INDIANAPOLIS – Alexander Rossi is probably looking forward to the NTT IndyCar Series season coming to an end.
The Andretti Autosport star would love a do-over, or at least as they call it in golf, a mulligan.
A horrible start to the NTT IndyCar Series season put one of the prime contenders for the championship into a deep hole.
From an engine reset issue that kept his Honda from firing up to start the season-opening race at Texas Motor Speedway, to a fuel pressure problem in the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis in July, to a 19th-place finish in the first of two races at Road America, the hits kept coming for Rossi.
He turned it around in the second REV Group Grand Prix at Road America in July when he finished third. He was sixth and eighth in the Iowa IndyCar 250s.
Rossi lined up ninth to start Sunday’s 104th Indianapolis 500 and put his No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda into the lead for 17 laps. From laps 102 to 132, Rossi and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon battled for supremacy, trading the lead at will as each tried to stay up front while also conserving fuel.
When Rossi made a pit stop on lap 124 during a caution period after Alex Palou crashed, the outside rear tire changer had trouble getting the wheel nut tightened. He had to go back with the gun to give it another whirl, which delayed Rossi’s release from the pits.
That vital extra time was enough to cause a bit of mayhem on his exit from the pits. He ran into the side of eventual winner Takuma Sato’s Honda. It looked like minimal contact, but to IndyCar Race Control, it was enough to be penalized.
Rossi’s No. 27 Honda was sent to the back of the field for unsafe release from the pits. That put Rossi 21st after serving the penalty.
Although he did not say a word on his team’s radio, Rossi was on a mission to race out of the hole he found himself. He made up six positions on one lap before giving up a position to Charlie Kimball.
Rossi was 17th when he crashed on lap 143 to create another caution period. Rossi’s Honda went high in turn two and crashed into the outside wall.
The winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 finished 27th, the same as his car number, in the 104th Indianapolis 500.
“We were never planning on being that far back,” Rossi said after he was checked and released from the IU Health Infield Care Center. “Yeah, we just lost it. It’s a lot of dirty air back there. It was tough in turn tow all day, but up front where we should have been the 27 Andretti Honda was awesome.
“I thought we had a car to win. I don’t even want to talk about the penalty right now. I’m going to have to have a long conversation with someone about that. I can’t see anything. I just go on what I’m told, but still, Takuma is moving in reaction on restarts and doesn’t get a penalty. Just consistency … we’ll talk about it. I don’t have an opinion right now. It’s obviously frustrating.
“There’s two sides to every story.”
Rossi believed once he got his Honda up front, it was capable of winning the race. Instead, he was an early exit from the contest and is dropped him back to 14th in points. It was a huge points hit because the Indianapolis 500 paid double points.
“I thought we had the car to win, and had we stayed up front we could have made a run for it,” Rossi said. “But because of a pit lane penalty that we still don’t fully understand, we didn’t get to stay up front. We shouldn’t have been in a position to have to run in the back. There was a lot of dirty air back there, and we just lost it.
“Not how we were hoping to see today go.”
Rossi moves on to World Wide Technology Raceway for another IndyCar doubleheader this weekend, with races Saturday and Sunday, both starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.