Rossi ends 49 race drought with Gallagher Grand Prix win, my takeaways

INDIANAPOLIS — How sweep it is. Andretti Autosport bounced back after some recent turmoil to sweep the 2 NTT INDYCAR Series races on the 2.439 mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this year.

For a while, it looked as if Colton Herta would sweep it all by himself. The 22-year old started 9th and by Lap 7 was passing Felix Rosenqvist for the top spot.

He got to 2nd 3 laps prior when he passed Alexander Rossi for the penultimate spot in Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix the Lap 6 restart as Rossi went wide at corner entry in Turn 1 when trying to pass Rosenqvist himself.

Herta snuck by, then 3 laps later powered his No. 26 Dallara-Honda to the top spot. Rossi followed suit on the same lap and went back to 2nd himself.

On Lap 15, they both hit pit lane. Herta exited ahead of Rossi. Scott McLaughlin, Marcus Ericsson and Jimmie Johnson were running the 1sf stint long so inherited the top 3 spots.

Pato O’Ward and Will Power had an early race dust up which dropped O’Ward to last and Power to 16th. They pit on the 1st caution on Lap 4 with Takuma Sato doing so too.

They’d ride 4-5-6 behind McLaughlin, Ericsson and Johnson.

After all these sequences played out Herta and Rossi were the top 2 on their strategy.

Herta while leading, slowed on track on Lap 42 and handed the lead over to Rossi who’s never look back en route to ending his 49 race winless drought.

Alexander Rossi during Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

It was a massive relief for the California native. After not only years of trying to win another race in this series, it was a long time coming since a win on these hallowed grounds.

“Relief, right?” Rossi said after scoring his 1st win in the last 1,133 days. “Yeah, I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s human nature to start to question things when it continually doesn’t kind of fall your way. You just have to remember that you’ve done it before, you can do it again type of thing. It’s nice to reestablish that, and this sport is so much about you’re as good as your last race, it doesn’t matter who you are. You have to go out there every weekend and kind of reprove yourself.

“It sucks what happened to Colton but I’ve had my share of things. It comes full circle, I guess, sometimes, so it’s good to be up there.”

He won the 100th Running as a rookie. He didn’t know what to expect from his 1st career win being here and in a race of that magnitude. He wanted more. He nearly did in 2017. He started on the front row but finished 7th. He was 4th in 2018. 2nd in a late race shootout with Simon Pagenaud in 2019. A controversial penalty in pit road sent him to the back in 2020. He’d wreck while trying to come back through. Last year he had a top 3 car. An ill timed 1st caution pinned him a lap down. He came from 20th to 5th this year.

During the other races, if it could go wrong it would. He last won at Road America in 2019. A race he’d dominate. He’s been a shell of himself since. Growing weary. Growing tired of not having cars capable of winning.

So he announced last month he’d leave at seasons end to join Arrow McLaren SP. Earlier this month the spat with a teammate grew louder. Now, he closes the month with a win at Indianapolis.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of relief I think is the main word,” Rossi said. “We’ve had some race wins that we’ve thrown away for sure, and we’ve had some weekends where we’ve just kind of not had the pace, and for whatever reason.

“I think that we knew things were trending in a good direction this year, and we had a solid test here a month or so ago. I think the one constant has been just the mental strength of the whole team. As challenging as it is for me, it’s also hard for them. They go in every day and work their butts off, and when they don’t get results, it’s hard for them, as well.

“I think as a unit, that’s one of our strengths is being able to continue to just push forward. It’s a big team win and a big thank you to the whole organization. Obviously the cars were fast.

“It’s nice to kind of be back up there, but we have another one in five days, six days, so it all resets again.”

Christian Lundgaard during Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Lundgaard Strong Here Again

There’s just something about this Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that suits Christian Lundgaard. The Danish driver made his NTT INDYCAR Series debut here in this very race weekend last August. He qualified 4th and finished 12th for Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing. That was good enough to earn him a full season ride in 2022.

Which is partially why he’s had his most success of his rookie season on this same 2.439-mile layout. He qualified 8th and finished 9th in May’s GMR Grand Prix. In the return trip this weekend, he was once again solid.

Lundgaard qualified in the Fast 6 for just the 2nd time of his career. He’d roll off on the outside of Row 3 in his No. 30 Dallara-Honda. With other drivers’ misfortunes and a strong car, he’d come away runner-up when it was all said and done for his best career finish.

“It feels amazing,” Lundgaard said. “I’m not going to lie, I did qualify the exact same car and race the exact same car, so that car seems to work,” he said of thriving on this track.

“I think Rossi and (Colton) Herta did seem to have some more power down than we did today, and I think that’s what killed our rear tires and they were just able to take off, and as soon as they’ve taken off, we’re just managing the gap.

“I think it was looking like a P3 today but I ended up finishing P2, so I’m obviously super happy for the team.”

Lundgaard had just 2 top 11 finishes in his first 7 races of the year. One came here and the other in the season opener in St. Pete. Since?

5 in the last 6 races including 3 of which being in the top 10.

“I think the best feeling right now is that the team really deserves it. They’ve worked super hard, and we’ve had such a struggling beginning to the season, and I think coming to Toronto was when things started to change. We saw sort of a streak where we started to perform better. Even Road America, Mid-Ohio was there. We were on the edge of top 10. To come here and finish second, I think the team deserves every bit of it.

“I’m just a guy doing my job really. I want to win, so I try as best I can every event.

“We needed to execute the weekend. We knew coming into this weekend that this was the track we were going to be at least the most competitive at together with perhaps Toronto where we ended up being very competitive.

“We came into this event and knowing we were going to have a car that was able to finish in the good end of top 10.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say we overachieved, but we for sure got everything out of the package we had.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that Jack and Graham were unable to get further in qualifying because I think for sure they had a car that was able to go further, as well.

“For me to get it done, it just proves that the car was there, which is why I really feel like the team deserves this podium, and I hope there’s more to come.”

There likely will. He’s not done here. He’s just turned 21 so he has plenty of years left in INDYCAR should he want it. In saying that, he quipped that one thing that he was getting a little annoyed about is that every time race day comes, his teammate Graham Rahal always seemed to find a way to finish ahead.

“Didn’t happen today, luckily,” he joked.

“But no, honestly, Graham has helped me massively, understanding how much you can push the tires. He’s extremely good on the long run, making the tires last, making the fuel last, and just being competitive. Even in a car that might not be competitive enough to be there, we’ve had some good results.

“As a team, the drivers work very well together. I’m very pleased to have Jack and Graham by my side and helping me. It’s also good for the team that we now have a podium because I think just for the future, it’s going to be a massive confidence boost for everyone to keep digging. This is the right path. We’re going in the right direction. And also for the two other drivers, Jack and Graham. Like you said, Graham had a good race today, but he always has a good race. We just need to get that qualifying car further up, and having the first Fast Six of the season this season, we need to keep digging.

“The two other cars had a little more potential, made mistakes, didn’t push hard enough in the first lap. We need to eliminate those issues and get on with it.”

Will Power during Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Power Does It Again

Will Power just likes to make things harder than he needs to be. The pole master who’s one away from tying Mario Andretti for most all-time, has qualified outside the top 10 in 6 of his last 10 tries on the season. The only times he didn’t qualify Row 6 on back, he started on the pole.

In each of those instances, he’s usually came through the field. He started 19th in Barber and finished 4th. He went from 16th to the win in Belle Isle. What about his 21st to 3rd run in Mid-Ohio? He spun on the opening lap and dropped to last on July 3. He’d come back to score a podium on pure pace.

On Saturday?

Power qualified 4th. However, he and Pato O’Ward had an opening lap incident to where O’Ward was spun by Power and after the 2 tangled, Power dropped to 16th.

“At that point you’re starting to think of what can we do, if there’s an alternate strategy, then the yellow comes and you’re like absolutely, all right, I think the guys understand, and we talked about it before the race, like we’ll pit, and try and make it on two more stops from there,” he said of his mindset at that early race moment. “Yeah, big fuel number, and that was a great call.

“Yeah, never got upset or — just yep, that’s what it is. That’s how it rolls in this series. Just kept going.”

It was looking like a potential championship dashing moment. Instead, it turned into a championship type winning day.

Marcus Ericsson was starting last (25th) in Saturday’s race and Power coming from Row 2, had a very real shot of taking over the points lead leaving here. Then came the spin. Power elected to hit pit road on the early race caution to go off strategy. Now he was behind Ericsson. It was looking like not only would he not take over the points lead, he’s drop further back in the process.

Ericsson himself was running on a different strategy. He was 1 of 4 drivers who elected to run the first stint long. It looked like it would possibly net him a top 5 in the process. Then came that Lap 36 caution for Simon Pagenaud stalling in Turn 10. Power had just pit on Lap 31 and this caution forced everyone to pit in fear of that yellow falling and flipping the field.

It kept Power so long as he could save enough fuel, on the same strategy as the leaders now and would be back in the hunt for a top 5.

Then came Colton Herta’s misfortune. Then came Power with a fast car to turn a top 5 into a podium and taking and 9 point lead to Nashville next week.

“Considering the start of the race, yep, great recovery, man,” said Power. “Great recovery. It’s amazing some of the runs we’ve had this year. But yep, just kept my head and did what I could in the situation. I had to get a big fuel number and go as fast as I can.

“Very good day. Good day for the team all around.”

He says that if he didn’t have to fuel save so much, he maybe could have won.

“I think it was our pace on the fuel mileage we had to get,” he says. “Definitely we were able to make some hay just getting big numbers that we had to get. We had a great car. Car was really fast.

“Yeah, pretty much all the way to the end we were on a number that was definitely holding us back. We had definitely a lot of pace in hand.

“When we reset, it was, okay, we don’t have to get as big a fuel number now, and we’re P3, so if I can finish P3, that’s a great day.”

Power notes that he’s not playing this championship as the long game in comparison to golf. He’s not pulling away as he’s just sitting there biding his time.

“It’s not necessarily the long game, it’s just that sort of attitude switch where you know these races are long, the season is long, and you’ve got to make the most of every situation, even if you’re fighting for like 12th,” he says. “If that’s your day to finish 12th, well, finish 12th, not 24th.

“Yeah, it’s certainly working very well.”

He now has 7 podiums in 13 races run this year including 10 top 5’s.

“Yeah, I mean, to this point we’ve had a fantastic year, obviously leading the points right now. Just got to keep doing what I’m doing. I know the game so well, been in it so long. We have great potential to win the championship, but there’s four other guys that also do. It’s going to be hard fought to the end.

“I’m enjoying it. I really am. I’m loving the racing. It’s a privilege to feel nervous before a race because there’s going to be a time that you don’t get to do that for decades. Some people never get to do that.”

Felix Rosenqvist celebrates a strong Friday at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Good Friday For AMSP, Bad Saturday

Arrow McLaren had 2 cars in the top 3 of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix. For a track that rewards track position, they were supposed to have a great shot a win. However, as Felix Rosenqvist warned following his Friday pole run, they need to find a way to be better on race days.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my best track. I mean, I have two poles here, but I wouldn’t say result-wise it’s my best track,” he said after scoring the pole for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix. “I’ve been struggling a little bit here in the races historically.

“I just feel like we’ve worked very hard as a team to improve this track as we go here twice a year, and at some point last year we were like, guys, we need to improve at the Indy GP because we’re struggling.”

He struggled again. By Lap 7 he lost the lead. A few laps later, he dropped to 4th. He’d only finish 9th. While it was his 7th top 10 finish of the season, he’s only turned 2 of those 7 into a top 5 and just 1 of those top 5’s into a podium.

Pato O’Ward had an even worse day. He went from 3rd to last on the opening lap and would only rebound to finish 12th. He’s now 46 points back with 4 races remaining in the season and going to a street course to where he feels like these aren’t some of his strongest tracks.

Alex Palou during Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Ganassi Has Solid Points Day Even Without A Top 5

Chip Ganassi Racing never expected to do all that well not only in Iowa last weekend, but here this weekend too. They’ve had just 1 career win on this IMS road course and after winning 2 of the first 3 races at Iowa, they’ve not won there since either.

Despite that, they still fare well in the points leaving this 3 race span.

Marcus Ericsson may have lost the points lead, but he’s still only 9 points out heading to a place he won at last year. This is the first time he’s not led the points since leaving here the last time on the road course.

However, when starting last and to come up to 11th, that’s a good day even with going off strategy early.

Scott Dixon qualified 20th and did Scott Dixon things on Saturday. He finished 8th for his 11th top 10 here in his last 12 tries. He qualified 16th in this race last year and finished 9th. He qualified 12th and 15th respectively in the 2 Harvest Grand Prix races here and was 9th and 8th in those races too.

He’s doing what he needs to do and only lost 4 points today in the process to score his series leading 12th top 10 finish in 13 races this year.

Even Alex Palou had a quiet day in 10th to stay alive in the championship fight. He’s 52 points out but has just 1 top 5 finish in his last 9 races now.

While the last 3 races weren’t ideal, they got them by as we now head to a street course to where these types of circuits have arguably been their best tracks.

The start of Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Lap Traffic

The INDYCAR Series is spicy lately. Between the Alex Palou vs. Ganassi saga to the Ganassi vs. Zak Brown beef to the Andretti Autosport chaos, we’ve had our fair share of drama.

That didn’t stop in the race either. Alexander Rossi took offense to some lapped traffic at the end of Saturday’s race.

“I was getting pretty pissy, stressy with the 4 car there,” Rossi said of Dalton Kellett at the end. “I just — it’s not just me. There’s a lot of guys in this series that have had issues with coming down to the end of the race and lap cars are using overtake to stay in front, and it’s just very frustrating. That was the only thing because I saw my lead got cut in half, and we burned 60 percent of the overtake we had left to try and get around a car that is in last. That’s very upsetting. That was the only thing I was stressed about.

“But once we were able to kind of deal with that, I think the pace of our car was still superior, so it was just about finishing the last seven or eight laps of the race.

“I don’t understand. I get it on ovals a little bit because you can — you want to try and stay on the lead lap to hopefully catch a yellow because you don’t want to lose a lap on an oval because on an oval theoretically if you get that yellow and come back to the back of the grid you can in theory make your way forward again if you have a good car. On a road course you’re not going to restart in 24th and drive to a position — that doesn’t exist, so it’s very frustrating to compromise someone’s day for no good reason.

“We talked about it. I’m not the only one that deals with it. I’m not saying that that person doesn’t have a right to fight for their lead lap, but when they’re able to use overtake to defend you, I just think that we’re missing something as a series. We need to implement a rule where if you’re a lap down or you’re going a lap down, you shouldn’t be able to use overtake to defend the leader. That’s all.”

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