Alexander Rossi highly motivated to put lost 2020 season behind: ‘None of it was good’

Alexander Rossi 2020 season
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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After a lot of “tough conversations” about a star-crossed 2020 season, Alexander Rossi said it was easy to identify the team’s underlying issues: Everything.

“I just think we sucked globally,” Rossi told reporters Friday during preseason NTT IndyCar Series Content Days in Indianapolis. “There wasn’t anything we were doing right, whether it was qualifying performance, whether it was race performance, pit stops, my driving. None of it was good.

“I think Indianapolis was quite an eye opener for everyone in terms of how fast all the Andretti Autosport cars were, and to come away with really nothing was not good. It wasn’t a good Monday.”

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If the Indianapolis 500 – where five Andretti Dallara-Hondas started in the top 10 but none finished in the top five at one of the team’s strongest tracks – was the nadir in late August, Rossi said the team turned a corner in the final two months and has continued to improve through the offseason.

Alexander Rossi, shown during preseason testing, went winless last season for the first time in IndyCar (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

But the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida, also remains the most recent reminder of how everything went wrong last year. Rossi led a race-high 61 laps but finished 21st after uncharacteristically wrecking in Turn 4, and teammates Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe also placed outside the top 10 after leading laps.

“One should have won, whether me or Colton or James, and we all threw it away in one way or another,” said Rossi, who went winless for the first time in his five IndyCar seasons and finished ninth in the points standings.

The 2016 Indy 500 winner is known for that kind of bluntness, and he is pleased the same degree of candor also has pervaded Andretti’s assessments of last year.

“We just all were honest with each other, and we discussed things that were good and not good, and we took 2020 as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes,” Rossi said. “I think there’s so many positives we can take out of it, and the end of the year went really well for us for the most part, minus St. Pete, which is on me.

“I think we’re operating at a really high level right now, and I’m excited to get on track (for the season opener) in Barber.”

Though Andretti has made some personnel changes, Rossi’s No. 27 Dallara-Honda crew was unaffected, and it could be a case of addition by subtraction overall. After expanding to five full-time cars last season amidst whispers the organization might be overextended, Andretti has scaled back to four entries for 2021 (with Marco Andretti stepping back).

Alexander Rossi 2020 season
Alexander Rossi tests his No. 27 Dallara-Honda in January at Sebring International Raceway. Rossi said Andretti Autosport upgraded its testing equipment over the winter (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Rossi said a reduction in practice time because of the COVID-19 pandemic minimized the benefit of having a series-high five entries in the 2020 season, but he was quick to add that he also needed to improve his efficacy.

“I think the biggest thing that hurt us was really the reduced track time,” he said. “(In) 2018-2019, we were never great on Fridays, and we would do a lot of work Friday night and come back Saturday for final practice and be there and qualify up front and the rest was kind of history.

“When you have that many cars and it’s such a condensed one-hour practice with a two-hour break, you can’t use the advantage of all those cars. You don’t have enough people and time to go through that amount of information and make educated decisions. The other thing is when COVID happens, all the wind tunnel, the shaker rig, the simulator time, it all disappeared. We didn’t have any tools available to us to figure out what our problems were and solve them. We had to do it all on track. I think that’s a lot of what you saw the first 70 percent of last year.

“The one big thing that we wanted to accomplish in preseason testing this year was making sure that our offline simulation was correlating to the on-track stuff, and we did a lot of really cool things this winter. Honda and HPD have played a pretty big role in that, and we’ve progressed forward quite a lot.”

But Rossi also is aiming at progress behind the wheel where “it’s never good enough. As much as we as a team struggled with the minimal practice time, I did as well. I wasn’t doing a good enough job getting up to speed quick enough, which was putting us on the back foot and having to take pretty big risks in qualifying. We were just never kind of in the top three, which is where you’ve got to be these days to win races.

Alexander Rossi 2020 season
During preseason testing at Sebring, Alexander Rossi exits the cockpit of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda, which returns the same crew in 2021 (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

“Obviously we had three failures in a row, got taken out of a race before the green flag even dropped. A lot of things that happened out of our control, as well. But I think even without those things, it’s not like we were really in the top two to five anyway. It was a lot of self-reflection from all involved, and we’ve all made efforts to get better and get stronger.”

Andretti should be inherently stronger because of this year’s schedule, which is expected to have the return of street races at Long Beach (likely Rossi’s best circuit) and Toronto.

The 2021 season already has begun well for the Nevada City, California, native, who was an integral part of Wayne Taylor Racing’s victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“It’s nice to start the season out with a win,” he said. “ I think that I’m driving well right now. I think everything is kind of coming naturally at this point.

“We’ve just got to keep it up. It’s one thing to have an event go well, but to win (the IndyCar) championship, you’ve got to be pretty much perfect for nine months. We’re starting that journey now, and I can’t wait. I’m more motivated than you can believe. I have a lot of points to prove.”

The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”


Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”


Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500