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.
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).
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.
“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.
“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.”