Rossi on podium finish at Portland: “We maximized what we had”

by Jordan Groves

Alexander Rossi has said that was happy with his drive from seventh place on the grid to finish on the podium in Sunday’s 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway. The Andretti Autosport driver has reclaimed second place in the championship standings heading into the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a race that Rossi says will be “intense” but one that he is “looking forward to”.

Rossi entered the weekend hoping to bounce back after a disappointing race at Gateway Motorsports Park saw him pushed down to third in the championship standings by Team Penske‘s Simon Pagenaud, whilst also losing ground to the championship leader, Josef Newgarden.

Qualifying on Saturday started well for Rossi. He comfortably advanced into the second round of qualifying, whilst his main title rivals, Newgarden and Pagenaud, both failed to get out of the first round. This gave Rossi a great chance to capitalize on their misfortune and get a good grid spot for Sunday’s race, but Rossi would struggle in the second round and would find himself eliminated at the last moment by Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Felix Rosenqvist. This would put Rossi in seventh-place on the grid, not a disaster, but also not as good as Alexander would have hoped.

“We made some changes ahead of the second session,” Rossi said when asked what had cost him a place in the final round of qualifying, “We wouldn’t have made those changes if we didn’t think it was the right decision to get us into the Firestone Fast Six. I think missing out on advancing is an indication to how close the NTT IndyCar Series is and you have got to nail it every lap of every session. We missed it but we will get after tonight and make the car better.”

At the start of Sunday’s race, Rossi was able to avoid two potential race-altering situations. He was, thankfully, ahead of the melee at turn one on the opening lap after Graham Rahal got into the corner too deep and ended up collecting five cars. He passed Rosenqvist for sixth place on the ensuing restart after the first caution period and then set about trying to work his way further up the order; starting with his team-mate, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

As Rossi got onto the back of Hunter-Reay for fifth place, many thought that Ryan would not put up too much of a fight considering that Alexander was his team-mate and was also competing for a championship. However, as the pair came onto the main straight, Hunter-Reay put on a very aggressive defence as he moved all the way to the right-hand side of the track to try and hold the position.

However, Hunter-Reay appeared far too focused on the battle with Rossi than he was on his braking point for turn one. As a result, Ryan would brake far too late and would end up taking out fourth-placed Jack Harvey, with Rossi narrowly managing to drive around the outside of the pair of them to emerge from the incident unscathed.

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

From there, Rossi did not really look as though he had the pace of the cars ahead of him. He managed to pass pole-sitter Colton Herta after the Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver’s tyres went off at the end of the first stint, but he would also wind up losing a position back to Rosenqvist. Rossi remained in fourth place for the first half of the race, but was luckily promoted into third place after the race-leader, Scott Dixon, was forced to pit with battery issues.

As the race drew to a close, Rossi’s podium position came under threat by Herta behind him, but Andretti – who have a technical alliance with Harding Steinbrenner Racing – asked Herta to “be a good team-mate.” This led to Herta backing off and ending his attack on Rossi, with Alexander taking the chequered flag in third place, just ahead of Colton who was said to have had to save fuel in the last few laps.

With Rossi finishing as the highest-placed driver in the championship fight, he managed to move back into second place in the standings with a gap of forty-one points to the championship-leader, Josef Newgarden, who finished slightly behind him in fifth-place.

After the race, Rossi stated that he and the #27 Honda crew had done as well as he thought he could of as he did not believe he had the speed to contend for the win. He also went on to say that he was “looking forward” to an “intense” final race of the season in three weeks time.

“It is not that I wanted more, I just wanted less for [Josef Newgarden],” Rossi said after Sunday’s race, “The No. 27 NAPA Andretti Honda boys did a good job. We maximized what we had. I don’t think we had a race-winning car today, unfortunately. Starting in seventh and finishing on the podium is a good day. We finished in front of our championship rival. It will be pretty intense in California, but I am looking forward to it.”

With Scott Dixon finishing well down the order, there are realistically three drivers in contention for the championship heading into the double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca later this month.

The championship leader, Josef Newgarden, will win the title no matter what so long as he finishes inside the top four. He also has a strong chance of winning should he finish in fifth-place, depending on the way bonus points fall. Things will get interesting if he finishes in sixth-place or lower, as that would allow Rossi or Pagenaud to win the title if either of them win the race.

The final race of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, will take place on Sunday, September 22.

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