There may not be a more excited driver than Alexander Rossi when looking ahead to the final four races on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series calendar.
The 25-year-old Californian was fresh off a “really good” test at Watkins Glen International on Thursday, but it’s this week’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway that has his immediate attention.
“I think that Andretti Autosport’s biggest strength the past two years has been Indianapolis and Pocono; they’re both superspeedways,” said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion who was winning at Pocono last August when he was involved in a pit-lane collision with Charlie Kimball and Helio Castroneves that ended his day.
“I think last year we had a really good opportunity to win it, which (winning) two 500-milers in one year would have been really cool, but the whole incident with Charlie and Helio stopped us short. At the time, we were leading and the first two stints we were never out of the top three – the car was really, really good. I think we had a shot to at least be on the podium last year.
“I think we’ve taken another step forward with our package based on our performance at Indy this year. We’re hoping that all translates at Pocono next week because there’s always that unknown until you get there, but we feel pretty good with what we’ve got.”
Despite winning Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors last season, Rossi was left somewhat frustrated by finishing just outside the top 10 of the championship standings. His ability and understanding of the tour has grown this year with strong performances – albeit below his own expectations since it has yet to result in a win.
The pace was there to win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in April, until an untimely mechanical issue sidelined him 23 laps from the finish while running second. Making a valiant attempt to defend his Indy 500 crown, Rossi started on the outside of the front row and flexed his muscle in the early stages by leading 23 laps. However, a flux strategy and ill-timed cautions left him crossing the finish line in seventh while watching teammate Takuma Sato drink the ceremonial milk in victory lane.
The improved pace has been on display at just about every Verizon IndyCar Series circuit. Rossi has only matched or bettered his finishes from 2016 at each track but four through the first 13 races.
The driver of the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda has been pleased with the development and currently sits eighth in the championship standings, 43 points out behind fifth-place Will Power.
“I think we’ve been better,” Rossi said. “There have been a lot more missed opportunities this year than there was last year.
“With that being said, I’d rather have missed opportunities and be fast than the other way around and hope for luck to fall your way. So from that standpoint, yes, I think the team takes a lot of pride in where we’ve come from since 2016.
“Especially the second half of the year, I think we’ve been one of, if not, the strongest of all the cars. But we have to execute these last four races, which I think suit me very well. I know that I’ll be very comfortable at Pocono. I know I’ll be quick at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. I guess the big unknown is just Gateway at the moment.”
Although the outside chance for a title run exists – Rossi trails championship leader Josef Newgarden by 95 points with a maximum of 266 available to any driver in the final four races – he instead is focused on climbing the standings and being the top Andretti Autosport driver and among the best in the Honda camp when the season is complete.
Rossi trails Sato by 23 points for team honors and is 87 behind Scott Dixon and 37 in arrears of Graham Rahal among other Honda drivers.
“We’re not really looking at (the championship) at this point,” said Rossi. “I think what we’re trying to do is to see if we can be top Honda. I mean, Graham and his whole team have done an amazing job this year, so that’s not to be taken lightly.
“I think that is one of our top priorities and the second priority for me is being the top Andretti Autosport car.”
ABC Supply on-track action commences with practice at 9 a.m. ET Saturday, which streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Single-car, two-lap qualifying airs live at 1 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN, with the final practice streaming live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com at 5 p.m.
Live coverage of the 200-lap race from the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle” oval begins at 2 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.