Rossi hurt by power deficit, caution period, refueling issues
Andretti Autosport-Honda’s Alexander Rossi was left very downcast after missing out on a second Indy 500 victory by a mere 0.2086sec as he felt he was stymied by a combination of issues, the most damaging of which was a horsepower shortfall.
After some breathtakingly brave passes akin to those he produced at Indy in 2018, Rossi had just gotten ahead of eventual winner Simon Pagenaud when the caution came on for a five-car shunt at the end of the back straight on Lap 178.
Race Control red-flagged the race but once it let the cars back out of pitlane, the field remained circulating under caution until Lap 187. That ended the #22 Team Penske-Chevrolet’s worries over fuel consumption, neutralizing the Honda’s one advantage over Chevy on a superspeedway, namely, fuel mileage.
That left the race as a flat-out duel to the twin checkers, with Pagenaud getting ahead of Rossi on the restart, and while Rossi eventually found a way past heading into Turn 1 on Lap 198, coming down to Turn 3 on Lap 199, the Penske-Chevy powered past and went on to lead to the checkered flag.
“There's not much to say,” said a grim-faced Rossi afterward. “I think you all saw it. We just didn't have the straight-line speed. There's not much we can do about that from my side, inside the car. Obviously the #22 guys fully deserve it. They were on pole, led probably 70 percent of the laps. Yeah, I mean, [Pagenaud] was a deserving winner for sure.
“But that last yellow really hurt us because we were doing a lot better on fuel mileage than he was, so that was the first kind of nail in the proverbial coffin, and yeah, the second one was … we didn't have the speed out front. I mean, I was flat for the last 15 laps, and there's not much more you can do.”
Rossi was furious when having gotten himself into position to tackle the leader, he found himself suffering an extended pitstop caused by the fuel hose not locking onto the buckeye. His anger, he said was due to this being the third time in his four Indy 500s that he had been struck by refueling issues.
“When you come here four times and three of the times you can't get fuel in the car, I think you can understand why I was upset,” he commented. “It can't happen. I mean, it wasn't a human error, it was a mechanical problem, but still, it's not something that we can have here. It's the biggest race in the world, and 75 percent of the time we can't get fuel in the racecar. We need to address that for sure.
“But I think the whole 27 NAPA Andretti Honda boys did a great job of recovering. [Team COO and #27 strategist] Rob Edwards, as always, is exceptional at being the kind of steady voice and very, very helpful for me in terms of getting back to center and just focusing on getting back to where we needed to be.
“Ultimately [the refueling problem] didn't affect the end result. I think we're lucky that it didn't, but yeah, at the end of the day, they recovered nicely. Our last pit stop was mega, got us back into the lead before that final yellow came out, which, as I said before, was probably the thing that ultimately cost us the race.”
Regarding the timing of his pass on Pagenaud and whether he should have left it until the last rather than penultimate lap to give his rival fewer opportunities to respond, Rossi commented: “I think you saw on the last restart, he just drove by us. There was the opportunity there to get the lead. I had been working on it for 12, 13 laps, and it finally came, and I didn't have a choice. I just had to hope that maybe he would lose so much behind me and that Takuma [Sato] or Josef [Newgarden] or whoever would get him, and I would be able to have enough of a cushion for the final two laps. But I passed him in Turn 1 and he was straight back by me into Turn 3, so there was nothing I could do.
“Ultimately it was a good day for the team… The car was by far the best in the field in terms of what we could do and pass at will when I needed to. I didn't see anyone else doing that. So a huge testament to the whole Andretti Autosport organization for really my fourth year here giving me a car that was capable of winning. That's a great thing, and I'm very, very thankful for that.
“But as I said, leading up to this many times, once you've won this thing once, the desire to win just ramps up exponentially every year, so it sucks to come this close and really have nothing that we as a team could have done differently. I'm proud of them. I'm proud of the effort that they always put in, and yeah, when we get No. 2, it's going to be probably a huge explosion of emotions because we all want it really bad.”
Rossi dismissed the idea of protesting Pagenaud for blocking or breaking the tow down to Turn 3 on the last lap – “He was moving in reaction for sure, but the last lap of the Indy 500, they're not going to do anything about it. It's kind of irrelevant.” But he did slam Oriol Servia for being obstructive as he attempted to lap the veteran following his fouled pitstop.
“I think it was one of the most disrespectful things I've ever seen in a racecar, to be honest,” said Rossi. “He's a lap down and defending, putting me to the wall at 230 miles an hour. It's unacceptable. It's unacceptable for him, and it's unacceptable that IndyCar allowed it to happen as long as they did.”
Although he was disappointed in Honda’s power deficit, Rossi defended said there was no specific ‘fix’ necessary.
“Things ebb and flow,” he shrugged. “We've been a strong team for a couple of years, and it goes in cycles. Honda is doing a great job, and working their butts off to continue pushing this engine that's been around for the better part of a decade to continually bring updates.
“I think the step that they took this year compared to last year was good. It got us a lot closer. Ultimately it wasn't enough, but I think they're doing everything they can, and until there's a change in the regulations, everyone is kind of at their maximum.
“We are definitely stronger on some tracks, they [Chevrolet] are stronger on others, and that parity is kind of what makes this series what it is. You're never going to have it completely go your way as much as you'd like to. But I don't think there's any fix necessary. They're working hard every day to try and make it happen.”
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