BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Simply put, Alexander Rossi is trying to get some momentum going for his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The 25-year-old Californian has shown the pace to be a title contender. Especially two weeks ago at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, where he passed Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay two-thirds of the way through the race for second place and looked primed to challenge eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe.
However, an unfortunate mechanical failure forced Rossi out of the historic street race after 62 laps and he was left with a 19th-place finish. The champion of last year’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil wants to leave the rough outing in the past and focus on the present at today’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First.
“(Long Beach) doesn’t really matter, honestly,” said Rossi, who sits 17th in the standings. “It was really disappointing, obviously, but it doesn’t change anything that we do here. We haven’t really scored any points this year. It’s not so much about rebounding from Long Beach as it is generally scoring some points. It’s important.”
The task isn’t any easier given Rossi’s starting position in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda. He’ll go off from the outside of Row 9 in this afternoon’s 90-lap race on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course.
“Practice has not been very kind to us this weekend, so we need to really make sure that we make an educated decision (on the race setup),” Rossi said. “And we’re going to take a little bit of a gamble, honestly, because of where we are. It’s not working for me; trying to figure it out.”
During last year’s event at Barber Motorsports Park, Rossi, a rookie at the time, started 20th and had an unspectacular finish of 15th. Still struggling to come to grips with Barber, Rossi admitted, “I still don’t love it” like he does another Verizon IndyCar Series favorite of many drivers, Watkins Glen International.
“I think it is a little bit different than Watkins because it’s a motorcycle track, right?” Rossi said. “The corner durations are very long and, if you’re out of the window, even by a little bit, it’s a big penalty of lap time just because of how much time you are spending in the corner.
“It’s very unique, but it’s the same for everyone so you have to maximize it the best you can.”
The Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver has seen big strides from Honda, which scored two wins all of 2016 but has already equaled that total just two races into this season.
“We’ve talked about how big their step forward was over the winter and I think it’s amazing the job that they’ve done considering the regulation freeze,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of kind of exploiting the areas that they can and hopefully we can carry that forward into the month of May.”
Overnight rain at Barber has changed track conditions considerably ahead of this morning’s 10:45 a.m. ET warmup practice (streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). With one of his best Formula One performances coming in the rain-tortured 2015 edition of the United States Grand Prix, when he finished 12th after an epic duel with two-time F1 champion and recently announced Indianapolis 500 driver Fernando Alonso, it’s no wonder that Rossi wouldn’t mind seeing a wet race this afternoon.
“The thing that’ll be interesting for me is that I’ve never driven an Indy car in the wet, so that’ll be exciting,” sad Rossi. “Can’t wait. Praying that the day comes very soon, especially around here.”