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

Alexander Rossi 2020 season
Chris Owens/IndyCar

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.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay hired as replacement for Conor Daly at Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay Carpenter
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ryan Hunter-Reay was named to replace Conor Daly in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, starting in the NTT IndyCar Series event next week at Road America.

Hunter-Reay is the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. He finished 11th for Dreyer & Reinbold last month in the 107th Indy 500, his first start since the 2021 season finale. He drove full time for Andretti Autosport from 2010-21.

“We need to improve our competitiveness and I wanted to add a fresh perspective from a driver like Ryan who has a massive amount of experience and success as well as a reputation as a team leader. I am excited to welcome Ryan to the team,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a team release. “We have worked together in the past as teammates and he tested for ECR at Barber Motorsports Park in October 2021, where he made an immediate impact as we were able to qualify one of our cars on the pole following that test. I am confident that his experience and technical abilities will be an asset to ECR as we move forward toward our goals as a team.”

Hunter-Reay has 18 IndyCar victories, most recently in 2018. He also is a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having been a part of winning entries in the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 2018 Petit Le Mans. Last year, he was an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing while being on standby for Chip Ganassi Racing.

He replaces Daly, whose departure was announced a day earlier in what the driver and team said was a mutual decision.

“I was surprised when I got the call from Ed,” Hunter-Reay said in a team release. “He described how frustrated he was that his team has not been able to realize its potential despite their efforts, investments, as well as technical and personnel changes over the past few years and asked for my help. Ed and I are very close friends and have been for a long time. I’ve worked with the team in the past and they are a very talented group with high expectations and a committed partner in BITNILE.COM.

“This will certainly be a challenge for me as well. It’s a tough situation jumping in a car in the middle of the season without any testing in what I believe to be the most competitive series in the world. Certainly, part of my motivation in saying ‘yes’ to Ed is the great challenge ahead. The last time I turned right driving an NTT IndyCar Series car was in October of 2021 with this team at Barber. However, I remain very confident in both my driving and technical abilities and believe by working with the talented people at ECR and Team Chevy, while representing BITNILE.COM, we will make progress. I am going to do everything I can do to help the team achieve its long-term objectives.”

Said Milton “Todd” Ault, the chairman of sponsor “It is great for to be aligned with an Indy 500 Winner and an NTT IndyCar Series champion. I have followed Ryan’s career for years and I am confident he will challenge the entire ECR team to perform at higher levels. I wish everyone luck at Road America.”