LEXINGTON, Ohio — Michael Andretti knows how to win races. After all, he’s won 111 of them in INDYCAR. 69 of them as an owner and 42 as a driver. He knows first how to get to victory lane and what it takes out of the entire organization to do so.
That’s why he was embarrassed and fuming mad with how Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 played out for him and his team. Over the final 21 laps, he watched Andretti Autosport self destruct and become a laughingstock in the paddock.
That’s not what Andretti built his name as a driver for or a brand he’s built as a respected racing team one that he’s trying to branch into Formula One. He’s having a hard time proving he belongs and days like Sunday in rural Ohio surely don’t help.
One driver, Romain Grosjean, isn’t happy with another driver, Alexander Rossi. Reports have been circulating that Rossi hasn’t been too fond of Grosjean anyhow. The two now had an on track spat that has flooded into the paddock.
Graham Rahal had his run in with Grosjean back on May 1 at the Barber Motorsports Park saying then that Grosjean had run his course within the NTT INDYCAR Series paddock and that most were no longer fond of him any longer.
As we sit here now, I go back to that moment that Rahal and Rossi had together on pit lane when Rahal was clearly venting to Rossi about his Andretti Autosport teammate. Rossi seemed then to be agreeing with Rahal which at at time, puzzled me a bit.
Now, it doesn’t anymore. I don’t think Rossi was likely simpatico with Grosjean then and he surely isn’t now. It’s not a secret that Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay got along well together as teammates at Andretti. Rossi was even really good friends with Colton Herta and we know how close he is with James Hinchcliffe.
The drivers room at Andretti was as tight as ever last year. It wasn’t as wild as the days of Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Bryan Herta and Danica Patrick, but it was a close knit group like those days were.
This year, that room has changed. Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco has replaced Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 Dallara-Honda. Grosjean stepped in for Hunter-Reay.
Rossi noted last month in Belle Isle that he knew his time with Andretti was coming to an end last year even when he was watching all this change coming on the horizon. He was frustrated and figured his time was running out. The team could no longer provide him with a car capable of championship.
“So, yeah, I mean, this decision was made for me kind of last summer,” said Rossi in Belle Isle. “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. 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.”
So he sought elsewhere in the paddock. He landed at Arrow McLaren SP. This is his final season.
“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.”
While Rossi had turned things around from Belle Isle on, Mid-Ohio could be the turning point of maybe an ugly divorce. Rossi only qualified 12th on Saturday. He had a ho-hum afternoon. He got his way inside the top 10 before that contact with Grosjean.
Rossi said that the deal was just “a racing incident.”
“He was on a softer tire and probably going to get around me, but he likes to do it fast and early,” Rossi said of the Turn 2 contact with Grosjean. “I had to test him there and obviously that’s unfortunate to tap into a teammate, but that’s the way it goes.”
Grosjean didn’t see it that way.
“What the hell is wrong with him?” a pissed off Grosjean said on the radio. He pleaded for Andretti to sit Rossi down after the race to discuss with him why Rossi was a fault.
So a few laps later, you can imagine how irate Grosjean was to hear he was being given team order to help Rossi’s finish as Rossi was still on the lead lap and Grosjean not.
“What do you want me to do? Just block everyone behind and not go ahead?” Grosjean asked his pit stand at the time.
When told that’s exactly what they’re asking, Grosjean declined to do so.
“Because Rossi put me in the wall, so I am not going to protect him,” Grosjean replied to them.
In the meantime, Grosjean made contact with Colton Herta on track and Rossi with DeFrancesco. In a span of 21 laps, all four drivers had contact with one another in some way.
Grosjean got his wish. Andretti was going to sit Rossi down. This time, it wasn’t just going to be Rossi. It was all 4 drivers.
Andretti rode a scooter to Rossi’s pit box after the race. “Where he is,” he exclaimed loudly and very stern. When told he already was heading back to the hauler, Andretti sped on.
Andretti stomped inside with all 4 drivers waiting. The meeting was brief. Out came Andretti and climbed back on his scooter declining to discuss the incidents and the meeting. Then came Herta. He too briskly walked away without saying a word. Grosjean was next out. He did speak.
“It wasn’t pleasant, but it was good that he did it,” Grosjean said of the meeting. “I understand he’s frustrated and not happy with us.”
You’d think a closed door brief and likely one way discussion would get the attention of everyone in the room. It must have fallen on deaf ears though which is why I feel like this is far from over.
“He’s an absolute idiot,” Grosjean told myself and a small group of reporters waiting outside the hauler on Sunday. “I don’t know why he does that. He’s on black tires, I’m on reds. I’m on the outside and I carry more speed through the corner. He did it once on the restart. OK, maybe he slipped on cold tires. Do it again the next lap. Then, he did it on purpose. My hand is hurting. We lost the bloody race.”
For those comments to come out of his mouth minutes after the meeting tells me this likely is the tip of the iceberg.
Rossi came out last and sped off the opposite direction.
Grosjean did make a note to apologize about the Herta incident though.
“I must apologize to Colton,” said Grosjean. “I had a lot more grip than everyone else so I just braked. I didn’t realize Colton would brake so early. So I tried to avoid contact. That wasn’t good from my side, but I think that’s going to be it as far as today, it’s just that Rossi is an absolute idiot out there.”
He was interrupted by his PR team and led away. Enough was enough. They stopped him before he said more damaging words. But he said enough already.
Rossi is gone in 8 more races. His shot at a title is basically gone now as he sits 8th (-92) in points. He didn’t race his teammates any differently prior to today, but I wonder now…
“Of course not. We’re teammates for Andretti Autosport and trying to get the best result possible,” he said of if he races his teammates any differently now since he’ll be gone next year.
Now I wonder..