INDIANAPOLIS — Alexander Rossi didn’t mince words on Friday. “I just think we sucked globally,” he said of the 2020 season. “Like there wasn’t anything we were doing right, whether it was qualifying performance, whether it was race performance, pit stops, my driving. None of it was good.
“Last year just sucked. It sucked on track, it sucked off track. It was a terrible year for everyone except for Scott and Takuma, so good for them.
“Ultimately I’m just thrilled that we have the opportunity to get back to racing, that the calendar is what it is, that the continuity on the 27 team is what it is. I think everyone is pushing really, really hard to make sure that there’s no repeats of last year, and we’ll just let the on track do the rest of the talking.”
It’s no secret, the first nine races of the 2020 season were dismal for Andretti Autosport overall. Combined, they had just six top five finishes and one podium between them. Four of the six top fives belonged to Colton Herta. Rossi’s third place effort in Road America 2 was their lone podium through Aug. 30. That was where shit hit the fan.
Rossi, says rock bottom hit at Indy last year. That was the point to where changes had to be made. I mean, you look at how strong they were all month. They had five of the top nine starters. In the end, none of them even finished in the top five.
“I think Indianapolis was quite an eye opener for everyone in terms of how fast all the Andretti Autosport cars, and to come away with really nothing was not good. It wasn’t a good Monday,” he said.
As the season went on, progress came. Once we got to Mid-Ohio though in September, everything had since changed. Herta scored a win in the second race of the weekend and was ninth in the other. Rossi, had dual podiums with Hunter-Reay being fifth and third respectively himself to give AA a 1-2-3 effort in Race 2.
At Indy, it was more strength. Herta was fourth and second respectively and Rossi second and third himself.
One podium in nine races followed by seven in four races after. St. Pete was looking good until the final laps. Hinchcliffe, Herta and Rossi were all battling for podiums. Then all hell broke loose.
Still, the momentum shifted from Mid-Ohio on. How do they build on that for 2021?
“I think that the last kind of 20 percent of last year, things had turned a corner and we had identified a lot of issues and had a lot of tough conversations and made some changes, so I think we went into the off-season with quite a bit of optimism, and we’ve continued that progression all the way through the winter,” Rossi said.
“The team is in a really strong place right now, so I’m excited to get down to Barber. The tests that we have had have gone smoothly, and we’ve done a lot of — we’ve accomplished a lot of what we’ve been trying to do. So we’ve got a couple more times in the car before Barber, but yeah, I feel good right now.”
Some difficult decisions had to be made Rossi said though.
“We just all were honest with each other, and we all kind of discussed things that were good and things that were not good, and we took 2020 as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. I think there’s an advantage and so many positives we can take out of it, and like I said, I think the end of the year went really well for us for the most part, minus St. Pete, which is on me.
“I’m not going to get into the details of it because it’s not necessary, but I think we’re operating at a really high level right now, and I’m excited to get on track in Barber.”
Rossi says that he thinks the biggest thing that hurt them at the beginning of last year was really the reduced track time going into the actual qualifying/races.
“I think if you look back at 2018-2019, we were never great on Fridays, and we would kind of do a lot of work Friday night and come back Saturday for final practice and be there and qualify up front and the rest was kind of history.
“When you have that many cars and it’s such a condensed one-hour practice with a two-hour break, into qualifying, you can’t use the advantage of all those cars. Like it’s not possible. You don’t have enough people and enough time to go through that amount of information and make educated decisions. I think once we got our kind of off-line correlation and our deltas right with the aeroscreen and the effect that it had on the car, I think once we kind of got that in line with the on-track reality — the other thing is when COVID happens, all the wind tunnel, the shaker rig, the simulator time, it all disappeared.
“We didn’t have any tools available to us to kind of figure out what our problems were, address them and solve them. We had to do it all on track. I think that’s a lot of what you saw the first half, the first 70 percent, 60 percent of last year.
“I think the one big thing that we wanted to accomplish in preseason testing this year was making sure that our offline simulation was correlating to the on-track stuff, and we did a lot of really cool things this winter. Honda and HPD have played a pretty big role in that, and we’ve progressed forward quite a lot.
“Like I said, I think the team is operating at a level that they haven’t before. I’m more motivated than ever, and yeah, I think it’s all — everything is lining up as it should. We just have to go out and do it now.”