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Rossi Out At Andretti, In At McLaren For 2023

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 2 2022

Alexander Rossi will be kissing Andretti Autosport good-bye at the end of the season.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Alexander Rossi’s star-crossed career with Andretti Autosport officially has shifted into “lame duck” mode for the remainder of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season.

Upset winner of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, Rossi will be replaced by series rookie Kyle Kirkwood in the No. 27 Honda beginning in 2023. Kirkwood _ winner of the 2021 Indy Lights championship for team-owner Michael Andretti _ currently is competing in the IndyCar Series with AJ Foyt Racing.

Meanwhile, Arrow McLaren SP confirmed Thursday morning it has signed Rossi to a “multiyear deal” starting in 2023.

“Alex is a proven race-winner and an Indianapolis 500 champion, who shares our desire to win,” Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, said in a team release. “It is essential that we put the right talent in place, both inside and outside the car, so we can consistently compete for championships and race wins as a team. He is someone we have had our eye on for some time and we’re excited to see what he’ll do as a part of Arrow McLaren SP.”

Rossi, of Nevada City, Calif., has posted seven wins, six poles and 25 podiums since arriving in INDYCAR in 2016 with the team owned by former INDYCAR star Michael Andretti.

“First, I want to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport for an incredible seven years,” Rossi said in an AMSP release. “It has been a great ride with an awesome team, and it has been an honor to race for the Andretti name and for Michael for so long.

“The time has come for a new challenge, with a team that is growing in the sport. I look forward to contributing to the development of Arrow McLaren SP and helping them reach the top. I see the commitment this team has to each other and to me, and I’m looking forward to getting started. It’s time for me to race for another one of motorsport’s biggest names _ McLaren.”

Arrow McLaren SP has scheduled a news conference Friday at 10:30 a.m. (EDT) with Rossi and Taylor Kiel, president of Arrow McLaren SP, at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Media Center. Round 7 of the schedule is booked for this weekend at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

“As we look forward to 2023, we are looking for a driver that will be a great fit and bring experience to the team,” Kiel said in the team release. “Alex is a driver who knows what it takes to succeed in this sport and will strengthen our talented driver lineup. He shares the same winning mindset that I see every day across Arrow McLaren SP and I think we will find a lot of success together in the years to come.”

Andretti, chairman/CEO of Andretti Autosport, described Rossi as a “great contender” for the organization in a team release. “He’s won races and become a leader in the team, but all careers and all teams evolve, and we’ve mutually decided it’s time for each of us to move on,” Andretti said. “I have no doubt he’ll have a continued, successful INDYCAR career and we wish him the best. In the meantime, we are all working hard to finish the 2022 season strong.”

Arrow McLaren SP is planning expand to three fulltime cars in 2023, with Rossi to join 2022 Indy 500 runnerup Pato O’Ward, currently teamed with Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden. O’Ward, of Mexico, signed a three-year contract extension last week that will keep him in the No. 5 Chevrolet through the end of the 2025 season.

Rossi, 30, scored a season-best fifth-place finish in the No. 27 Honda in the 106th running of the Indy 500 on Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after starting 20th.  But he has yet to record a podium finish through the season’s first six events. Rossi was facing an uncertain future when he landed in INDYCAR in the spring of 2016 after his Formula One dream ended after five starts with the Manor Marussia team in 2015. Rossi was only the third American to start in F1 since 1990.

In addition to those five F1 starts, Rossi has raced in the famed Bathurst 1000 in Australia in 2019; won the Baja 1000 in 2021 and took an overall win in IMSA’s prestigious Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in 2021.

Rossi had never competed in an open-wheel, oval-track race when he started the 2016 Indy 500 for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian. Collaborating with race strategist/former INDYCAR driver Bryan Herta, Rossi lead the final three of 200 laps around the 2.5-mile Speedway as his car ran low on fuel.

Rossi finished a career-best second in the 2018 series point standings for Andretti Autosport, winning from pole position on the Streets of Long Beach and at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, along with a third victory at Pocono Raceway. Rossi finished third in the 2019 point standings, scoring a repeat victory at Long Beach and another at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The latter is his most recent victory, dating to June 23, 2019. Rossi is winless in his last 43 series starts.

Kirkwood finished a lead-lap 17th Sunday at IMS after starting 28th in Foyt Racing’s No. 14 Chevrolet. Kirkwood’s 2021 Indy Lights season with Andretti’s team saw the resident of Jupiter, Fla., win 10 of 20 races along with four additional podiums. Kirkwood led 335 of 687 total race laps in the top rung of INDYCAR’s developmental ladder series while compiling a 2.9 average race finish.

“We really enjoyed having Kyle as part of our Indy Lights team, and he’s off to a strong start in INDYCAR,” Andretti said. “I think he’ll bring a fresh perspective and will be competitive. We are looking forward to helping him continue his career growth.” Kirkwood will join Andretti’s lineup of Colton Herta, Romain Grosjean and fellow-rookie Devlin DeFrancesco of Canada. 

Kirkwood counts a best finish of 10th at Long Beach among his six INDYCAR starts with Foyt’s organization to-date. 

“I couldn’t be more excited to return to Andretti Autosport next year and represent AutoNation,” Kirkwood, 23, said in a release. “Andretti Autosport is a place I’ve called home for years past and I have truly felt like family. I have a ton of loyalty to the team, and it means a lot to have Michael and the Andretti team offer me this opportunity. AutoNation has been doing great work in raising awareness and funding for cancer research. I’m honored to Drive Pink (DRVPNK) next season.”

The series schedule resumes Friday with opening practice for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. Sunday’s race will be broadcast live on USA Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network starting at 3 p.m. (EDT).

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Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson earned $3.1-million from a total purse of $16,000,200 _ largest payout in the century-plus history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s prize also is the largest winner’s payout for the world’s biggest single-day sporting event.  Prior to 2022, the biggest Indy 500 purse was $14.4-million for the 2008 Indy 500 won by Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing. This year’s average payout for drivers was $485,000.

“The Indianapolis 500 is the greatest race in the world, and these drivers lay it all on the line for a chance to drink the winner’s milk and kiss the famous Yard of Bricks,” said Roger Penske, owner of IMS and the NTT IndyCar Series. “This year’s record-setting purse is reflective of their tireless pursuit of history and the world-class talent they display on every lap.”

This “Month of May” saw the Indianapolis Motor Speedway open its gates to race fans with no restrictions for the first time in three years. More than 325,000 fans attended Sunday’s event, making it the largest-attended single-day sporting event in the world since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ericsson, of Chip Ganassi Racing, navigated through a wild scramble after a late-race red flag to earn his first career 500 victory in the No. 8 Honda. A 31-year-old native of Kumla, Sweden, Ericsson won under caution after Sage Karam crashed in Turn 2 on the final lap. Ericsson also took the lead in the series point standings with his third career victory, boosted by double points awarded for the event.

Second-place finisher Pato O’Ward, of Arrow McLaren SP, earned $1-million _ largest take-home prize for the runnerup in nearly a decade.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was voted Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors for his performance in the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson, 46, started 12th and finished 28th after crashing out on Lap 194, when he spun into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 and triggered the fifth of six caution periods. All cars pulled into the pits for nearly eight minutes during a red flag while debris from Johnson’s crash was cleared.

Johnson _ who led Laps 188 and 189 _earned a $50,000 bonus for being named Rookie of the Year, adding to a total take home prize of $207,900.

The Indianapolis 500 purse consists of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NTT IndyCar Series awards, plus other designated and special awards. Purse awards are presented annually at the Victory Celebration, held Monday evening at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

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Television numbers for NBC’s live broadcast of Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500 were better than those for FOX’s telecast of NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. But both Memorial Day Weekend events saw a decline in viewership from May 2021.  

NBC’s Indy 500 programming averaged a 2.69 Nielsen rating and 4.618-million viewers, as reported by ShowBuzzDaily. Sweden’s Marcus Ericsson, of Chip Ganassi Racing, navigated through a wild scramble after a late-race red flag to earn his first career 500 victory. A 31-year-old native of Kumla, Sweden, Ericsson won under caution after Sage Karam crashed in Turn 2 on the final lap.

Sunday’s numbers were down from a 3.15/5.547-million in 2021, when an average of 5.581-million viewers tuned into watch Helio Castroneves of Brazil outduel Alex Palou of Spain over the race’s final 19 laps en route to becoming the fourth four-time Indy 500 champion.

NBC drew 4.8-million viewers across its highly- publicized platforms Sunday including linear TV, Peacock Premium and additional streaming through NBCSports.com. This year’s numbers represent a 14 percent drop in the total average audience, despite story lines featuring Castroneves’ bid for an historic fifth victory, the anticipated Indy 500 debut of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and former Formula One regular/fellow-Indy 500 rookie Romain Grosjean of France.

Meanwhile, Sunday night’s Coke 600 telecast on FOX from Charlotte Motor Speedway _ NASCAR’s longest race _ averaged a 2.20 rating and 3.869-million viewers, compared to a 2.28/4.061-million in 2021.

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Santino Ferrucci will reprise his role as INDYCAR “super sub” during this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

Ferrucci will replace rookie Callum Ilott in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s No. 77 Chevrolet. Ilott, of Great Britain, suffered a wrist injury in a crash on Lap 69 of Sunday’s 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 en route to a 32nd-place finish in the field of 33. Ilott was not cleared to drive after being re-evaluated by the INDYCAR Medical Team and reportedly will undergo another evaluation next week.

“Obviously, I am devastated not to be racing this weekend in Detroit,” said Ilott, who started 19th at IMS. “After speaking with the doctors and specialists here in Indy the damage to my hand was slightly worse than when first looked at. They suggested that the long-term healing was the top priority and any damage that could be done in the short term by racing would be a longer-term problem. So, after learning this I agreed with the medical team’s decision that I would not be cleared and would spend more time healing.

“I spoke with Ricardo (Juncos) and Brad (Hollinger) and we came to a same conclusion for the benefit of the team. I will be with the team this weekend and supporting Santino and providing any guidance I can. I am sorry that I won’t be in the car this weekend but know this is the right decision.”

Ilott, 23, also is official reserve driver for Alfa Romeo for the FIA’s 2022 Formula One World Championship season.

Ferrucci, of Woodbury, Conn., has been an on-again/off-again competitor in the IndyCar Series since 2018. Ferrucci finished 10th in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet. Ferrucci also started the season’s first oval-track race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on March 20, subbing for the injured Jack Harvey of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Ferrucci finished ninth in the XPEL 375 on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval in a race won by Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.

“Although I’m happy to be back in the car, it’s unfortunate for Callum under the circumstances,” said Ferrucci, 24. “I hope his hand heals really quickly and he is back on track soon. I’m just here to help with the team and see if we can get them a really good result and bring in some different knowledge from my experience in Detroit. I’m looking forward to having some fun and carrying the momentum I have from Indy. I can’t thank the guys over at Juncos Hollinger enough with in trusting me and hopefully it goes really smoothly.”

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NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10): 1, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 226; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 213; 3, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 212; 4, Will Power, Team Penske, 202; 5, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 174; 6, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 166; 7, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 162; 8, Simon Pagenaud, Meyer Shank Racing, 157; 9, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 154; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 142. 

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing). 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 2 2022
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