Rossi on missing out on championship crown: “Ultimately, we just weren’t good enough”

by Jordan Groves

After missing out on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series title, Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi has stated that he and his #27 crew “just weren’t good enough” this year and will “need to regroup and work hard this offseason.” Rossi finished in sixth place in last weekend’s season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which saw him fall to third place in the standings behind the champion, Josef Newgarden and runner-up, Simon Pagenaud.

Rossi entered the final weekend of the seventeen-race 2019 season as the closest challenger to championship-leader, Newgarden. Forty-one points separated Rossi from Newgarden, with Rossi hoping to pull off a strong race in his home state of California to try and take his maiden IndyCar title.

However, Rossi’s race weekend got off to a far from optimal start. A problem as small as a broken bolt on his #27 Honda saw Rossi miss a vast majority of the opening session of practice on Friday, confining him to last-place in the session. He ran a few more laps in the second practice session later that afternoon, but he was still far down the order in twenty-third place.

Thankfully for Rossi, whilst his practice mileage was not the greatest, his pace in the #27 car was still reasonable. He would go on to qualify in third-place on Saturday, just ahead of championship-leader, Newgarden, in fourth-place.

“We’ve had a pretty challenging two-and-a-half-days for the #27 NAPA Andretti Honda group – really the Andretti Autosport group as a whole,” Rossi said after Saturday’s qualifying session, “We had peaks and valleys, but it came good this afternoon for the most part.

“It’s tough when you miss out [on pole position] by seven-hundredths. You can find a lot of places in a lap where you give that up. We just have to keep working at it and come up with a good race car strategy for tomorrow.”

At the start of the race on Sunday, Rossi was on the attack. After an ill-fated move by fellow championship-contender, Scott Dixon, for the race-lead failed to pay off, Rossi tried to move up into second-place a few corners later but couldn’t complete the pass. From there, Rossi would begin to fall away from the race-leader, Colton Herta, and Dixon.

Credit: Stephen King / Courtesy of IndyCar

Things would get worse after the first pit-stops, with Rossi exiting the pit-lane right in front of the prior stopping #22 car of his fellow title contender, Simon Pagenaud. Simon, on hot tyres, tried to pass Rossi immediately, with Alexander defending heavily into turn four. It did not end well for Rossi, however, with Pagenaud refusing to take no for an answer and taking the position away whilst simultaneously edging Alexander onto the dirt on the outside of the corner.

Whilst the pace of his title rivals ebbed and flowed across the duration of the race, Rossi’s pace consistently seemed to be just slightly off the pace. He was far from slow, but he simply couldn’t keep up with those ahead of him.

Newgarden would fall back during the race and would come home in eighth place, with Josef letting challengers through so as to prevent a needless collision that could see him lose the title. Rossi would fall back to sixth-place by the end of the race, which would see him unable to vault Newgarden in the championship standings and subsequently miss out on the title. What’s more, with Pagenaud finishing the race just off of the podium in fourth-place, Simon would jump ahead of Alexander in the final title standings, pushing Alexander down to third-place.

After the race, a reflective Rossi commented on how his 2019 season had seen some good moments for him, most likely referring to his utterly dominant victories at Long Beach and Road America as well as his impressive fight for the win at the Indianapolis 500 which ultimately saw him finish in second place. However, Alexander would also go on to comment that he and his team had simply not been good enough this year and would need to improve heading into the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series.

“It is the way it goes,” Rossi said post-race, “We started on the used Firestones [tyres]. We knew ultimately the guys were Scott [Dixon] and Colton [Herta] because we knew we needed to win the race. We went opposite of them on tyre choice on the grid. It was a gamble. We made the decision this morning if we were going to go for it, we would rather finish third than second and be complacent. It is the way the chips fell.

“Nonetheless, I think the #27 NAPA Andretti Honda had some highlights this year. Ultimately, we just weren’t good enough. We need to regroup and work hard this offseason.”

Rossi will be hoping to be in contention for the NTT IndyCar championship for the third season in a row in 2020. After finishing second in 2018 and third this year, he will be hoping to take the final spot in the top three next year.

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