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’s forces for the upcoming 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 last year 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.”
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 54 races, he has 1 win, has just 11 podiums and only 16 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.”
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 McLaren has since passed them up for 3rd. They tied 2-2 in the win column in 2022 which was a year after a small 3-2 win margin in favor of Andretti in 2021. The only drivers ahead of Rossi in points at the end of last season were all three Team Penske’s, three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers and both of the McLaren’s.
“I think it’s been very obvious what Zak and Taylor have done over the last couple of years,” Rossi said of McLaren.” Arrow McLaren’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.”
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 in 2021 and 9th last year.
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 had him frustrated with himself and the team in general.
Which is why he needed a change of scenery.
Can he capitalize on that this season?
“I hope so. I mean, it’s a fantastic organization whose results speak for themselves,” he said during the INDYCAR preseason media day. “I think what they’ve done the past couple of years is very impressive. They’re a great organization with great partners and great people. Getting to work now with GM and Chevy has been pretty cool as well, to see what they’re doing, how they’re helping push the program forward.
“Like I said, it’s been a lot of conversations and things in theory. We don’t really know anything until we get on track. But from where we sit right now, we’re very excited about what’s to come.”
Rossi isn’t just a race car driver, he’s a sports fan in general. His favorite player is Tom Brady. Rossi says he can use this change of scenery in the same way Brady did when he left New England for Tampa Bay. Brady won the Super Bowl in his first season with a new team. Can Rossi get a title in his first year with a new team?
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, I don’t know. I never won a championship with Andretti (smiling),” he told me.
“I think we’re just going into it with the expectation of having a really good organization and awesome teammates around all three of us really.
“I think the goal is to perform to our level and to execute what we know we’re capable of each weekend, and hopefully that means we can have three cars fighting for the championship come September in Laguna.”
While sometimes a change of scenery is an advantage, it could also be a disadvantage too. An advantage for Rossi is a sense that there’s not a lot of new voices on his side. Brian Barnhart follows him over and some familiar faces are also part of his team over at McLaren as well. He singled out Barnhart and Craig Hampson as familiar faces and voices that he’ll have at McLaren.
However, sometimes to fully start over, you just need to do exactly that – start over.
“Honestly, the biggest one is people, just learning who does what and what everyone’s kind of roles are, experience levels, who you need to go to for help on whatever issue you may have. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Rossi says about some disadvantages of changing teams.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a different car, right? They’re going to have their own approach, methodology and way of doing things. Also switching manufacturers, that’s also big. Not only was I with Andretti for so long, I also was with Honda for that whole time. It’s going to be a transition from that standpoint, but nothing we can’t overcome as a group.”
Maybe a fresh set of eyes at McLaren could help Rossi recalibrate and likewise the other direction too. Maybe Rossi can be that missing piece that’s holding Arrow McLaren back from finding that consistency to challenge both Penske and Ganassi for championships on a yearly basis.