Verizon IndyCar Series competitors, Robert Wickens and Alexander Rossi disagree over who was to blame for their race defining collision on the penultimate lap of yesterday’s 2018 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The pair, who had been the leading duo for a vast majority of Sunday’s 110-lap race, made contact at turn one on a race restart with just two laps to go. Rossi had been chasing down rookie Wickens for much of the race and finally got his chance on the 109th lap. The Andretti Autosport driver got a better run out of the final corner and was within striking distance of Wickens’ Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car.
Rossi made a move down the inside, with Wickens holding his line around the outside of the left-hander to try to defend the position for the right-hand kink of turn two. When the pair reached the apex of turn one, the rear of Rossi’s car stepped out, sending the American into the side of the Canadian.
The contact between the pair sent Wickens into the outside wall, with Rossi having to travel through the run-off before rejoining the track. This allowed Sebastien Bourdais to sneak through and steal the victory, with Rossi taking third and a distraught Wickens being left behind in his damaged #6 car.
After the race, the stewards investigated the incident between Wickens and Rossi, but there was no action taken as it was considered a racing incident. However, Wickens – along with numerous fans – put the blame in Rossi’s court during post-race interviews with the press:
“I thought I gave him enough space that actually would have held P1.” said Wickens, who was classified eighteenth after leading sixty-nine laps in his first IndyCar race, “I went very late on the brakes, and he tried to stay beside me, but the track is so dirty on the inside he couldn’t keep the line and just slid into me. I don’t know. Just super disappointed.”
“I just expected more from him today. He saw how late I braked. Obviously, he’s desperate. It was the last lap and it was his last chance.
“Before the race, everybody [the drivers] was joking about how slippery it was off-line, and the amount of pick-up, the amount of rubber that was out there. That’s why I didn’t defend that hard. If you want to go there, all the more power to you. It just didn’t work.”
Rossi, however, blames Wickens for the incident. The #27 Andretti Honda driver states that because Wickens forced him to run over the dirty side of the track, the resulting collision is on him:
“I got a big jump on Rob and he got to the push-to-pass pretty late, so the run was perfect for me.” said Rossi in a post-race conference, “Heading down into Turn 1, I knew there wasn’t going to be many other opportunities for me because he’d had a very good car all day and they did a great job.
“So I made the pop [out of the slipstream], he defended the position which he has the right to do but in doing so, by moving in reaction, he put me into the marbles pretty late into the corner. It’s difficult with these cars with how much we’re sliding around even on the racing line, so on the marbles, it’s hairy.
“If he’d defended the inside initially out of 14 or even halfway down the straight, and I’d still continued to go to the inside, then yeah, that’s my decision to put my car in danger. But there’s no reason why I can’t pop and stay next to him. I don’t have to have all four wheels on the part of the track where nobody goes on.”
Rossi would go on to express his sadness that the incident took place, saying: “Super-unfortunate to see that happen – I feel bad because I think I could have won and he could have been second. Nonetheless, it was a great job by the team all weekend. I think we showed we had a car that could qualify up front yesterday and we redeemed ourselves a little bit today…”
Wickens and Rossi have just under four weeks until they share a race track again. The next round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series takes place on April 7 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona.