Alexander Rossi has praised his Andretti Autosport crew for giving him the car that he was able to take to a dominant victory within yesterday’s 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Long Beach. Rossi led eighty of the eighty-five lap race distance and, post-race, would dedicate arguably the strongest performance of his career to his Grandfather, who sadly passed away the day before.
After a decent but inconspicuous start to the weekend in Friday practice where he would finish fifth in session one and sixth in session two, Rossi stated that he believed that he had speed in his #27 Honda and that he and the team “just need to put it all together.”
In final practice on Saturday morning, Rossi and his Andretti crew looked as though they had indeed managed to put it all together. Alexander would set the fastest lap of the session and the whole weekend up to that point, with a 1:07.0588. The lap-times would continue to fall throughout qualifying, with Alexander easily transferring out of the first round with a 1:06.8621.
In the second round, Chip Ganassi Racing would flex their muscles, with Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist setting 1:06.6’s to go one-two in the session. However, Rosenqvist would crash soon after and be demoted out of the top six for causing a red flag. This would see Dixon and Rossi transfer into the final shoot-out as the two favourites for pole position.
In the final round, Dixon made a mistake on his second flying lap that could have seen him fast enough to take pole position. This opened the door for Rossi to take pole for himself, which he duly did so. Alexander would put in a scintillating 1:06.4811 to take pole, with the lap-time perhaps even faster than Dixon could have managed on his aborted lap.
After taking his second Long Beach pole position in a row, Rossi would comment that qualifying this year “was exponentially harder” than it had been in 2018.
“It’s hard out there,” Rossi said post-qualifying, “It’s amazing how tight it continues to be and just the depth. I mean, we say it every year, but it’s crazy. That was exponentially harder than last year, but a huge hats off to the boys on the No. 27 car. To be able to continue the development, push forward for race week, coming into a race like this is a pretty big testament to them.
“I guess it’s easier to focus on the race if you were bad the year before, but we couldn’t rest on our laurels and we struggled a little bit yesterday just kind of putting it all together. But we made some good changes overnight and obviously very pleased to have been able to pull it off there at the end.”
In Sunday’s race, Rossi’s race lead only looked under threat on two occasions, both of which came in the opening laps. Rossi got a great jump when the race got underway, but second-placed Dixon went with him. After ducking into the slipstream, Dixon popped out to the outside heading into turn one, but Rossi was able to outbreak the Ganassi driver and maintain position.
A full course caution would follow soon after, setting up a race restart a few laps later. In what was a carbon copy of the initial start, Dixon tried his best to get into the lead at turn one, but Rossi would once again hold the inside line and, with it, the race lead.
From there, Rossi began to stretch his legs in the lead of the race. After the first stint of the race, Alexander held a lead of over five seconds ahead of Dixon. During the pit-stops, Dixon would lose second place to Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden, but the gap would continue to grow between first and second. At the halfway point of the race, the gap was up to eleven seconds, a gap that would go on to almost double by the time the chequered flag flew at the end of the race.
Rossi’s winning margin would ultimately be an astonishing twenty seconds; the largest winning margin for a Grand Prix of Long Beach since 1995, when Al Unser Jr took victory by twenty-three seconds. The win would also put Rossi in the small club of drivers with multiple wins at Long Beach, but, perhaps more notably, the win would be Andretti Autosport’s two-hundredth race win in motorsports.
After the race, Rossi would thank his team for giving him the opportunity to race in IndyCar and to be able to take the team’s two-hundredth win. Additionally, Rossi would admit that he had mixed emotions after the weekend due to his Grandfather’s passing on Saturday.
“You never think [you’ll dominate the race],” Rossi said in victory circle on Sunday, “We knew it was going to be a really hard-fought battle. The NAPA AUTO PARTS crew gave me such a great race car. This is the 200th win for Andretti Autosport, so what better way to do it than in that type of fashion here at Long Beach here in California. It’s an amazing day. I have a great car and a great crew behind me. I couldn’t do it without them, so hats off to them.
“This is a special one. I just found out my grandfather died yesterday, so I wanted to dedicate this to him and obviously Michael [Andretti] for 200th win.”
As a result of the race win, Rossi has now jumped up into second place in the championship standings after four of the seventeen races this year. Alexander trails championship-leader Josef Newgarden by twenty-eight points.
The NTT IndyCar Series now heads full-speed into the all-important month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The next race, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course, will take place on Saturday, May 11, with the series staying in Indiana for the remainder of the month ahead of the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, which will take place on Sunday, May 26.