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Rossi Adds Road Win To Indy Speedway Resume

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 1 2022

Race winner Alexander Rossi is congratulated by teammate Colton Herta at Indy on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Alexander Rossi’s star-crossed INDYCAR career with Andretti Autosport completed a full-circle to road-course journey Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with his victory in the Gallagher Grand Prix.

Rossi snapped a 49-race NTT IndyCar Series winless streak dating to June 23, 2019 at Road America _ a mere 1,133 days ago. Rossi recorded his eighth career victory around IMS’ 2.439-mile/11-turn road-course, bookending his upset win in the landmark 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on the famed 2.5-mile oval in May 2016.

With only four races remaining in his tenure with team-owner Michael Andretti, Rossi took time to exchange hugs with Mikey and each crewman on his No. 27 Honda as it sat atop the track’s raised Victory Circle platform. Rossi announced in June he had signed a “multi-year” contract with Arrow McLaren SP beginning with the 2023 season.

Relief is the main word,” said Rossi, who finished 3.5441-seconds ahead of rookie Christian Lundgaard. “We’ve had some race wins we’ve thrown away and some where we just didn’t have the pace for whatever reason. We knew things were trending in a good direction this year.

“The one constant has been the mental strength of the whole team. It’s not just me. They go in every day and work their butts off and when they don’t get results, it’s hard for them as well. As a unit that’s one of our strengths is to just continue forward. It’s a big team win. A big ‘thank you’ to Andretti Autosport.”

Rossi, 30, is the fourth driver to claim wins on both the oval and road-course at IMS.

Will Power finished third in the 85-lapper in his No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet and took over the point lead in his bid for a second driver’s championship. Power holds a nine-point lead over Marcus Ericsson, the reigning Indy 500 champ who rallied from starting last in the 25-car field to finish 11th in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Team Penske placed all three of its drivers in the top-five. Scott McLaughlin finished fourth in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet, with two-time series champion Josef Newgarden fifth in the No. 2  Chevrolet.

“It was as good as we could have hoped,” McLaughlin said of his drive. “P4 after qualifying 15th, with a great start and we were able to press-on and get going. Very proud because Team Chevy gave us great fuel mileage and we were able to just control it to the end. I’m pretty pumped. We needed one of those (results). The car was good. We just missed-out on the podium but a top-five was a great day for us.”

Newgarden was cleared to compete by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Geoffrey Billows on Friday after crashing-out in the second half of a doubleheader at Iowa Speedway last Sunday. Newgarden spent the week in INDYCAR’s concussion protocol after fainting and hitting the back of his head on the pavement of a track parking lot in Newton, Iowa.

“Good day for our PPG Team Penske Chevrolet,” said Newgarden, the series champ in 2017 and 2019. “I’m just glad to be back out there on the track and get this race under my belt. We were able to come away with a solid top-five finish and make up some points, which is a pretty solid day. We had great strategy and Team Chevy brought some great power today, which allowed us to stay up-front.”

Rossi, who started second alongside pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist of Arrow McLaren SP, took the lead for good on Lap 42 when leader/teammate Colton Herta lost drive after navigating Turn 8 in his No. 26 Honda. Herta coasted to the entry of pit lane, his race over, and was credited with 24th place.

The mechanical problem was a cruel twist of fate for Herta, who started ninth and drove into the lead by Lap 8, passing NTT P1 Award winner Rosenqvist in Turn 7. Herta and Rossi emerged as the class of the field as the early laps unfolded, with rival teams unsuccessfully trying multiple strategies to counter their advantage.

“I think we were the car to beat, honestly. We had the issue halfway through the race and there was nothing we could do at that point,” said Herta, who led 17 laps Sunday after recently testing a year-old F1 car for McLaren Racing in Spain.

“I do feel for Colton _ I do,” Rossi said. “I think he was definitely strong. We had pretty much the same race car. It would have been interesting. I don’t want to take away anything from what he did from ninth. To get to that position was incredible. But it was the No. 27’s turn. That’s awesome.”

Once Herta was sidelined, Rossi steadily built a gap of around 4-seconds over Lundgaard, who earned a career-best second in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The rookie from Denmark closed to within 2.7-seconds with 10 laps remaining. But Rossi pulled away for a decisive win, ending Lundgaard’s chance of becoming the first rookie to win a series race since Alex himself shocked the racing world with his victory in the 2016 Indy 500.

“At the end of the third stint, I was catching Alex,” Lundgaard said. “I was really hoping because every pit stop we always caught up. We lost a bit in the beginning of the stint. The Andretti car had just so much better power down than we did today. That’s what killed our rear tires, and we struggled on the long run. The result speaks for itself. Coming in this weekend, we knew we had a strong car.”

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. A native of Nevada City, Calif., Rossi was only the third American to start in F1 since 1990.

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 _ Colton’s father _ Rossi led the final three of 200 laps en route to an improbable win in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Rejuvenated by his impending move to AMSP, Rossi earned his first series pole in more than three years on June 11 during qualifying for the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Rossi finished a career-best second in the 2018 series point standings for Andretti, 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.

Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, called Rossi a “proven-winner” in announcing his addition to AMSP starting with the offseason. “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,” Brown said. “He (Rossi) 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, who led 44 laps, will split $10,000 with his team and his chosen charities _ AutoNation’s Drive Pink Campaign and Leilani Mae Horse Rescue _ for the victory as part of the PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge.

Power once again authored a composed drive, overcoming early near-calamity to take the point lead. Power made contact with the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward in a three-wide traffic jam in Turns 1 and 2 on the first lap and survived a dustup with the No. 06  Honda of Helio Castroneves of Meyer Shank Racing, finding himself in 16th during the opening laps.

But Power drove through the field to earn his seventh podium finish of the season. “Yeah man, it was a crazy start and some pretty questionable driving there at the beginning,” said Power, the series champion in 2014. “It was a great recovery for us, and we kept out of trouble and then we were able to get to third. What a day.

“It definitely was a rough start. I got pushed around in Turn 1, I got pushed into Pato, which spun him. Then Helio went for a big move and pushed me on the curb. It was a great recovery. You can never expect a normal day in INDYCAR. Everyone is very aggressive, and it’s so hard to win in this series. It’s the toughest series in the world. Great job by the Verizon 5G guys. It’s amazing we can go back there and recover all the way to third.”

Less than a race-worth of points separates Power from fifth-place O’Ward, who is 46 back. Newgarden is third, 32 out of the lead. Six-time series champion Scott Dixon, who finished eighth in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, is 38 points out in fourth.

A 41-year-old native of Australia, Power reiterated that he is content to trade consistency into a second championship. “That was the goal from the very beginning…to play the long game, and we’ve been doing that,” said Power, who made his debut with Roger Penske’s organization during a six-race stint in 2009. “We’re doing what we know, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I know this game so well and I know it can change very quickly. But you take what you can get every day and every race.”

Next up on the schedule is the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on Sunday, Aug. 7, on the Streets of Nashville, Tenn. Live race coverage will start at 3 p.m. (EDT) on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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 (1995) 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, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

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Results Saturday of the Gallagher Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile/11-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (2) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
    2. (6) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 85, Running
    3. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    4. (15) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    5. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    6. (8) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    7. (17) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
    8. (20) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
    9. (1) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    10. (7) Alex Palou, Honda, 85, Running
    11. (25) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 85, Running
    12. (3) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    13. (11) David Malukas, Honda, 85, Running
    14. (19) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    15. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
    16. (22) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 85, Running
    17. (10) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    18. (14) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 85, Running
    19. (16) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 85, Running
    20. (13) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running
    21. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    22. (23) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 84, Running
    23. (21) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    24. (9) Colton Herta, Honda, 42, Mechanical
    25. (12) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 34, Off Course

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 114.483 mph
Time of Race: 01:48:39.1825
Margin of victory: 3.5441-seconds
Cautions: 2 for 5 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders
Rosenqvist 1 – 7
Herta 8 – 13
McLaughlin 14 – 23
Power 24 – 30
Herta 31 – 41
Rossi 42 – 85

NTT IndyCar Series point-standings (top-10): 1, Will Power, Team Penske, 431; 2, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 422; 3, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 399; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 393; 5, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 385; 6, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 379; 7, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 350; 8, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 318; 9, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren SP, 299; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 285.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 1 2022
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