Alexander Rossi shakes off setback from broken bolt in practice

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MONTEREY, Calif. – He laughed about hiding from his family this weekend, smiled at jokes from teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay and sent a lighthearted tweet with a goofy facial expression.

If Alexander Rossi was exceedingly perturbed about a disappointing Friday at Laguna Seca Raceway, the Andretti Autosport driver did a good job disguising it.

“We have a really good team here and a lot of guys who have been through worse scenarios before,” Rossi said when asked about the frustration of being the 23rd fastest of 24 drivers after two practices. “ So yeah, I think it’s a setback, but you deal with it and there’s nothing you can to change it, so you just have to make the most of it with the remaining time.”

Rossi trails by NTT IndyCar series championship leader Josef Newgarden by 41 points entering Sunday’s season finale at the 11-turn, 2.28-mile road course. But the pressure of seeking his first title wasn’t evident in the self-deprecating tweet he sent less than an hour after a pit stop practice session ended.

Rossi ranked 23rd fastest (ahead of only Jack Harvey) in the Friday afternoon practice, which at least was a slight improvement over being slowest in the morning session.

Because of what his team termed “a hardware issue,” Rossi made only four laps in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda that he was forced to exit his team feverishly scrambled to make adjustments to the front end throughout the 45-minute session.

“A bolt broke,” Rossi said plainly when asked about the problem.

The lack of time precluded making a lap on black tires in the first session and resulted in changes on the fly to the game plan.

“We kind of sacrificed the second session to try to get in as many runs as we could to go through the checklist,” Rossi said. “We saved the new reds for warmup session (Saturday morning). We’re getting there. We used yesterday and today to try and run through a lot of things to make sure we leave no stones unturned.

“I think we’ve flipped most of the stones. There’s a couple of more to come tomorrow morning. We’re just trying to make sure we have everything squared away for tomorrow and Sunday.”

WATCH: IndyCar qualifying 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN, race 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC

Rossi has a comforting backstop in Hunter-Reay, who was fastest in the second practice and overall Friday. The Andretti Autosport teammates also took turns swapping cockpits of their Dallara-Hondas during a Thursday test.

“Him and I have been joined at the hip for a lot of years now in a lot of ways,” Rossi said of Hunter-Reay. “We feed off each other really well and work well together, and it’s great to have a teammate like that and with how competitive it is, you need to have guys you can rely upon.

“The first one I go to at the end of every session is this guy, so yeah. Hopefully we can put two cars at the front.”

Hunter-Reay is expecting Sunday’s race will put a premium on track position and feature heavy tire degradation. “Qualifying is extremely important, as it always is, and we want to leave here with a win, (Rossi) with a championship, so we’ll do what we can to make that happen,” said Hunter-Reay, the series champion in 2012. “Right now for me I just need to focus on going as fast as we can.”

Rossi said figuring out the right tire compound (on road courses, teams must use one set apiece of a harder, more durable black compound and a softer, faster red compound that wears more quickly)

“We got to be on Firesteone red tire for the first time today, and that’s definitely a stronger tire,” he said. “I think degradation is going to be a big issue on both compounds. It’s just trying to understand which one you’re going to want to try and be on for the race, whether a used red can make it. So that’s kind of the similar conversations that we have every weekend.

“But the magnitude of the deg I think is higher than we’ve seen probably since Sonoma last year.”

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.