INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Alexander Rossi admits most deserving driver won IndyCar Series championship

Leave a comment

MONTEREY, California – Through the end of July, it was setting up to be a battle for the ages between American drivers Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

But when Rossi was part of a massive first-lap pileup that was triggered when Takuma Sato of Japan was in the middle of a three-wide battle that also involved Ryan Hunter-Reay at Pocono on August 18, it was the tipping point to his championship battle.

Rossi knew the fight would continue, but the momentum had shifted.

“It’s not good,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com after the Pocono race.

Rossi entered that weekend just 16 points behind Newgarden, but the crash put him in a 35-point hole.

From that point forward, it was advantage Newgarden.

In football, it’s called, “running out the clock” and that’s all the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion needed to do. Rossi needed to win races; but Newgarden simply needed consistent, finishes.

Newgarden was fifth at Pocono, seventh at Gateway and fifth at Portland. During that three-race span, Rossi finished 18that Pocono, 13that Gateway and third at Portland.

Newgarden had a 41-point lead over Rossi entering Sunday’s double-points paying season finale, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Rossi’s Andretti Autosport team decided to make a gamble by starting in the race on used Firestone Reds, which were softer than the harder Firestone Blacks and would save a new set of Reds for later in the race.

It was a gamble that didn’t pay off.

Rossi’s sixth-place finish allowed Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud to jump him for second place in the final standings. Newgarden’s eighth-place finish was all he needed to win the NTT IndyCar Series championship for the second time in his career.

Instead of a title, Rossi finished third in the season standings.

Even the vanquished admitted the best driver won the championship.

“I think we minimized a lot of our mistakes last year when ultimately I think in one way or another, we gave Scott Dixon a championship,” Rossi said, referring to last year’s championship battle. “I think we didn’t do that this year. I think just Penske and the 2 car (Newgarden) specifically were stronger than us, and that’s going to happen.

“You can’t take away from the fact that Josef led all but one race this season. And from a sporting perspective, probably the right guy won. He came into this thing with a pretty big lead, and if it had gone away on double points, I would have loved it, but ultimately it probably wouldn’t have been the outcome that should have happened.

“Josef did a great job, Simon did a good job there at the end, and we just were a couple points short.”

Rossi is a fierce competitor. He’s also the ultimate sportsman. That’s why even in defeat, losing a championship he so dearly wanted, he praised the champion as the best man in the season-long battle.

That fact was not lost on Newgarden.

“I think that’s very kind of him to say,” Newgarden said of Rossi. “I think we were all very deserving. I think Alex has had a tremendous year. He’s certainly a tremendous competitor, very talented, very skilled at what he does, and he has a great organization behind him, too.

“You’ve got to respect the competition, and I think we’ve had incredible competition between him and Simon and Scott and Will. Those five guys have really been the core people I think at the top of this championship, and I think they were all deserving in a lot of ways to win the championship.

“I think we’ve had the most consistent year. I think I really do believe we’ve put together the best championship run, and I’m glad that found its way to sealing the championship.

“In a lot of ways, under the traditional points system, this would have been kind of a done deal. But it becomes a lot more exciting, and it obviously mixes things up with double points. That’s where the wild card kind of comes in.

“But the only thing I would say is I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rossi and his skill and his organization and what they’ve done. They’re fine competitors. They’re very difficult to beat every week, and that’s what you want.

“Hats off to them for running just as strong of a season I would say.”

On a day when Rossi needed his No. 27 Honda to go forward, he fought and struggled with tire degradation to keep it from going backward in the pack. He started third, but early in the race realized the car could not match the speed of others on the track and began to lose positions.

“We were trying to win, so you don’t want to go backwards,” Rossi said. “At the end of the race when we knew that the championship was pretty much out of touch, it became about trying to close down on Simon Pagenaud (to keep second place).

“For whatever reason, we didn’t have the tire life that we needed. I think we were one of the better cars on used Firestone Reds (softer tires) and were able to pull back a pretty big deficit, even on the final stop there after that restart. But our bed was kind of made after the first stint.

“It was pretty diabolical.”

For the second straight season, Rossi wanted to rise to the moment and capture a championship. Instead, he was left to explain why it didn’t happen.

“It’s unfortunate that two years in a row we’re in a position to where we have to kind of roll the dice,” Rossi said. “I’d rather be in either leading or within more of a realistic shot so that you can do more of a normal race-type thing.

“But regardless, I doubt that even if we started on new Reds, we had the pace to win. We probably had a third-place car, which again, wouldn’t have been enough anyway.

“We took a gamble. We were pretty committed to trying to do something different, and if we ended up third swinging, it was better than just being complacent and coming home second.

“It was a risk that didn’t pay off, unfortunately.

“It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter @BruceMartin_500

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
Leave a comment

RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”