After taking his second win of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series in last weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Alexander Rossi has dedicated the victory to his Andretti Autosport team. The Californian praised the team heavily – both after taking pole position and taking the victory – for the effort everyone had put into getting the car as competitive as it was.
Entering the race weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Rossi was in need of a strong finish to get himself truly back into contention for the championship, with Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Scott Dixon sitting pretty with a comfortable advantage at the top.
The weekend started off in a fantastic fashion in qualifying. After the first two rounds of qualifying, it looked as though reigning champion Josef Newgarden was on course to earn Team Penske their fifth consecutive pole position, but that changed in the final round.
Andretti showed their hand right at the end of the pole position shoot-out. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the first driver to lap in the 1:04’s, with Rossi coming through soon after to take provisional pole by a few tenths. Penske’s Will Power managed to pip Hunter-Reay to second on the grid, but no one could usurp Rossi.
After taking his fourth-career pole position, Rossi was quick to compliment the one-lap speed of his #27 Honda and went on to say how impressed he was with the team’s speed given that they had not attended the mid-season test at the circuit a week before the race.
“The No. 27 NAPA Andretti Honda has been so strong on reds [Firestone’s alternate tyre compound] on Lap 1, it was strong yesterday. We thought that was a disadvantage going into last night, but when a similar thing happened in Group 1 for qualifying, we were like ‘OK, we will use this to our advantage’, especially when the red flag came out there.
“Huge hats off to the team, P1, first and third [Hunter-Reay’s grid spot]. The effort that they put in, we were one of the only teams that haven’t tested here. Huge credit to the whole organization and hopefully we can convert it tomorrow.”
Heading into the race on Sunday, the team had a trick up their sleeve to try and make sure Alexander had the best chance of getting to victory circle. The plan for his twenty-three competitors was to make three pit-stops during the course of the race. Instead of this, Rob Edwards, Rossi’s strategist, elected to gamble on a two-stop strategy.
After analyzing their race pace and fuel mileage in the first stint of the race, Edwards and Rossi committed to the two-stop strategy, which gave Rossi a twenty-four-second lead once everyone had completed their final stops. From there, the gap between Alexander and second-placed Robert Wickens was insurmountable.
Rossi would wind up winning by almost thirteen seconds. It was a fantastic win for him and the team, with the strategy playing out perfectly. This was largely helped by the race being completely caution-free. A caution, especially during the last stint of the race, would have completely undone all of Alexander’s hard work.
With Scott Dixon coming home in fifth place, his lead in the championship has come down to forty-six points with four rounds remaining. Thanks to his victory, Rossi is now Dixon’s main challenger, as he has now jumped up into second place in the standings. Alexander underlined the importance of the race win for his championship hopes after climbing from the car on Sunday:
“We said coming into this weekend that we have to execute for five weekends in a row, this is the start of that, hopefully,” Rossi said in victory circle, “The NAPA Andretti team were so on it today. They gave me an amazing race car and this one’s for them. It was great strategy all day. We could make a two-stop if we committed early and that’s what we did. Great fuel mileage from Honda, great tire life from Firestone, so an all-around perfect day.”
“On races like that, you’ve just got to be really patient.” Rossi added, explaining the difficulties of executing the alternate strategy, “It’s hard sometimes, but Rob [Edwards] is a very calming force and just talked me through it, and we were able to manage it. We were planning on seeing if we could hit a [fuel] number. Then if we could, we were going to do two stops. It was a little bit up to me to see if we could manage it. When we were able to hit it pretty easily, then, yeah, we committed.”
Rossi will be hoping that the momentum after his Mid-Ohio victory continues into the next round of the championship as we get ever closer to the season finale at Sonoma. The next race of the 2018 season, the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, takes place on Sunday, August 19.