierce competitor who hates to lose. It doesn’t matter if he finishes second or 22nd, to the driver of the No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series, anything short of a checkered flag is not a reason to smile or celebrate.

His non-winning demeanor is similar to that of NASCAR’s Kyle Busch, according to those who really don’t know the competitive fire that burns inside of Rossi’s character.

Rossi takes that as a compliment.

“I love Kyle Busch,” Rossi told NBCSports.com. “He’s one of my favorite drivers, so that’s fine.

“I don’t care. These guys, the 27 team, they don’t show up at the workshop at 7 a.m. to finish second. We are all here to win, and that is what we expect from ourselves, and that is what we demand from each other. We’ll celebrate at the end of the year if we come out on top.

“We are not here to finish second. If people have a problem with that, that’s too bad. If you look at the sports team, nobody on the Golden State Warriors is happy finishing second in the NBA. That’s a really silly thing for somebody to say.”

Rossi finished second once again in Saturday’s qualifications by the narrowest of margins to 19-year-old Colton Herta. Rossi’s fast time was 1:43.1693 around the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America road course for a speed of 140.306 mph. Herta won the pole with a fast time of 1:43.1639 (140.065 mph) in another Honda to become the youngest pole winner in IndyCar history at 19 years, 83 days.

That broke the previous record of 20 years, 90 days when Graham Rahal won the pole at St. Petersburg, Florida in 2009.

Rossi has a chance to break out of his second-place blues in Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America.

Watch Road America race at noon, et on NBC

With its very long straightaways and its variety of turns, Road America has all the makings of being an “Alexander Rossi type of track.”

“We had a mechanical failure last year that was independent of anything that happened in the race,” Rossi said. “We qualified fourth and were the fastest in the first two rounds of qualifying. The pace has been there. We’ve had some misfortune here. Some self-inflicted and some bad luck. But on paper, this should really be good for this team.

“We have taken a step forward this year but so has our competition. It’s a track we’ve had circled as one to be focused on because in our three years here, we’ve never come away with a top 10 here.”

Road America is a classic road course but share some similarities to another lavish road course in North America – the beautiful Circuit of the Americas (COTA) near Austin, Texas.

“It’s a high-speed, long permanent road course,” Ross said. “The grip level is a bit different; the surface here is rougher than COTA, but the basic geometry and layout is very similar. Based on the performance at COTA, we should have similar result here.

“I’ve had experience here in Skip Barber. It’s one of the best road courses in the US. We have such a great fan turnout and a beautiful part of the world. Everyone loves coming out here.

“You can tell you are in the land of cheese when you drive up here from Indianapolis.”

Because of the length of the course combined with the 55-lap distance, the strategy options are fairly limited between making it a three-stop race.

“It’s a tough one because it is such a long lap, it’s cut and dry from a fuel standpoint,” Rossi said. “The tires make a big difference. It’s more of what tires do you use? Do you use new Reds versus used Blacks? That makes this race potentially interesting. Firestone coming up with a big discrepancy between Reds and Blacks is what will ultimately make this an interesting race.”

Rossi enters the race second in the standings, 25 points behind Josef Newgarden, who starts fourth in a Chevrolet. Rossi has just one finish outside of the top 10 in nine races this season (22ndin the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). He has four podiums (top three), seven top-five and eight top-10s.

But it’s a streak of three second-place finishes in the last four races that has Rossi wondering if this is a great season or a lost opportunity?

“It’s frustrating,” Rossi told NBCSports.com. “It’s been for different reasons each time. I think the important thing is the pace has been there. You can be frustrated, but you don’t want to be upset with the fact of getting good results because it’s very easy for things to go poorly in a much bigger way.

“It’s not like we’re upset because we are 12thand not getting the results. We’re second and have been on the wrong side of some misfortune or bad timing but at the end of the day the car has been fast, so we have to take some comfort in that.

“Josef is a champion. He has already proven he can do it, and he’s an American. To me, there is a lot of professional pride in the fact I would like to beat him. But it’s an amazing thing for the series to have American guys at the top fighting for a championship.

“I love Scott Dixon and Will Power and Tony Kanaan, but it’s really cool to give U.S. fans American guys at the top fighting for championships.”

Hamilton, Bottas clock fastest times as F1 testing starts

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty IPhoto by Mark Thompson/Getty Imagesmages
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MONTMELO, Spain — Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sent an ominous signal to their challengers after clocking the two fastest lap times on the first day of Formula One’s preseason testing.

Hamilton set the top time of Wednesday’s opening session’s of 1 minute, 16.976 seconds, after he took over from Bottas behind the wheel of the new Silver Arrow for the 2020 season. Bottas’ best effort was 0.337 seconds slower.

The Mercedes duo also completed the most laps of any team with 173.

Sergio Perez of Racing Point was the third fastest, followed by Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

Hamilton enters the season as the clear favorite as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles and surpass the German’s mark of 91 career wins. Hamilton has six titles and 84 wins.

“It’s been a good day and a really good start for all of us, considering we had a long break,” Hamilton said. “So to come back and clock in over 170 laps just shows how hard everyone has been working over the winter.”

In last year’s preseason testing, the Mercedes cars were slower than the rival Ferraris. But they beat them come the first race of the year and never lost their advantage.

Hamilton and Bottas had nine one-two race finishes last season as they dominated the field to finish first and second in the overall points standings.

Wednesday’s eight hours of running went smoothly for all teams, with no accidents or breakdowns and good weather ideal for high speeds.

The only setback was for Sebatian Vettel, who couldn’t run as scheduled because of an illness.

Charles Leclerc took Vettel’s place and settled for the 11th best time of the 15 drivers who drove.

Leclerc, who finished fourth ahead of Vettel last season, said that his team had changed strategy.

“Last year in testing we were great but the first race was a little less great, and I think we have learned a few things on this,” he said. “This year we have started trying to focus more on ourselves and on trying to learn the car as much as possible during these first few days and then focus on performance later on.”

Verstappen finished third last season and is expected to again be biggest challenger to Mercedes’ dominance along with the two Ferraris.

Verstappen focused on accumulating 168 laps as Red Bull’s sole driver on the track. Alexander Albon will get his turn with the Red Bull on Thursday.

Williams’ George Russell was the first car to take the track, ensuring his team got off to a better start than during last year’s preseason when its car wasn’t ready to run until the third day of testing.

This year’s rules have not varied much ahead of the massive overhaul of regulations set to take effect in 2021 with the goal of shaking up the pecking order and closing the gap between the three traditional title challengers – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – and all the rest.

This season’s tweaks feature fewer tests days to compensate for the record-breaking 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam GP and the return of the Dutch GP. Preseason testing has been reduced from a total of eight days to six, and the mid-season test has been eliminated.

Cars will now sport shark fins on the engine cover with the number of the driver to help fans identify them better. Drivers have been given more control of the go sequence at the starting line, and those large screens that crews would wheel out to shield cars from the view of snoopy rivals during tests have been banned.

Alfa Romeo and Haas unveiled their cars early on Wednesday in the pitlane to complete the presentation of the new vehicles for this season.

Testing continues on Thursday and Friday at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit, home to the Spanish GP, and again from Feb. 26-28.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.