BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Alexander Rossi was enduring a miserable weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Then came race day.
The 25-year-old Californian started 18th in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First and used carefully planned strategy and strong pace to fight to the front in Sunday’s 90-lap race, ultimately finishing fifth. Rossi moved up more positions in the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda, start to finish, than any driver in the field.
“Our strategy was decided just (Saturday) night when we were starting 18th,” said Rossi. “We knew we were going to pit early, try and get into clean air, get out of sequence and go really hard, but then it became about having to save a lot of fuel over the stints because we had to go an extra four laps on everyone else.
“The car was strong enough to save fuel and stay in front of everyone, but still not quite where we wanted it. We need to really do our homework so we can understand what happened on Friday and Saturday, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Winner of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Rossi didn’t find anything extra on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course to help himself. He threw full credit to the team for the long hours of preparation after qualifying Saturday to enhance the car.
“We just really did our homework overnight,” said Rossi. “We didn’t know exactly what was causing our issues and I don’t think we fully solved them, but we made a pretty big step in the right direction. That’s credit to the crew and my engineers, who stayed late (Saturday) night and really dug into it. We were all disappointed, but it was all about managing that disappointment and trying to focus on finding the solution.
“We found part of one, but I think we’re missing quite a bit of pace to win the race, so we need to still make steps forward.”
When the full-course caution flew for Spencer Pigot’s spin two-thirds of the way through the race, it bunched the field for a restart on Lap 68 and set up a great dual for the final top-five spot between Rossi and James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
The 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year got the better of Hinchcliffe, but mostly came away with the gratification of strong pace and being near the front.
“It was good (battling with Hinchcliffe),” said Rossi. “I mean, it’s so nice to be fighting. I said it after Long Beach, just to be able to fight up front for something brings a smile to my face. Regardless of how much I’m fine with the car, just the fact that we’re up there, that’s obviously a huge difference from last year.
“I’m enjoying it much more. I know the team is enjoying it much more and we’ve just got to keep making sure that we execute on race weekends and that next win is around the corner.”
Rossi and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field head to the first oval race of the season this week, the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway. Practice and qualifying will be held Friday on the 1.022-mile oval steeped in Indy car history (both sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), with the race airing live at 9 pm. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.