What went wrong between Rossi and Andretti?

BELLE ISLE, Mich — Sometimes a fresh start is all that’s needed for two sides. However, not all the time is the grass greener on the other side either. That’s why it took a while for Alexander Rossi to land as the decision that he made to not reup with Andretti Autosport and instead join Arrow McLaren SP’s forces for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season.

So, what went wrong though? Rossi is as talented as they come and Andretti is as well run of an organization as there is.

“Life ebbs and flows,” Rossi said on Friday morning from Belle Isle. “I think it was time for a change. Ultimately I don’t think this has met anyone’s expectations, myself, the team’s, Honda’s. I don’t think it’s necessarily a huge surprise for everyone.

“That being said, I think there have been scenarios that have been outside of our control. But that’s motorsports, life, just the way things go sometimes.”

See, Rossi knows that his window of competing for championships in this sport isn’t open as much as it was a few years ago. At 31 years of age, he’s not old by any stretch of the imagination. But, he does see it coming. The youth wave is taking this sport by storm and with the Alex Palou’s, Colton Herta’s, Pato O’Ward’s, etc, if he doesn’t win soon, he may never do so.

Hence this move. Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing are annual championship contenders. Andretti Autosport once was but one could make a case that AMSP has passed them up for 3rd.

“I think it’s been very obvious what Zak and Taylor have done over the last couple of years,” Rossi said of AMSP.” Arrow McLaren SP’s competitive. The overall performance of the team has exponentially increased every event we go to. That was a pretty easy decision for me to see them as a championship contender. Going forward into the future, I think it’s only going to get better.

“I think when you look, Taylor and Zak got control and got to have the direction of the team not too long ago. What they’ve accomplished in a short period of time speaks for itself. The result they had last year, a huge amount of respect for Pato obviously, but he’s still new to the championship, relatively young. The results he had was phenomenal.

“I think the inherent performance is there, it exists. I think if you look at what the team did at Indy this year, they were the second strongest team. I think what Ganassi was able to do was phenomenal. We’ve all touched on that. I think Arrow McLaren SP was certainly the next best shot.

“Yeah, I think this is a team that is going to be a championship challenger. They already were last year. They will be this year. I certainly think it will be the case going forward.”

Imagine me telling you after Rossi’s 2019 win in Long Beach that by 2022, he’d be reconsidering return to Andretti Autosport for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season.

That day, Rossi led 80 of 85 laps en route to a victory of more than 20 seconds. It was his second straight win on the scenic Southern California beach side street circuit. He led 71 of 85 laps a year prior.

The Andretti Autosport driver seemed to be on a quick path to a championship once he won his second career NTT IndyCar Series race in Watkins Glen during that 2017 season. From the Toronto race that season through the one at Road America in 2019, Rossi had six wins, 16 podiums and 22 top five finishes in a span of 33 races. 

But, here we are.

Over the last 43 races, he’s yet to win, has just 8 podiums and only 12 top fives.

“So, yeah, I mean, this decision was made for me kind of last summer,” said Rossi. “It was clear that I was going to look at different options and explore what was out there.

“I’ve driven for Andretti Autosport for a long time. Sometimes you need to change things, whether that’s on a personal side, a professional side or the both combined. I think it was time for a change.

“Like I said, there were a lot of things that we accomplished that were very special, that I’ll have memories of forever. They essentially gave me a base and established me in INDYCAR to have a future in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. I owe a lot to the organization.

“Ultimately for me it was time to do something different. I don’t think there’s a better pairing out there for who I am as a person and a competitor than Arrow McLaren SP.”

He was second in the championship in 2018 and third in 2019. But, this dip started during the middle of that ’19 season which is why he didn’t hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy that season and why he’s hasn’t yet overall. He was 10th in the final standings last year and currently 11th now following a 5th place finish in last Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

He hasn’t won a race since Road America in 2019. He led 54 of 55 laps that day. In fact, that was the 10th race of that season. At that point, he had led in 7 of the 10 races to account for 182 laps led.

But, over the last 43 races during this winless streak, he’s led a total of 95 laps. He led 83 laps in 2020, two last year and 10 in St. Pete. That’s it.

Also during this 43 race drought, he has finished 17th or worse in 7 of his last 22 starts. He had 6 finishes of 17th or worse in his previous 47 races.

The prime of his INDYCAR career is being wasted and he’s not anywhere near to where he expected to be in his career path in terms of success yet.

The thing is, even in the few times he’s had cars capable of winning, he’s been taken out on contention still in these types of moments. That has him frustrated with himself and the team in general.

In a contract year, Rossi elected to not necessarily just reup with Andretti. He was waiting to see how things played out this season to decide what direction his future will go. At this point, nothing had really changed.

That’s why it was time to move on for both sides.

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