What’s going on in the IndyCar Paddock at Mid-Ohio

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STEAM CORNERS, Ohio – As Alexander Rossi’s future may be determined soon, there are several other developments in the INDYCAR paddock of tremendous interest at Mid-Ohio.

Andretti Autosport has scheduled a “Driver Media Availability” for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Watch Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio live on NBC at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

Once Rossi’s future is announced, the focus will shift to 19-year-old driver Colton Herta at Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Earlier this week, NBC Sports.com reported that George Michael Steinbrenner, IV and his stepfather Sean Jones indicated their partnership with team principal Mike Harding was not solidified for next season. In fact, both said there are as many as “five or six” different options that could see them involved with during the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season.

The son of New York Yankees co-owner and chairman Hank Steinbrenner and the grandson of Yankees patriarch George Steinbrenner, he has been a loyal and supportive partner of Herta through the junior ranks of racing. Jones and Steinbrenner were hoping his involvement in the NTT IndyCar Series would help entice potential sponsors to the operation.

None of the money to help support Harding Steinbrenner Racing is coming from the Yankees or its sponsors.

The team has struggled to attract a big-time sponsor, despite signing GESS International – a bio fuels company – and Capstone Turbines for this year’s Indianapolis 500 and the races that followed.

According the Harding Steinbrenner Racing president Brian Barnhart, the team needs additional funding, either through additional sponsorship or with another team owner getting involved in the team.

Michael Andretti is also heavily involved in Herta’s future with the team. His father, Bryan Herta, is co-owner of the No. 98 Honda along with driver Marco Andretti and Michael Andretti. Herta’s contract is owned by Andretti, which sublet him to Harding in a “junior team” partnership.

If Harding Steinbrenner Racing has financial issues and is unable to continue, Andretti’s options could be to expand his car lineup to five cars or align with another existing IndyCar team. Andretti is trying to firm up those details with Harding Steinbrenner.

Friday night practice for the INDYCAR Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway.

When Colton Herta won the March 24 INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), he was just 10 days short of his 19thbirthday making him the youngest driver ever to win an IndyCar Series contest.

At one time, Team Penske appeared to be a strong candidate to make a big for Rossi, but that team could focus on Herta as its driver of the future. In order to do that, however, team owner Roger Penske would have to expand to four full-time entries in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2020. That appears unlikely at this time, but stranger things have happened.

Also, there is news circulating that McLaren’s Zak Brown is determined to create a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team and has made several offers to buy existing teams in the series. Once again, that is complicated because McLaren’s departure from Honda after the 2017 season was so acrimonious, that Honda officials in Japan have prohibited Honda Performance Development from doing business with a McLaren effort in IndyCar.

McLaren attempted to make the field for the 103rdIndianapolis 500 with two-time Formula One World champion Fernando Alonso this past May but failed to make the 33-car starting lineup.

Brown spoke to Formula One media members Friday in Hockenheim, Germany – site of this weekend’s Grand Prix of Germany.

“Indy is still very much a work in progress,” Brown told reporters. “We learned a lot on what not to do this year at Indy. That was a rude awakening.

“I made a lot of mistakes in how I put that together. The reasons we want to go to Indy remain. That doesn’t change. When you have a failure, you need to learn from it and grow. The easy thing is to not get back on the horse. But you can’t do that in life. I think you’ve got to dust yourself down and get back on the horse.

“So that is under active review. We would do it differently, needless to say, to how we did it this year. And if we did it, I’d be more inclined to look to do it on a full-time basis than a one-off. I think having tried that, that’s a pretty tall order. Or certainly to go at it by yourself, I think is too tall an order.”

Brown would like to do a full season in IndyCar, but Alonso is not interested in anything other than the Indianapolis 500.

“I’d love to have him involved in an IndyCar program if we were to do it and he wants to do it,” Brown said. “He’s undecided on what he wants to do next year. This is the first time in 17-18 years he doesn’t have a calendar filled with racing, so I think he needs to take the summer break to kind of reconcile in his own mind what he wants to do. But if he wants to go IndyCar racing and we were to do it, of course he’d be top of our list.

“He’s told me he doesn’t want to do a full season. But let’s see what happens when he’s at home for two weekends consecutively not driving a racing car for the first time in 20 years. Personally, I think he would enjoy IndyCar racing.

“He has told me at this point that he doesn’t [want to do a full season]. He knows the commitment it would take. You’ve got to move to America and Fernando’s an all-in or all-out guy as you all know. It’s more a function of he has been racing that long and does he want to take a little bit of time off and figure out what he wants to do.”

Also, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports.com that rookie driver Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden will be back next season. The future for another driver from Sweden, Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson, is uncertain as he continues to negotiate for a second season with the team.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson will be testing IMSA World Endurance driver Felipe Nasr of Brazil on Monday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Nasr is the current IMSA Sports Car champion and won the 2019 12 Hours of Sebring.

There remain many moving pieces in place in IndyCar as the series heads into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500