The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series is drawing to a close, with just three races remaining until the champion is crowned at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca next month. One driver who is in the mix to take his first NTT IndyCar Series championship is Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi.
Rossi trails championship-leader, Josef Newgarden, by thirty-five points and sits in second place in the standings, with Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon also in contention for the crown. Still a relative newcomer to the NTT IndyCar Series, this is Alexander’s second year as a serious title contender, having missed out on the championship last season after a difficult final race at Sonoma Raceway.
Rossi made his IndyCar debut in 2016 after a brief spell in Formula 1 with the ill-fated Manor Marussia F1 Team and, despite having never driven on an oval and never having been to an IndyCar race prior to the season, Rossi would take a stunning debut victory in the biggest race of the season, the Indianapolis 500, on his first try.
Since then, Rossi has gone from strength to strength and has firmly established himself as a threat, week in, week out. His partnership with Andretti Autosport has turned into one of the strongest in the paddock, with Rossi now having notched up seven wins, including some of the most dominant wins of the recent era of IndyCar racing at legendary locations such as Long Beach and Watkins Glen.
Rossi’s electric start to his IndyCar career made him a very attractive option for other teams, especially as he had been on the driver market for the 2020 championship. However, despite rumoured offers from the likes of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, Rossi announced last month that he had signed a multi-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport; thus ensuring that the successful partnership remains on the grid for at least the next few seasons.
We were lucky enough to be able to ask Alexander a few questions prior to this weekend’s race at Gateway Motorsports Park. In our chat, Alexander spoke of his mindset heading into the final few races as a championship contender, the reasons behind why he re-signed with Andretti, as well as his response to speculation that he could return to Formula 1 in the future:
Prior to the race at Mid-Ohio, the silly season speculation of a potential move to Team Penske was finally ended by the announcement that you have re-signed with Andretti on a multi-year deal. What, ultimately, was the biggest factor that led to you re-signing with Andretti?
Andretti has been my home since I came to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2016. I have built relationships with my crew, engineers, and all the people behind the scenes. It just seemed a natural fit – it’s like a family at Andretti. I work well with my teammates and we have proven that we have a successful relationship with one another. We know what works and what doesn’t work for each other and that really helps us on track. I’m happy to keep the momentum going with this team and continue to call Andretti Autosport home.
What does it mean to have signed your contract and confirmed your future before the end of the season? Does it allow you to concentrate more on the championship with one less potential distraction?
I wasn’t distracted by my future. I knew my full focus needed to be on winning races and winning the championship and that is where it was.
Just three races remain until the champion is crowned. Last weekend at Pocono wasn’t great, but you’re still only thirty-five points off of the lead. What is your mindset like heading into the final three rounds?
We’re taking it day-by-day, race-by-race. We know we need to get another race win, but we also value every point we can get. Pocono was a disaster for us this year, so it is really important we get results at the final three races that help us close the gap to Josef [Newgarden].
This is the second straight year that you have been in serious contention for the title as the season draws to a close. What did you learn from your battle with Scott Dixon last year that has helped you this time around?
Every point counts. You have to balance quite a few things. You don’t want to be too aggressive but sometimes you need to be aggressive. You don’t want to be too cautious, but sometimes cautious gets you more points in the end. We have to read every situation and be sure we’re making the correct judgement call.
Despite your IndyCar career still being relatively young, you’ve already made a name for yourself as one of the best on the grid and you’ve established yourself as a threat week in, week out. Did you ever envisage this for yourself when you made your debut back in 2016?
I didn’t know what to expect heading into 2016. I had never seen an oval track. I had never been to an IndyCar race. The end goal is always to be competitive, win races and win championships. Your first year or two are always learning years, but I’ve had an experienced team and experienced teammates help me learn quickly and I think we have shown we’re here to challenge for the championship.
As of now, you’ve taken seven race wins in IndyCar, six of which could be considered as dominant victories. Just what does it take from both team and driver to be able to put on such as crushing performance like you have done previously at Long Beach, Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America? Is it tough to stay fully focused when you’re leading by a distance?
No, you never know what is going to happen in IndyCar races. You have to be pushing every lap because you could have a huge gap and an untimely yellow flag could come out and ruin your day. You want to maintain the biggest lead as possible because you never know what is going to happen.
Of course, prior to your IndyCar entrance, your career path very much focused on the road to Formula 1. You made five Formula 1 starts before your switch to IndyCar. Now that you’ve re-signed with Andretti on a multi-year contract, does that end any chance of you making a return to Formula 1 in the future, or is Formula 1 still something you would consider if the right deal came along?
Nope. Not interested. I’ve made a home in IndyCar and that is where I intend to stay.
In your time racing across both sides of the Atlantic, you’ve gone wheel-to-wheel with some of the best drivers in this era of Motorsport. Of everyone that you have gone up against, who would you consider the toughest and/or your biggest rival and why?
Scott Dixon – he’s won five series championships for a reason.
Back to the present now. In the fourteen races that have been run so far this year, you’ve only failed to finish outside of the top ten on two occasions. Is consistency what ultimately makes the difference when it comes to fighting for an IndyCar title, especially when you consider the wide variety of race tracks that you guys visit?
Consistency is important, yes. But it is also important to win races. Some teams and drivers just take a liking to certain tracks. We’re pretty good at Long Beach, Indy, Road America and Toronto – we seem to struggle a bit at places like Iowa. When it comes down to it, you have to capitalize and go for the win on the tracks you can and make the best of the tracks that don’t favour you.
Finally, just what would it mean to you to be crowned the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series champion?
It would mean a lot. This series has some of the best drivers in the world. Several drivers could win on any given race weekend. The margins of lap times are so tight and the field is super competitive. Any driver who wins this championship is super skilled and has a great team behind them to get them to the end result. Our team has been working together, hard and endlessly and it would be a great to be celebrating a championship when the season is complete.
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series continues this weekend with the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park. Practice and qualifying will take place later today, Friday, August 23, with the race taking place tomorrow, Saturday, August 24.