How Rossi's IndyCar Win at Indianapolis Road Course Paints New Title Picture

·10 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images - Getty Images

You’ve heard the expression “R & D”? Well, for Alexander Rossi, Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a matter of “R & B.”

No, we’re not talking rhythm and blues. Rather, as Rossi said after earning his first win in over three years (June 23, 2019, to be exact), it was all about “relief and belief.”

“It’s a relief, man,” Rossi told NBC. “It’s been so many things for so long. … There’s just been so much belief for so long and I’m just so glad to finally accomplish it.”

Not only did Saturday’s victory snap a 49-race winless streak for Rossi, it also was his eighth career IndyCar win and the second time he’s won at IMS, having captured the 2016 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie.

“To come back to Indianapolis and (win again) at home is really pretty amazing,” said Rossi, who becomes the eighth different winner in the first 13 races on the IndyCar circuit this season. He’s also just the second Andretti driver to win this season (Colton Herta won in the earlier edition of the Indianapolis Grand Prix in May).

Photo credit: Logan Riely - Getty Images
Photo credit: Logan Riely - Getty Images

Rossi dominated the second half of the 85-lap event around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn layout, winning by 3.5441 seconds over the highest-finishing rookie this season, runner-up Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Unfortunately for Rossi, Saturday’s win is ultimately a bit too little, too late for him when it comes to still having a chance at the IndyCar championship.

The California native leaves Indy in eighth place in the standings, 113 points behind new series leader Will Power. But that won’t stop Rossi from going for more wins in the season’s four remaining races.

Those four races will be the last quartet of events for him with Andretti Autosport. He has already signed to drive for Arrow McLaren SP next season.

When he revealed a few weeks ago that he would be leaving moving to McLaren at the end of this season, Rossi said he still had some goals to accomplish with his current team, most notably to win a race or two.

Goal achieved, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t add to that wins list in the remaining events, either.

“Yeah, of course, there’s four races left and still a lot of really good tracks for us,” Rossi said.

Rossi finished 3.5441 seconds ahead of runner-up Christian Lundgaard, with a 3-4-5 finish by Team Penske teammates Will Power, Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden.

Lundgaard’s showing was especially notable, as he recorded the highest finish of any rookie driver this season with the runner-up outcome. It was just his 14th career IndyCar start.

“(Indianapolis) is my second home,” the Danish native said. “I love to be in Indy. To have a podium and this being the place, I would have preferred it to be the other way around (win the Indy 500), but we’ll take that next year.”

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

Herta No Longer a Factor in Championship

Rossi’s teammate, Colton Herta, who earlier this season appeared to be Andretti Autosport’s best chance for the championship, joins Rossi as essentially done when it comes to the title.

Herta suffered mechanical issues while leading that ultimately resulted in a next-to-last finish in 24tb place, 43 laps behind his winning teammate.

Rossi commiserated with his teammate’s misfortune, but also touted his own good fortune as well.

Photo credit: Logan Riely - Getty Images
Photo credit: Logan Riely - Getty Images

“I think he was definitely strong,” Rossi said of Herta before the mechanical problems ended his day. “We had pretty much the same race car. I don’t want to take anything away from him and what he did to come from ninth to that position, it was incredible. But it was the 27’s turn, so that’s awesome.”

Another Andretti teammate, Romain Grosjean, had nothing but trouble Friday during practice and qualifying, as well as in Saturday’s race, ultimately finishing 16th. Among the plethora of problems Grosjean encountered: a defective throttle sensor Friday, brake issues, a power issue earlier in Saturday’s race, and he also stalled while exiting pit lane.

Perhaps Grosjean should be grateful he finished 16th and not lower. In his last nine starts, the Swiss driver has finished 16th or worse six times, and has dropped from sixth to 14th.

Is the driver he replaced, Ryan Hunter-Reay, still available? Just askin’.

Six Drivers Still in Title Contention

With four races remaining, the IndyCar driver standings remain close, with six drivers still in contention and a seventh mathematically still having an outside chance.

Using the same formula he has all season, one of consistency and trying to get the best finishes out of his car even when he can’t win, Will Power’s third-place finish at Indy allowed him to take over the points lead from Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

“(Consistency) was the goal from the very beginning, to play the long game and we’ve been doing that,” Power told NBC. “You just have to do what you know and that’s what I’ve been doing. I know this game so well and it can change quickly, but I’ve got to take what you can get every day, every race day.”

To say the least, the first lap was full of havoc and angst for Power and others. After starting fourth, Power was promptly beaten up, banged into and bounced around, dropping like a rock to 16th.

“Definitely a rough start,” Power quipped. “I got pushed around on Turn 1, got pushed into Pato (O’Ward) and spun him, and then Helio (Castroneves) went for a big move and pushed me on the curve, but a great recovery man. You can never expect a normal day in IndyCar.”

Ericsson went from an eight-point lead over Power coming into the race, to trailing Power by nine points after Saturday’s event, due in-part to Ericsson failing to qualify Friday as a result of an engine issue.

“It was a good day for us,” Ericsson said nonetheless. “A top 10 was our goal. We almost got there. But 11th is a good result from where we started (last on the grid).”

Even though he’s led the standings for the last two months, dropping to second is not really a major concern, Ericsson said.

“It really doesn’t change, to be honest,” he said. “Of course, I would have liked to keep the (points) lead, but with what happened yesterday, to be just nine points behind Will is a good spot. We go to Nashville where we won last year, so we know we’ll be strong there. We’re still in the max. If we maximize every week and if we do that, I think we have a good chance to win this thing.”

Josef Newgarden is third in the standings, 32 points behind his Team Penske teammate Power, Scott Dixon is fourth (-38), Pato O’Ward is fifth (-46), defending IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou is mired in sixth (-52) and Scott McLaughlin is pretty much the last driver to still have an outside chance, 81 points behind his teammate Power.

“We shouldn’t have the fumble in qualifying that we did, because starting 20th makes it almost impossible (to win),” said Dixon, who finished eighth in Saturday’s race.

Distractions Not Helping Palou

Is the very public contract battle with Chip Ganassi getting to Alex Palou?

Last season, Palou had three wins, eight podiums and one pole en route to capturing the championship.

Photo credit: Logan Riely - Getty Images
Photo credit: Logan Riely - Getty Images

Thus far this season through 13 races on the 17-race schedule, Palou has yet to win even once, has just four podiums (although to be fair, three of those are runner-up finishes) and zero poles.

But it has been since the July 12 bombshell that he has signed to race for McLaren next season – in an as-yet to be determined series (potentially Formula 1, IndyCar or Formula E), while his current boss, Chip Ganassi, insists Palou is still under contract through 2023 – Palou has struggled: sixth at Toronto and the first race at Iowa last weekend, 13th in the second Iowa race and 10th Saturday at Indy.

“It was a tough day,” Palou said. “Started seventh, had some issues at the start, had a really bad second stint and just drove our pace a lot. We came home 10th, which isn’t terrible, but obviously not what we wanted.

“(It’s) time to push a lot for the last four races we have and gain those points back to try and get the second championship.”

But Wait, There's More

It was originally thought that Simon Pagenaud slowed because he was out of fuel. But apparently it was more severe, as his car died and his day ended, finishing last in the 25-car field, 51 laps behind the lead lap. … Team owner Dale Coyne reportedly has reached agreements to have two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato – the second-oldest active full-time driver on the series at 45 -- and rookie David Malukas back for 2023. … Rinus VeeKay is due to become a free agent on Monday, but it's expected he’ll remain with Ed Carpenter Racing. … Four races remain on the schedule, with next Sunday’s (August 7) street course event in Nashville the final event of a five-race stretch in 22 days. After that, events at Gateway (August 20), Portland (Sept. 4) and the season finale at Laguna Seca (Sept. 11) remain.

The Results

Results Saturday of the Gallagher Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (2) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
2. (6) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 85, Running
3. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (15) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 85, Running
5. (5) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (8) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 85, Running
7. (17) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
8. (20) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
9. (1) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (7) Alex Palou, Honda, 85, Running
11. (25) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 85, Running
12. (3) Pato O'Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
13. (11) David Malukas, Honda, 85, Running
14. (19) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 85, Running
15. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
16. (22) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 85, Running
17. (10) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (14) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 85, Running
19. (16) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 85, Running
20. (13) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running
21. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 84, Running
22. (23) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 84, Running
23. (21) Kyle Kirkwood, Chevrolet, 84, Running
24. (9) Colton Herta, Honda, 42, Mechanical
25. (12) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 34, Off Course

Race Statistics
Winner's average speed: 114.483 mph
Time of Race: 01:48:39.1825
Margin of victory: 3.5441 seconds
Cautions: 2 for 5 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Rosenqvist 1 - 7
Herta 8 - 13
McLaughlin 14 - 23
Power 24 - 30
Herta 31 - 41
Rossi 42 - 85

NTT INDYCAR SERIES Point Standings:
Power 431, Ericsson 422, Newgarden 399, Dixon 393, O'Ward 385, Palou 379, McLaughlin 350, Rossi 318, Rosenqvist 299, Herta 285, VeeKay 282, Rahal 274, Pagenaud 262, Grosjean 259, Lundgaard 248, Daly 236, Malukas 221, Castroneves 207, Sato 199, Ilott 166, Johnson 166, Harvey 158, DeFrancesco 151, Kirkwood 133, Kellett 103, Tony Kanaan 78, Santino Ferrucci 71, Ed Carpenter 67, Tatiana Calderon 58, JR Hildebrand 53, Juan Pablo Montoya 44, Simona De Silvestro 21, Marco Andretti 17, Sage Karam 14, Stefan Wilson 10.

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski