In just 5th start with McLaren, Rossi already on podium, “The pieces are coming together”

INDIANAPOLIS — Sometimes you just need a change. That’s what Pato O’Ward said about new teammate Alexander Rossi. He sees how fast he still is, but when he saw Rossi struggling in his final years at Andretti Autosport, he felt like Rossi needed to get some fresh air.

Rossi agreed. A week after last year’s Indianapolis 500, Rossi was in Belle Isle with McLaren announcing a new multi-year deal to bring the 2016 Indy 500 champion over in 2023. In just five races run, Rossi is back on the podium.

Rossi improved seven spots in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix to score his 29th career NTT INDYCAR SERIES podium finish but first as a member of McLaren.

“Really proud to get the first podium for the team, the first one as part of Team Chevy,” Rossi said on Saturday evening from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It was a good day.”

The former 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. 

That’s where his success halted.

Over his final 54 races with Andretti, he had 1 win, just 11 podiums and only 16 top fives.

2023 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

In five starts with McLaren, he now has a podium and three top eight finishes. It’s making quick work with a new team.

While sometimes a change of scenery is an advantage, it could also be a disadvantage too. 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.”

He’s doing so already. The main improvement area now is to qualify better. He frustrated in the sense that he’s qualified between 10th and 12th in four of the five races.

“We’ve had a really strong pace on Sundays, we just haven’t gotten the results that we feel like we deserve. We’re missing a little bit on Saturdays,” he admitted. “I mean, it’s a very different car than I’m used to. I just haven’t quite found my happy spot for like the ultimate lap. It’s close. It seems like we’re permanently qualifying 10th, 11th or 12th. It’s not a disaster. We’re certainly much better in race pace, or have been so far this year.

“I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll get there. It’s competitive, and you can’t be missing a 10th of a second. Ultimately that’s what we’re missing.

“We’ll keep our heads down. A bit of a shift now for the next two weeks. Yeah, really looking forward to getting started on the oval.

“The pieces are coming together.”

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