Having been on the cusp of a victory several times throughout the 2017 IndyCar season, Alexander Rossi finally won again after putting in an incredible performance at Watkins Glen as the IndyCar title fight took a bad turn for Josef Newgarden
Since winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, Rossi has been looking for that second victory that would silence the doubters who sprung up after his first win. Whilst it was impressive how he won the race by pulling off a masterstroke in fuel saving, many questioned how quick he really was and hoped to see him win in outright pace.
He had, though, been very impressive in qualifying for the Indy 500 that year and looked to be the class of the field in Pocono before a nasty accident in the pit lane took him out of that race. He didn’t get another opportunity to win that year and looked ahead to 2017, having resigned with Andretti and deciding IndyCar was the place to be after his F1 debut in 2015 with Manor.
The Alexander Rossi of 2017 was a much-improved one. His speed has been fantastic all season, particularly on oval circuits. He qualified third at this year’s Indy 500 and probably had the car to beat before a fueling blunder scuppered his chances. A mechanical issue at Long Beach scuppered an almost certain victory and despite taking third at Pocono this year, the fuel mixture knob coming off the wheel left him without full power and probably lost him victory there as well. But as the season draws to a close, it was at the penultimate round in Watkins Glen that saw him finally take another win.
“We had an issue in the beginning with the fuel thing, but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing.”
Rossi had started from the pole after an amazing lap, and lead the opening lap as everyone started on wet tyres on a drying track. A great pit stop saw him back out in the lead as everyone changed to dry tyres, but he lost the lead to Helio Castroneves at the end of the lap as everyone scrambled for grip. The next
The next pit stops after a caution for Takuma Sato saw him regain the lead and then start to pull away as the race went green again. But unbelievably, there was more fuel related adversity that could have ended his chances of victory. An issue with the fuel rig at the last stop meant that not all of the fuel went into the car, which meant he pit again just nine laps later and off sequence. A full course yellow would be needed to vault him back to the front…and that came in the form of teammate Takuma Sato, who spun about three quarters around the lap to bring out the pace car.
The field pitted and this left Rossi back out in front again. Realising it was now his to lose, he bolted away from the chasing pack and pulled out a huge twelve-second gap to underline that this was his race. It was then that disaster stuck for championship leader Josef Newgarden. Exiting the pits after the last stops, he slammed into the pitlane armco after racing teammate Will Power out of their pitboxes and was then rammed up the rear by Sebastian Bourdais. This brought out the final caution of the
This brought out the final caution of the race, and saw Newgarden drop to the tail of the field and give Scott Dixon a massive gain in the championship to close the gap to just three points. Rossi then fought it out with Dixon all the way to the chequered flag in a one-on-one duel, and held firm to take an impressive first road course victory and to say to the IndyCar world that he was much more than a one hit wonder.
“Maybe I was just too wide on the line because Will looked fine. It just seemed like it slid off — there was no grip. It’s an error. I mean, cold tires, just a mistake. Not fun to make but it happens.”
So let’s get this straight. Rossi had just beaten the master of Watkins Glen, in a straight fight, after overcoming fuelling issues (for not the first time) and having looked down and out earlier on in the race. It was undoubtedly his best weekend yet in IndyCar and one of the most impressive performances of the year. It was also a big warning for 2018, that ” hey, I’m not just a one hit wonder and I’ve got serious speed, so watch out!”.
Rossi made history by winning the 2016 Indy 500 on a fuel economy driver. He become the hottest prospect on the grid after winning at Watkins Glen in 2017. Newgarden has been hailed as one of the next big stars as well, and it could well be that we soon see Newgarden and Rossi fight it out for titles together. And what a fight that would be!