IndyCar 2022 preview: Alexander Rossi says fast start will be key to his contract year

IndyCar Alexander Rossi contract
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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It’s a contract year for Alexander Rossi, but the Andretti Autosport driver views that as mostly a nominal status in racing and the NTT IndyCar Series.

“It’s very important obviously, but I wouldn’t say this is more important than any other year,” Rossi, who is entering his seventh season with the team, told NBC Sports. “Motorsports, we’ve all seen and heard the stories. Contracts are fine on paper, but ultimately, you have to be performing well. This is a results-driven sport.

“We all know that whether it’s a contract year or not, you’re judged based on your last race, your last year, your last qualifying session. You have to reprove yourself every single weekend. So that’s really nothing new. It just obviously has an added value figuratively and literally when it comes to a contract year and figuring out what the future holds.”

VIEWER’S GUIDE: Storylines to watch in IndyCar for 2022

That picture should get clearer when the negotiating window opens to talk to other teams beyond Andretti. Rossi intends to explore his options, saying he has “a couple of months of buffer before things really start to get crazy in June and July.”

When his last deal was up in 2019, he re-signed with Andretti in July after being courted by Team Penske as the hottest available driver in a thin market. This year, Rossi, 30, likely will be a leading candidate again. Many other contenders (such as teammate Colton Herta) are in multiyear deals, and Rinus VeeKay is the only other active race winner who publicly has discussed 2022 being a contract year.

Though the 2016 Indy 500 winner is coming off consecutive winless seasons, Rossi, who finished second in the 2018 standings and third in ’19, still figures to draw interest – especially if he can get off to a strong start.

Alexander Rossi at Sebring International Raceway testing last week (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

It’s been four years since he stood on the podium within the first three races of a season. In 2018, he opened with two third-place finishes and a victory at Long Beach.

“It’s important that we start the year well, but more so from just a results perspective,” Rossi said. “The contract thing is secondary. Regardless of that, this championship, you can’t start on the back foot. You’ve got to come off strong. If things are going well and the performance is there, and people are happy, then the rest is pretty easy to sort out and line up.”

After a miserable 2020 season in which “we just sucked globally,” Rossi’s results actually regressed last year with one podium (he had five in ‘20), two laps led (after leading 83 in ’20) and a 12.3 average finish (a slight dip from 12.1 in ’20). While he modestly improved in qualifying (8.2 from 8.9), he slipped a spot in the points standings to 10th.

Though he improved on road courses, he lagged the benchmark set on street courses by Herta (who had three wins) while the Andretti organization mostly struggled on ovals.

But Rossi felt the No. 27 Dallara-Honda team “was better from an operational standpoint (than 2020). We made better decisions, executed in pit lane better, the energy was better. The on-track performance wasn’t worse. The results were worse. I threw away a podium at Gateway when I crashed, I had the Laguna contact with Colton, I missed it in qualifying at Long Beach and had an incident in the warmup. We could have had four podiums there. The car was the fastest on track in a lot of areas.

“And despite the challenges and struggles that we had last year coming off a difficult year in 2020, I think still the team has made a lot of progress. And it’s unfortunate that hasn’t always been black and white and easy to see. But internally the atmosphere and the excitement and the optimism for this year is at an all-time high in a lot of ways. So we look forward to just getting on track and having the opportunity to prove that to everyone.”

He’s confident his uncertain future won’t be a distraction, having managed it well in 2019.

“The dynamic of having the off track and on track stuff coexisting is normal,” Rossi said. “I think that you get to this level in this sport by being able to compartmentalize. You should be able to at least. And the pressure to win is there, regardless of whether you’re negotiating or talking to other teams or not. It’s all the same. It’s just an added element that takes place between Monday and Thursday of a race week.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.