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Rossi Seals New Deal With Victory At The Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 3 2017

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi celebrated a new contract on Sunday by covering the field to win at the Watkins Glen road course. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. _ Flashing the road-racing skills he honed in Europe, Californian Alexander Rossi completed a whirlwind weekend of career-altering breaking news with a workmanlike victory in Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.

Rossi’s second Verizon IndyCar Series victory, however, shared the headlines with a scrambled driver’s championship featuring Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon that has been narrowed to a three-point spread heading into the season-finale at Sonoma Raceway in two weeks.

Rossi, who claimed his first series pole here Saturday, led 32 of 60 laps around Watkins Glen International’s 3.37-mile/11-turn natural-terrain layout to out-pace defending event champion Dixon by a margin of 0.9514-seconds. His podium finish coupled with a cold-weather mistake and crash by Newgarden exiting pit road on Lap 46 allowed Dixon to chop 28 points off the 31-point lead Newgarden had carried into the 202.2-mile event.

Team Penske newcomer Newgarden, who finished 18th, will take a 560-557 advantage over four-time series champion Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing into the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17. Seven drivers remain eligible for a championship that will be decided after 85 laps/202.7-miles around the 2.385-mile/12-turn road-course in Northern California.

More significantly, the Sonoma finale will offer 100 points to the winner, 80 for second place, 70 for third and down from there. Live race coverage is set for 6:30 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Like The Glen, the Sonoma layout beautifully suits the skills Rossi sharpened while chasing a dream ride in Formula One before joining Michael Andretti’s Honda-powered team fulltime in 2016.

“The confidence of the No. 98 team is at an all-time high,” said Rossi, who began the

Sunday’s victory put a smile on the face of Alexander Rossi.

weekend Friday with the announcement he had signed a multi-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport. Simultaneously, co-primary sponsor NAPA Auto Parts confirmed an expanded 10-race program for Rossi’s car, also beginning in 2018.

A record-setting pole run Saturday in 1-minute, 22.4639-seconds/147.119 mph served as a prelude to Rossi’s first INDYCAR-sanctioned road-course victory. It was a proper follow-up to his win in the 100st edition of the Indianapolis 500 on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a rookie in May 2016.

“There are a lot of parallels, which is ironic or interesting,” said Rossi, whose two series victories have been scored on totally different but iconic American venues. “I think the difference is today we had the dominant car, whereas I guess in the 100th you could argue we didn’t have a dominant car. We had a good car, but it wasn’t the dominant car.” Rossi won at IMS via a fuel mileage strategy mapped-out on the fly by Andretti business partner and race-day strategist Bryan Herta.

Today I was finally able to prove what I’ve been talking about the past month, two months, in terms of the step forward Andretti Autosport has taken,” Rossi said. “We have the package in the car and the people to be at the front. Just had things go wrong and we weren’t able to execute fully.”

Rossi also proved he is resilient enough to overcome things he cannot control. Rossi _ who posted his first lap-led of the season when he paced Lap 1 here _ pitted with the field under a yellow prompted by a mechanical issue involving teammate Takuma Sato and his No. 26 Honda on Lap 15. Rossi returned to the lead when Spencer Pigot, driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing, pitted on Lap 23 under green. Pigot had posted his first series lap-led on Lap 15.

But Rossi was forced to pit again on Lap 24 after a glitch with his team’s refueling adapter unit failed to fully fill his car’s 18.5-gallon tank with Sunoco E85R. That handed the lead to teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 DHL Honda and momentarily left Rossi out of sequence with the lead pack.

However, Rossi benefitted from a full-course yellow on Lap 27 _ again prompted by teammate Sato, the reigning Indy 500 champion. When Hunter-Reay and the top-five pitted, Rossi stayed out and assumed the point. On Lap 30, the halfway point, Rossi led Pigot by 2.4201-seconds.

Today was that day,” said Rossi, a 25-year-old native of Nevada City, Calif. “Despite the fuel issue, which was pretty unlucky, it came around. It came to us by getting that yellow flag to get our track position back. From there it was a straight-out fight between Scott and I. The NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Honda was on the same level as him all weekend. It was just about making sure I did my job at that last restart (on Lap 49) and was able to hold him off.”

By then, Newgarden’s once comfortable point lead over Dixon had vaporized. Newgarden was in the lead on Lap 45 when he pitted under green. Will Power, whose pit stall was directly in front of Newgarden’s, barely beat his teammate out of the pits and onto the narrow, curving, downhill exit lane.

Newgarden locked his brakes avoiding Power and slid into the guardrail separating the pit exit from the track in Turn 1. Sebastien Bourdais, also leaving the pits in the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing, whacked Newgarden from behind. Newgarden continued but sustained front wing and right rear tire ramp damage that required several stops to repair.

No excuse for it. It was my fault,” said Newgarden, who finished two laps down in the No. 2 DeVilBiss Team Penske Chevrolet. “I saw Will leave right in front of us and I just locked it up and slid over into the wall. Then (Bourdais) got into the back of me. It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

I messed it up there at the beginning of the (last regular) stop sliding too far into the box for my guys, so I didn’t give them an easy time. We didn’t have a good stop because of it. A lot of that is on me. Exiting the pits, I thought we had gotten by Will. He clicked the button earlier and I made a mistake leaving and just locked up. I touched the guardrail and then got slammed into. It was a couple of mistakes back-to-back. This team is resilient; they gave me what I needed today. We just have to go to Sonoma and see what we can do.”

Newgarden took over the championship lead for the first time in his six-year career following a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 30. The Verizon IndyCar Series champion has been determined in the season’s final race every year dating to 2006, a scenario that would seem to favor the seasoned Dixon. A fifth championship would leave the 37-year-old New Zealander behind only A.J. Foyt Jr. (with seven titles) on the all-time list.

“Definitely a good move in the points,” said the unflappable Dixon, driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda. “I’m kind of shocked we ended up where we did. I locked up coming in on the first stop on the wet (tires) and it wouldn’t downshift, so almost stalled the car, got into the pits and we couldn’t fuel it. And then we had a fumble later _ we lost another four or five spots _ so we had to pass a lot of cars today. Nice recovery by the team, ended up second.”

Dixon, who has won a record four Indy car races at WGI, settled for his sixth podium finish in eight starts in the Finger Lakes Region.

Hunter-Reay placed third to give Andretti Autosport two podium finishers. Helio Castroneves placed fourth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet and retained third in the championship, 22 points behind Newgarden.

Other drivers with a chance of winning the title at Sonoma are 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud, fourth in the standings (34 points behind Newgarden) after a ninth-place finish in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet; Power, fifth in the standings (-68 points) after finishing sixth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Rossi, sixth in the standings (-84 points) and Graham Rahal, seventh in the standings (-94 points) after a fifth-place finish in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

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Aaron Telitz held off Belardi Auto Racing teammate Santi Urrutia in rainy conditions to win the final Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race of the 2017 season. Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing needed only to start the race to clinch the championship, and he wound up in seventh place.

With the title, Kaiser earned a $1-million Mazda scholarship that guarantees the 21-year-old Californian a ride in at least three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

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Victor Franzoni gave Juncos Racing two driver champions in the Mazda Road to Indy. The 21-year-old Brazilian completed a weekend sweep of Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires pole positions and wins to fend off Cape Motorsports’ Anthony Martin for the title.

Franzoni will take home an $800,000 Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights _ top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR _ next season.

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Results of the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen Verizon IndyCar Series event Sunday on the 3.37-mile/11-turn Watkins Glen International road-course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 60, Running
3. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 60, Running
4. (6) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 60, Running
5. (10) Graham Rahal, Honda, 60, Running 
6. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 60, Running
7. (5) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 60, Running
8. (19) Max Chilton, Honda, 60, Running
9. (12) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 60, Running
10. (11) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 60, Running
11. (14) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 60, Running
12. (13) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 60, Running
13. (15) Ed Jones, Honda, 60, Running
14. (18) Jack Harvey, Honda, 60, Running
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 60, Running
16. (20) Marco Andretti, Honda, 60, Running
17. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 60, Running
18. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 58, Running
19. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 56, Running 
20. (17) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 46, Contact
21. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 5, Mechanical

Race Statistics:
Winner’s average speed: 118.865 mph
Time of Race: 1 hour, 42:03.9024
Margin of victory: 0.9514-seconds
Cautions: 4 for 9 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 6 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Rossi 1 
Castroneves 2-14 
Pigot 15-22 
Rossi 23 
Hunter-Reay 24-27 
Rossi 28-42 
Dixon 43-44 
Newgarden 45 
Rossi 46-60 

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Newgarden 560, Dixon 557, Castroneves 538, Pagenaud 526, Power 492, Rossi 476, Rahal 466, Sato 421, Kanaan 375, Hunter-Reay 373.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 3 2017
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