Alexander Rossi believes he was lined up for his second IndyCar victory until his Honda engine let go while running second in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on a day of disastrous fortune for Andretti Autosport.
All four Andretti cars failed to finish, with electrical problems accounting for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, and Takuma Sato experiencing “a loss of power” which prompted him to stop.
Hunter-Reay’s issue occurred just five laps from the checkered flag, while he lay little more than a second behind eventual winner James Hinchcliffe, but Rossi believes that having red [softer compound] tires for the final stint gave his Andretti-Herta entry a crucial edge over Hunter-Reay, who was on harder compound blacks. Rossi had passed his teammate after the final pitstops and was closing on Hinchcliffe – who had jumped both Andretti cars by going a lap longer on the previous stint – when a “hole in the side of the engine” on the 62nd of the race’s 85 laps ended Rossi’s race.
“I don’t know why it happened, and there was no warning,” he told Motorsport.com. “I just know that it cost us a real shot at victory.
“We had a fast car and we’d closed the gap [on Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay] in the second stint by an obscene amount while still getting our fuel number. We had the right tires for that final stint as well, so I think the battle was going to be down to just me and James.
“Sure, it’s easy to say we’d have caught him; passing is another thing. But I truly feel we had the car to win today.”
Rossi paid tribute to the Andretti team for its vastly improved Long Beach form compared with last year when the cars finished but were very slow throughout the weekend.
“I think it’s unbelievable the turnaround we’ve had as a team during the offseason and it’s heartbreaking that we all DNFd today. I suppose the positive is that running legitimately in the top three with one of your teammates and actually fighting for something is pretty cool; I had a smile on my face the whole race!
“Seriously, it shows the team as a whole has taken a big step; that’s where we needed to be, and the confidence boost the team receives by running that well, even despite the end result, is huge.”
Rossi said he’s confident that the steps taken by Andretti Autosport in the offseason will see similar improvements at natural road courses, such as Barber Motorsports Park, the third round in the IndyCar schedule.
“The Sonoma test and Barber test I think suggest that we’re going to be taking a big step on road courses, yeah,” he said. “Obviously it’s not the same changes as on a street course, but our new methodology and approach is paying off.
“We’ll know more after qualifying right? That’s the true test. But the indications are very positive and I feel optimistic about it.”