Rossi Puts End To Rumors; Is Staying With Andretti

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 28 2019
Alexander Rossi will be driving a Andretti Autosport Honda next year “and beyond”. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

INDYCAR’s prized free-agent is staying put, bringing a quick kaput to the NTT IndyCar Series’ Silly Season.

Alexander Rossi, who parachuted into the series with Andretti Autosport in the spring of 2016, will remain with Michael Andretti’s organization for the 2020 season “and beyond” as part of a multi-year contract announced Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. 

As part of Rossi’s renewal, Andretti Autosport will continue to partner with Honda Performance Development, extending a technical partnership that began with the 2014 season. Andretti Autosport has won five Indianapolis 500s with HPD _ including Rossi’s victory in the landmark 100th edition of the race in 2016_ the most by any team in Honda’s history.

Saturday’s announcement ended speculation Rossi might be headed to Team Penske and the Chevrolet camp in 2020. Rossi is second in the standings by 29 points to Penske’s Josef Newgarden heading into Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 in Lexington, Ohio. 

Scheduled for 90 laps/203.22 miles around the 2.258-mile/13-turn natural terrain layout, the race will air on NBC beginning at 4 p.m. (EDT). Radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM on Sirius 98, XM 209 and SXM 970.

Alexander Rossi will start from the front row on Sunday in Ohio. (File photo)

Rossi’s decision to stay widely is viewed as a plus for maintaining the series’ balance of power between two powerhouse organizations as well as engine suppliers Honda and Chevrolet.

“When all this started, Andretti Autosport and Honda, we all have the same intentions, the same outlook,” Rossi said during a news conference prior to knockout qualifications. “It was just a matter of finding a way to put all the pieces together and make it work for everyone.

“There’s a lot of different factors that go into these decisions. It had to come together in the right way. It wouldn’t have been possible obviously without Michael and his team, NAPA Auto Parts, AutoNation and Honda. It’s been an amazing season to be able to talk about the huge amount of trust in relationships. That’s really what made this decision what it is. This is home for me. This is the team I know. Michael gave me the opportunity in 2016 when I was an unknown to this series and really North American racing.

Alexander Rossi and team owner Michael Andretti are staying together.

“What we’ve been able to grow through and accomplish in three-and-a half going on four years is sensational. I think we’re only going to get stronger, we’re only going to get better. The partnerships and commitments we have from Honda, NAPA, AutoNation are going to allow us to do this. We have big plans ahead. It’s all going to start here this weekend.”

Rossi will start Sunday’s race second to pole-winner Will Power of Team Penske. Power scored the 57th pole of his IndyCar Series career Saturday, drawing closer to Mario Andretti’s record of 67. Power also has won Indy car races in 12 consecutive seasons, second only to five-time/reigning series champion Scott Dixon’s 16. But Power’s most recent win came last year, 14 races ago at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, the short oval located in Madison, Ill.

Power earned Saturday’s NTT P1 Award with a lap of 1-minute, 5.1569-seconds/124.757 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Rossi, meanwhile, posted his sixth front-row start of the season, but was nearly four-tenths of a second slower than Power after experiencing “a pretty big slide” through Turns 4 and 5.

“I think we just ran out of tire,” Rossi said of the lap in 1:05.5317-seconds/124.044 mph. “You’re always disappointed if you miss (pole) by one or two hundredths because there’s a lot of things you can look back on over the lap to see things you could have done differently. But when it’s a gap of that size it’s OK.

“I mean, it’s always good to start next to Will because you know you’re up front. That’s a positive. Yeah, he races hard. He races clean. Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting Turn 4, for sure. I think we’re going to both have one priority in mind.”

Rossi won this event last year from pole position. His victories this season have been scored on the Streets of Long Beach and Road America’s natural-terrain layout in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Rossi has six poles and seven victories in his Indy Car Series career.

Under the new contract, Rossi’s No. 27 car will take on co-primary sponsorship between NAPA Auto Parts and AutoNation. NAPA Auto Parts will be seen for nine events, including the Indianapolis 500 and the season-finale at Laguna Seca Raceway in California. The AutoNation livery will be carried for seven events, including the 2020 season-opener at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida and the Indianapolis Grand Prix.

Rossi said he never allowed the contract situation to become an in-season distraction. “For me, it’s all behind-the-scenes stuff,” said Rossi, a 27-year-old native of Nevada City, Calif. “It’s a really good thing for all the 27 boys, for the whole team to know that my confidence and my faith has always been in them.

“I feel like that’s a very mutual thing that we have. Trust, relationships, as I said earlier, are a huge part of this sport. Continuity is a really, really important thing that teams can build off of. You see results start to come when this flow of communication is at a level where it needs to be. I think we have that.
The fact this is all behind us, the fact that we can focus on the day-to-day, executing on the racetrack, is a very positive thing.

“I’m very excited. I’m very thankful. I had a lot of really strong support through this whole process from my family, from my father _ manager specifically _ who kind of kept me focused on being able to do my job on the racetrack throughout this process, could trust that the off-track stuff was going to be handled. We make a great team. Couldn’t do without all the people that are in my corner.”

Rossi joined Andretti Autosport in 2016 after chasing a career in Formula One. He made five F1 starts in 2015 for Manor Marussia with a best finish of 12th in the U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. He also finished second in GP2 for Racing Engineering after scoring victories at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Monza in Italy and Sochi in Japan.

Despite his lack of oval-track experience, Rossi won in his first start on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval en route to claiming Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors, as well as series ROY. After finishing second to Dixon, of Chip Ganassi Racing, by 57 points in the 2018 championship standings, Rossi now is a bona fide title contender in Andretti’s four-car lineup.

“We always talk about continuity,” said Andretti, the retired Championship Auto Racing Teams champion who became sole owner of the former Andretti Green Racing organization in November 2009. “I think it’s great that this will be a second year in a row that we’re going into the year knowing that we have everybody that’s been with us the last few years. So that’s great.”

Andretti Autosport has produced four season champions _ Tony Kanaan in 2004, the late Dan Wheldon in 2005, Dario Franchitti in 2007 and current Andretti ace Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012.

“This was a big deal to put together,” Andretti said. ”When you have so many different partners that have to make it work, you have Honda, starts with Honda, you have AutoNation, you have NAPA, then you have this guy (Rossi). Trying to put all that together is a lot of work. I want to thank our partners for working together to help make this happen, to be able to announce this today.“I think it’s fantastic for not only our team, but I think it’s great for the sport. I think it helps keep the balance of power right. I think it’s good for the competition for the future.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 28 2019
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